This film recounts the people and events leading up to the one of the most despicable hate-crimes during the height of the civil-rights movement, the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In that attack, four little African-American girls lost their lives and a nation was simultaneously revolted, angered and galvanized to push the fight for equality and justice on. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
Spike Lee and his wife stayed at the Tutwiler hotel while in Birmingham while filming the documentary. The hotel (then a Five Star, five Diamond hotel) was once a a nursing home for retired teachers. It's located only 5 blocks from 16th Street Baptist Church. See more »
A day in 1957, in the afternoon, the evening newscast, there's a piece of film of a gang of white men beating Fred Shuttlesworth, in the street outside of Phillips high school where he'd taken his children. With chains they beat him to the ground. And the reason it was riveting for me, I was fourteen years old, was that the police said they couldn't find the men who did it. And I recognized one of the men. I knew who he was. I'd seen him at Jack Cash's barbecue and I knew the police hung out at...
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Lee's film does an excellent job of bringing the girls to life. It is very easy to lump the four girls together into one entity, as the "Eyes on the Prize" documentary did, but Spike Lee was able to set them apart as individuals and shows the grief felt by the friends and relatives to this day. However, the documentary seems to tell only about two-thirds of the story. Some of the nitty-gritty details about the bombing and the investigation are quickly summarized in order to bring the film to a quick conclusion. If I didn't know from other sources, I would not have known, for example, the nature of the bomb -- was it set by a timer? Thrown into the church? (I know from news accounts that it was the latter, but you would not have known if you were uninitiated and just learning through this documentary.) There are also questions that come to mind that Lee leaves unanswered: What was the reaction of the white community in the area (I know, for example, that the bombing was certainly not unanimously cheered by the white south)? How was the bombing investigated? What eventually led the investigators to the guilty parties? The story of the 15 year search for the bomber and his accomplices (in fact, the search went on longer than that, even into the year 2001) is an important part of the story. A film as powerful as this should have taken the time to go into every nook and cranny of the story. Yes, it was excellent. Yes, it should have won the Documentary award for that year. Yes, it brought a tear to my eye. But there could have been so much more, and could have made the story that much more powerful.
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