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Rosewood isn't written with anger, hostility, or a burdening grudge. It is written with its mind firmly centered on history and examination rather than shameful exploitation. The town of Rosewood was populated mainly by blacks who are also operating most of it, with the notable exception of the white grocery store owner, Mr. Wright (Jon Voight). About 1/3 of the town is white, and most have a great disdain for the blacks, which as we know by now wasn't atypical.
The film centers mainly on Mann (Ving Rhames), a World War I veteran who travels aimlessly on a horse in search of land that he is willing to pay good money for. When he shows up at a town auction and becomes one of the highest bidders, he does nothing but generate sneers and racist remarks from the patrons. Mann is, for the most part, impassive towards the criticism. One of his friends that he grows closer to over time is Don Cheadle's Sylvester, who happens to be one of the strongest character actors of this or any other decade.
The hostility towards blacks skyrockets when the mentally unstable woman, Fanny Taylor (Catherine Kellner) is triggered into a screaming frenzy repeatedly saying a black man beat her, but did not rape her. The reality is, Fanny is a victim to the abuse of her lover, who consistently throws her around and leaves her bruised and battered. Regardless, there is simply no justification for this kind of impulsiveness.
And thus, the bell begins to ring louder and for longer and the towers slowly begin to fall; the town becomes even more racially divided than before, violence breaks out in the streets, houses are burned, neighbors become enemies, and secrets holding important, valuable information are kept until it's too late. A white sheriff (Michael Rooker) has an understanding of the events that occurred with Fanny Taylor, begins to piece together that the story of the evil black man beating the white woman is a myth, but is unfortunately silent about the event until violence overwhelms the once humble town. Even Mann grows aware of the impending violence and unsafe nature of this town, and fears because of his "new" status that he will fall victim to murder.
The film touches on some other topics not usually explored in a period piece, such as how the idea of racism is spread through explicit teachings from father to son. One father teaches his son how to make a noose, and continuously reminds him that the blacks are the enemies in which the whites must take action against. This even involves the father taking the son along on trips where they go hunting, and I don't mean for animals.
Writer Gregory Poirier illustrates this story on a large, limitless canvas for John Singleton to direct with a looming challenge. There is an unusually broad amount of talent here and a plethora of characters and situations to document, and Poirier is careful never to spend too much time on one specific situation, but takes the time to balance the events out evenly. It wasn't long before this that Singleton constructed Boyz N The Hood, a film detailing the tribulations of growing up on the wrong side of the street. That appears on my list of most captivating dramas for its poignant dialog and incredible performances. Rosewood is in an entirely different league; a film that features many different scenes, all highly detailed and illustrated intricately, that is strung together by an easily understandable story.
Speaking in terms of aesthetics, the costume and set design here is lavish and meticulous. From the sets of the stores, to the simplicity of the roads, the people, the clothing, and the shops, everything is portrayed in such a refreshingly different light that it becomes indescribably powerful. The care and attention here is not only commendable, but award worthy.
Yet sadly, Rosewood, like the actual event, is a long forgotten wave in the ocean of cinema and the world. The film's hefty budget, for which I assumed was mainly used on costumes, set structures, and actors, proved unable to be recouped and went on to become a commercial failure, only seen by those brave enough to endure its tragedy with an open mind and a hungering for knowledge. This is not a movie that many will be able to digest easy. It's a long and brutal picture. But one that is masterfully done in almost every respect and one that should brew a healthy, informative conversation soon afterwards.
Starring: Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Bruce McGill, Loren Dean, Esther Rolle, Elise Neal, and Michael Rooker. Directed by: John Singleton.
A single incident sets the town alight: a young woman blames a black stranger for the vicious beating she received from her white husband. "He was so big!" she screams. "He was so black!" The news spreads. Local white folk begin assembling. Pretty soon a carnival atmosphere develops, whites arming themselves, getting liquored up and commencing the slaughtering of blacks. Charred corpses hang from trees, houses burn and bullets fly.
Though it pretends to be "serious" and "historical", "Rosewood" is mostly a silly cartoon. Singleton creates an African American Eden, one which would have flourished had it not been for the white man. Whites are themselves portrayed as lecherous, stupid and one dimensional. One character, played by Jon Voight, is our token "nuanced white". He's a rich landowner, sleazy, but eventually learns to "do the right thing". Elsewhere Singleton consciously reverses common African American stereotypes: all the white families are oversexed, violent, carnal or single parents. The black families, in contrast, are torn straight out of Norman Rockwell paintings, celebrating birthdays, always surrounded by a warm glow or sitting at big, family meals. Later, Mann becomes a Biblical figure, a Moses who leads surviving black folk on an exodus out of Rosewood and across a river.
