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>
One of the victims, Denise McNair, was a friend and classmate of future Secretary of State 'Condoleeza Rice'. See more »
Wyatt Tee Walker:
So we made the decision based on several things. Fred Shuttlesworth was fearless and courageous to the point of being almost insane; miraculously surviving a bombing of his home. Had taking his wife and two children trying to integrate a school with a mob of five or six hundred folks with chains and stuff like that; just an incredible human being in my view.
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On September 15th, 1963 Robert Chambliss murdered four innocent children at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The tragic event resulted in earth shaking ramifications witnessed throughout the country. Millions of people previously unaware of or indifferent to the racial crisis existing within the South were suddenly forced to take issue with a righteous cause that refused to vanish conveniently. The murderer commonly known as 'Dynamite Bob' had hoped to reinforce previously existing segregation laws by committing a desperate act of terrorism against a most sacred and beloved institution. Much to his surprise, these violent tendencies only strengthened the Birmingham community in their quest for equitable treatment for all Black citizens. However, it should not be forgotten that such a cowardly act caused indescribable grief and unbearable pain for the families of the victims. While the death of these four little girls was undoubtedly a crucial turning point in the civil rights movement, it was also a crushing blow dealt to four harmless, unsuspecting families.
Spike Lee's debut documentary is a film that is engulfed with anger, pain, and disappointment. At the same time, however, it is a film that is presented as a message of hope. As Alpha Robertson passionately exclaims, 'God has a greater plan in mind, we all serve His purpose in some manner'. This quote is something that Lee presents as a rather speculative inquiry in his film. Was God acting within some enigmatic mode in an attempt to assist people in the realization of the need for equality and fairness in society? Could Queen Nunn's vision of the bloody Sixteenth Street Baptist Church have been a divine premonition? Lee leaves this possibility open to intense scrutiny and supposition. However, this approach raises another interesting question within the secular realm that relates to ideas on morality. Is the death of four innocent girls an acceptable loss if it means a greater purpose shall be served? To the family and friends of the victims, this is obviously not the case. However, to the greater public at large, does such a monstrous act become beneficial and perhaps even admissible? Not admissible in the sense of forgivable or understandable, but perhaps valuable or advantageous? Did Dr. King and other civil rights leaders exploit the deaths of the children for their own greater cause? These are all very difficult questions that Lee presents within his documentary. It is up to the viewer to come to his or her own distinct conclusion.
4 Little Girls raises many interesting possibilities with regards to faith, destiny, and pre-determination. Could these four girls have been chosen by God to serve as martyrs for a righteous cause? Could God have been expressing his dissatisfaction or perhaps only attempting to expand the recognition of one of societies greatest ills? Or could this event have been entirely secular in nature, could the death of these four girls have been entirely coincidental and ultimately unnecessary? Was the increased awareness of discrimination a justifiable end to the horrific means? While the documentary does not dive into these serious inquiries very heavily, it does present them to the audience, whether consciously knowledgeable of it or not. As with all of Lee's films, Four Little Girls is encompassed by an atmosphere of uncertainty. While Lee never attempts to justify 'Dynamite Bob's' actions (and understandably so), he also doesn't attempt to explain why a man would commit such horrendous acts. This is not a fault of the film, rather it is indicative of the nature of Lee's films. There are some questions that cannot be easily answered as if one were merely responding to a true/false examination. However, it is these difficult questions that often spark the most intense and valuable discussions. Perhaps that is the true legacy of these four little girls. Perhaps their death, while tragic, ultimately saved many lives by bringing compassion and empathy to a society blinded by hatred.
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