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|Index||16 reviews in total|
This movie mostly follows the book closely, but Whitmore's performance gives it an altogether different tone. Instead of portraying Griffin's experience realistically, he's just angry throughout the film. As Griffin himself noted, that kind of behavior would never have been tolerated by the Southerners. Yet Whitmore blusters along, talking back and actually threatening at times. I found that this really detracted from the message of the book, and the film fails to convey the despondence that overcame Griffin after the full realization of his experiment. Whitmore also makes Griffin look naive, uneducated, and speaks in a grating northern accent. In conclusion, the film is okay, and relatively true to the book, if you ignore Whitmore's out-of-place angry delivery.
Obviously hampered by a small "independent" budget and the casting of
James Whitmore (a fine stage actor who, unlike the original author of
the book, John Howard Griffin, simply cannot believably pass for a
black man) in the lead, director Carl Lerner's screenplay (co-written
with Gerda Lerner and an uncredited Paul Green) shuns Griffin's
chronological story telling through dated diary entries and rearranges
the events Griffin told so well to surprisingly LESS dramatic effect,
but it gives a movingly honest portrayal of life in the South near the
start of the long over-due civil rights movement.
The year this film was released my (white) family was transferred to a suburb of Atlanta, Ga. from a Virginia suburb of Washington D.C., and enroute we were stunned to see Klansmen in full regalia out on the interstate in North Carolina inspecting cars coming down from the north. It was just one of those things one had to live with at the time - like civil rights workers being murdered and their killers, when caught, being acquitted by all white juries - but this film manages, despite honestly showing the unremitting low grade caution every black person had to live with, and the blatant racism of a few Southern whites, to also be fair to the majority which was merely oblivious to - and sometimes even quietly disapproving of the evil around them - who wouldn't intentionally hurt a black person.
This well meaning majority,unintentionally perpetuating what they saw as "something they couldn't do anything about," eventually came around - and the book helped, even if the movie went largely unseen.
One of the most effecting - but at the same time least persuasive - sections of the film comes late, when Whitmore/Griffin's character tries to justify his actions to a rising young black activist (excellently played to type by Al Freeman Jr.). As it turned out, Griffin's book actually did help in the long struggle for equality, bringing the reality of a shame to the attention of the rest of the nation which needed the reminder as it demanded and helped the South come into the 20th Century, but the film only touches on the screams of outrage from the South at the mirror being held up so honestly to something they did not wish to see.
This was only a few years after the "Stars and Bars" (the old Confederate Battle Flag alluded to so effectively in the opening credits of this film) was pointedly added to the Georgia state flag in protest to Federal Civil Rights legislation. Bigots (self identifying and otherwise) called it an emblem of "local pride and heritage" - realists saw it for what it was in the modern usage and timing: a symbol of hate, rebellion and intimidation.
Times really have changed radically in the 40+ years since this film was made, and today the movie is chiefly valuable as a document of what life was like in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia during Griffin's all too brief (one month) sojourn on the other side of the color barrier. The street scenes and home details are perfectly observed. As one who lived through the period, I can testify the film is not over stated politically or socially.
The movie BLACK LIKE ME does not portray "every white person as a bigot" (though in my years growing up in the South, I never met a bigot who self-identified as one), but it does show how a rotten few can intimidate a complacent majority on any issue. As we let some politicians play "the terror card" to suspend out liberties in the 21st Century, or the pseudo-"religious" and "guilt by association cards" to deny the right to marriage to significant parts of the population at a time when stable relationships are in society's best interest, it is perhaps a lesson worth remembering. The sad thing is that for the most part, the only people who will bother to watch this flawed but decent film are for the most part the ones who already know.
This is the sleepy South as it really was. The pace is deliberate but
necessarily so. The direction and acting is gritty and real.
The anger was real. The prejudice was real. The hate was real. The fear was real. The pain was real. It really happened this way.
This movie shows us all that. We walk in the shoes of a white man who looks like a black man...but we will never know. We can only imagine like James Whitmore's character, John Horton. We can only imagine what a man or woman had to endure in the unilluminated history of the United States.
Seeing this, we know, though we have come quite some distance, that we have still a long way to go before the reality is but a memory.
I salute all of those involved in this film and Mr. John Howard Griffin who endured it all and let us know the cruelty of man and helped us open our eyes.
The person who claimed this is a movie about "reverse racism" must be
so young that he can't remember those times. I grew up in the 50's and
60's in the south. The movie portrays the prevailing attitude of whites
toward blacks in an accurate manner. I can remember the separate
waiting rooms, water fountains, "white only," etc. Thankfully, I grew
up in a home where racial prejudice was not tolerated, and I'm sure
there were a lot of homes like this.
In the book, Griffin passes through the same area as a black and then a white. The difference in his treatment was appalling. What the movie shows is that racial prejudice makes no sense. All people are simply people and deserve to be treated with respect.