Like most films "about racism", "Rosewood" has nothing to do with racism. The saviours of our victims are two landowners, the ruling class is invisible and it is specifically working class whites who are demonized. Racism, in other words, is caused by the stupid, poor, irrational lower class. But racism always has economic roots. In the US, racial policy became a means of combating worker unity by fostering conflicts and divisions between groups along racial, national, sexual or religious lines. The revitalisation of the KKK in the 1920s was itself a direct response to economic factors. Such things go back as far as the 18th century (quasi-military alliances between large corporations and governments repressed efforts to form labour unions and conduct strikes), when the ruling class pitted blacks, Indians and whites against one another to stave off insurrection. Indians, for example, were often hired as "slave catchers", whilst "strikebreakers" - workers used to replace white strikers – always came from outside the area and/or "lower" ethnic groups. This, of course, exacerbated racial tensions and disrupted communities. Where Rosewood is set, almost two generations after the abolition of slavery and the end of the American Civil War, many French Canadians, East Europeans and Africans were first introduced as strike breakers. The deliberate creation of racial and ethnic conflict was not a matter of individual employer prejudice but of capitalist class strategy. Ulimately, "Rosewood's" message is typical of all of Singleton's films: evil whites preyed on black, set them back, but now's the time for African Americans to help themselves, pull themselves up by the bootstraps, be good and earn a buck. Blacks, in other words, must now be good whites. Play the game that causes the problem and shunt the problem onto someone else.
Singleton's "Higher Learning" tells the same story, but is set in a fictional Columbus University. It contains a number of intertwined subplots and characters, the most interesting of which involves Malik Williams (Omar Epps), a black athlete who resents being forced to represent his school on the track field. The film's philosophy is articulated by Laurence Fishburne, who plays a West Indian Professor. African Americans, Fisburne essentially says, should suck it up, work hard, stop blaming people and put up with the problem. Other subplots involve shy and naive girls turning lesbian after being raped by men and a lonely confused man (Michael Rapaport, deliberately parroting DeNiro's Travis Bickle) joining a neo Nazi group. The film ends in a big, climactic orgy of blood, as most of these films do. As with Singleton's best film, "Boyz n the Hood", actor Ice Cube (and rapper Busta Rhymes) stands out. He out classes everyone. The rest of the cast overact.
While the film is right to show how racism as a system has been institutionalised within the very fabric of American social, economical, educational, and governmental institutions, and has always sought to dehumanise, devalue, and even destroy minorities and women, its ending, in which the word "unlearn" is boldly written on-screen, is completely unearned. The idea is that a "higher education" beyond "education" is the solution, that one should "unlearn" what they've been programmed to accept, but little in the film supports this theme and the statement largely comes out of left-field.
5/10 - Worth one viewing.
The exact events that happened in this small town many decades ago are very vague. We know, historically, that MANY people (mostly Black-Americans) were killed by marauding gangs of whites. However, exactly WHAT sparked it and the exact events are muddled by time and the fact that there were very few living witnesses to the carnage. As a result, the ONLY reasonable way the film could be made was to create a fictionalized drama around the framework of the known events. And, as such, it is an immensely touching and effective film.
So, as I said, the film is good, as is the cast. John Voight is good, and both Don Cheadle and Michael Rooker delivers nice performances -- as always. I'd like to see Cheadle and Rooker in more leads, though, they're too good to always play supporting roles. (6/10)
But anyway, this is a great (and I would say under-appreciated) movie. Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Michael Rooker and Muse Watson all do a great job in their roles. Definitely one of John Singleton's really good ones.
The film is based on an actual race riot that erupted in Rosewood, Florida in 1923, fueled by a false claim by a white woman living in the near by town of Sumner that she had been beaten by an African American man. Rosewood was a town owned primarily by its black residents. The woman was definitely beaten, but by her Caucasian lover who was not her Caucasian husband. She never did claim rape; the white vigilante mob did that for her. The horrific violence, and the mass murders that ensued, left the town burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt or inhabited again.
There are excellent performances here. Jon Voight plays John Wright, a conflicted store owner, and one of the white few white people who lives in Rosewood. Although married to a loving, church going woman, he enjoys nailing his 17 year old black female clerk. He would later help scores of black people escape the catastrophic dimensions of hate portrayed in this film. Don Cheadle, as Sylvester Carrier, is his usual brilliant self, portraying a reasoned and reasonable man who ultimately endures. Esther Rolle, equally poignant, plays Carrier's Aunt Sarah, who does not. Bruce McGill, whose performances I always enjoy (and who you may remember as the motorcycle hood in Animal House, and more recently as the fight promoter in Cinderella Man, among other fine roles) is one of the primary racist instigators of the film. His evilness allows him to teach his son how to tie a noose.
