This is a documentary series about the glory years of the American Civil Rights Movement, starting in 1952 with the murder of Emmit Till and the subsequent trial and ending with the civil rights march to Selma in 1965. Along the way, the series touches on the major figures of the movement such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and major incidents such as the Little Rock school riots and Montgomery, Alabama Transit Boycott. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The series was unavailable from 1995-2006 due to copyright issues. Licenses for "Happy Birthday", news footage, various photographs, songs and lyrics used in the film expired in 1995, and the film Company Blackside could not afford to renew these licenses. A grant from the Ford Foundation enabled them to renew the licenses. The series was rebroadcast and released to DVD in October, 2006. See more »
This series (along with the sequel, "Eyes on the Prize II") is a classic documentary that, in many ways, pointed to the techniques later adapted by Ken Burns in his documentaries. Given the availability of film and first-person accounts, as well as photos, this is a far more moving and affecting film. Beginnings are difficult, and one might quibble with how the first part brings the viewer "up to speed" on African American history before the 1950's, the immediate attention to the story of Emmitt Till makes up for much of that missing narrative, by showing in graphic detail the status of African Americans in the United States, particularly the deep South. The rest of the series fills in a great amount of detail in the ensuing decade up to 1965 and the Voter-Rights act of that year.
Three things to point out in detail that made this a strong film. First, the framing of the narrative before Brown v. Board to emphasize that the Brown case did not come about in isolation, but as part of a broader strategy of the NAACP (if you are further interested in this, you should look at "The Road to Brown") led by Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall. Second, the film did not solely rely on newsreel footage and interviews, but effectively used still photos to convey drama and set pacing. On that last issue, the third point (which may have been for cost and copyright reasons for all I know) was the minimal use of music in the film. Some of the most powerful moments in the film come from a long (4-5 seconds) shot of a dramatic photo with only silence.
Why only 9 stars and not 10? I would like to have seen a bit more in the lead up to the 1950's, and some emphasis on larger context of the Cold War and such -- particularly a bit more on radical African Americans who were targeted by the state for prosecution before the forties, as well as more on the legacies of W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington as backdrop for later debates within the movement. These are really historical concerns, and overall, the film is worth seeing. I hope that soon the copyright issues will be sorted out so that this can be released on DVD, as many video copies available now are showing their age after many viewings!
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