James Whitmore gives a good performance as a white man who is given medical
treatments to turn the pigmentation of his skin to resemble that of an
African American. Based on the fine book by John Howard Griffin he heads
off to the south to see what being a black person in the U.S. is like.
The film recently aired on AMC. It is somewhat dated and Whitmore doesn't appear to be any thing other than a Caucasian with dark make up on. The film nonetheless is quite good as it examines his journey through the south. He encounters prejudice at virtually every stop. The film tends to lag at certain points but still delivers a powerful story. Read the book first then see this early 60's picture
This is a good movie but the book is better. In the book the emotions unfold over a longer period of time which is more realistic. The premise of both (without spoilers): white journalist darkens skin in order to appear black and details his experiences as a black man in the south in a book. Therein lies the problem. Griffin's life as a white man is not erased by the darkening of his skin. For example, in both the book and the movie, Griffin looks for normalcy in activities that blacks during that time period were aware would result in hostility. Going into white neighborhoods attempting to get change in stores. Offensive conversations in cars with whites while hitch hiking, etc. To be clear, blacks were definitely angered by any indignities caused by these experiences. However many of the blacks during that time period never had the privileges that Griffin had had all of his life. My point is that Griffin's anger reaches a crescendo at a quick pace because of a life of white privilege suddenly hindered by dark skin. Blacks cared about daily indignities but always with a concern over the larger political and social institutions and structures that created them. The book and the movie are accurate in many ways, but they represent merely a snapshot of a much larger scheme.
"Black Like Me" is a real story. It was written by a white man who dealt with the South in a time when this treatment towards black people took place. How can you call it reverse racism. You need to read the book to understand it better. It is written by a white man who went through this experience himself. His name is John Howard Griffin. He felt that it was needed to see the perspective of a black person and by doing so he made himself black. It was a rough time for black people during those years in the U.S., especially in the South. I think he did a great job writing the book and I like this movie a lot. It's hard to find, but I have it on DVD recorded from cable.
the person who said that this book is an example of reverse racism
probably didn't even read this book. In fact this book shows himself, a
white man, as a person who is not racist at all. There are also friends
that he meets that are not racist and are white. The person clearly
didn't read the book who made this comment. Anyways its a great movie
from this book and the movie doesn't portray the white man as being
evil and racist, just a history of the south at that time, especially
since the narrator is white!! Anyways i suggest that you go out of your
way and rent this movie or rent this book because it is indeed an "EYE
OPENING" movie! Don't be fooled but what other people who have claimed
to have seen this movie and/or seen this book say about it. trust me on
this on guys.....
But i do suggest reading the book before seeing the movie because the book is a bit better than the movie, typical though.
Griffin's book, which I highly recommend reading, is not well reflected
in this movie. The book is an important one- the movie failed to
portray the events deeply and meaningfully. While the book draws one
into the experience and emotion of one living as an Arfican-American in
the South during this time, the film leaves one feeling little more
than a disconnected witness of a poor narration.
Poorly directed, poorly cast, abysmally lit and acted, often to the extent that Griffin's message is lost in the morass. At times the director has taken such creative license as to change Griffin's character, adding nothing, distracting from the premise and in so doing disconnects the viewer from the protagonists world.This movie screams to be remade as the important bridge in cultural understanding that the book remains.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"It's a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of
always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring
one by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."
- William DuBois ("The Souls of Black Folk")
Journalist John Griffin published "Black Like Me" in 1961. The book detailed Griffin's six-week experience posing as a black man whilst travelling across the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The book would be adapted for the screen in 1964. Written and directed by Carl and Gerda Lerner notable civil rights activists, communists and historians this adaptation starred James Whitmore as Griffin.
"Black Like Me" works as an interesting time capsule. We're taken down real 1960s streets and into real Southern towns, homes, shops and dance-halls. It's a bit like looking at a Gordon Parks photo-album (a notable black photographer famous for his portraits of Southern life), albeit without the compositional power.
Elsewhere the film offers several interesting, politically charged vignettes, like scenes in which black characters articulate their self-hatred, their shame, or explain the cunning tactics necessary for survival. One car ride finds Griffin encountering a man who has sex with black women to "purify inferior bloodlines", whilst another sees him encountering a white academic with a fondness for scientific racism. Other scenes point to the various forms of prejudice, bigotry and socioeconomic marginalisation habitually experienced by blacks.
Years after his book was published, Griffin was dragged from his car and beaten by white attackers who accused him of being a "race traitor". His book, powerful and well written, would anticipate the "non-fiction novel" genre, a genre Truman Capote is usually (wrongfully) credited with founding. Unfotunately little in "Black Like Me" (1964) approaches the quality of Griffin's novel. The film's didactic, polemical aspects are not a problem - indeed, the film is at its best when being polemical - but these qualities are constantly undermined by an intrusive flashback structure, a lethargic script, and a plot which wastes too much time on Griffin's "white" home life.
6/10 - Worth one viewing.
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