Michael Rooker plays the sheriff who never really believed the victim's story to begin with, and who tries to mitigate the tsunami of hate and the enormity of damage it extols. Rooker is a great actor. He had searing performances in Eight Men Out and in Mississippi Burning, in which incidentally, he played a racist murderer of civil rights workers. He also excelled as the murderous husband in Sea of Love. He does an excellent job in this film as well, although I do wish there were a couple of less scenes where he wasn't struggling so with his chewing tobacco.
Ving Rhames inhabits a character whose name is simply Mann, suggesting a commentary on the conduct of man in general. At least I think it does. The real problem is that Rhames' character is totally made up. There is no such person. Never was. Of all the horrors outlined in this well intentioned, and for the most part well executed film, Director Singleton and screenwriter Gregory Poirer apparently felt the need to create a character, and a major one at that, who never existed. To me, that seriously undermines the film's essence and challenges its credibility. What happened at Rosewood was unspeakable. Do we really need an imaginary person to utter the unspeakable when there were real people whose real perspectives would have been more compelling?
Mann is someone we really don't get to know very well. We do learn that he is a veteran of World War I and has some money. We know he has scars around his neck but we don't know how he got them. We learn that he is brave and has a good heart. Unfortunately, Rhames' performance is stilted and muffled. He speaks his lines at times as if he had just memorized them. No nuance. No believable emotion.
According to the film, and to subsequent histories of the incident, the official version of events documents eight deaths. The film suggests a far more likely number, as high as 100 or so. The problem is, incredibly, after the initial national coverage of the riot, the event ceased to exist. Survivors refused to discuss what happened. Consequently, the riot was never formally documented as part of our history, not until the 1990s when members of the media began to resurrect the events. A law suit eventually ensued, resulting in Florida being the first state ordered to pay reparations to survivors and their descendants for a race riot.
I suppose it is predictable that Rosewood did not make much money. People just didn't go see it. They should have. I know I should have. I'm glad I finally did. Even if it was by accident.
That's what the film "Rosewood" tries to explain: How could it happen? It is not something easily explained in words, the darkness that can come over an entire community, turning people who might otherwise give you the shirt off their back into a rampaging, murdering mob.
A sociologist might write a book; director John Singleton and writer Gregory Poirier take you back in time 90 years and put you in rural Florida, where you witness the events unfold.
We see the county sheriff try, clumsily, to do his job, but things spin out of control. He suspects the truth, but what can he do? Later in the film he is accused by the judge of being too sympathetic to blacks. The judge probably was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which show up later with their rifles and robes. Those in the mob who are not sufficiently violent are labeled "nigger lovers." Many of the rest are fueled by liquid courage. Even if someone had second thoughts and tried to stop it, the mob was out of control, and might have killed you.
We see a church baptism group morph into a lynch mob, a reminder that most Christian churches in the South did little to oppose racism until recently.
We see lynchings and a mass grave, combined with mutilations and body parts taken as souvenirs, and parents forcing their children to witness the lynchings. We see Voight as he watches McGill teach his son to make a noose as black homes burn around them. This is a portrait of Southern racism. "You've got to be taught."
We see a poor white town neighboring a relatively affluent black town. Some reviewers are skeptical, but it seems plausible to me. There were substantial black-owned industries in Rosewood. (And there were other affluent all-black towns in America.) This resentment may well have intensified the racism. But how do you explain racism, itself? Fear and violence were essential to preserving segregation, which economically benefited whites, even, and especially, the poor white trash.
We see some whites standing up against the madness: the armed men at the county line, the two train engineers, the Wrights.
How closely do the events portrayed match history? When I looked online several years ago, it seemed, incorrectly, there were many discrepancies. (I wonder if reviewers were also misled.) I learned there were actually two black towns in the area that were destroyed by whites around the same period. John Wright was largely missing from that account, but not the current Wikipedia version:
"Many survivors boarded the train after having been hidden by white general store owner John Wright and his wife, Mary Jo. Over the next several days, other Rosewood residents fled to Wright's house, facilitated by Sheriff Walker, who asked Wright to transport as many residents out of town as possible."
It appears now from the Wikipedia article that the fundamental elements correspond surprisingly closely -- and the sheriff looks a bit more sympathetic. Still, when you watch a movie like this, "based on historical events," it is vital you read up on the true story. Some movies are 99 percent nonsense, like "Mississippi Burning" -- the actual case took an FBI agent about 15 minutes to solve.
"Rosewood" is an exceptionally well-written film that brings you into the lives of the community and weaves together the story of their relationships smoothly and believably. You care about them by the time all hell breaks loose. The result is powerful, but not manipulative, cinema.
The acting is very fine, down to the smallest roles, and sometimes exceptional, such as Bruce McGill, who plays the detestable racist drunk. (You hated him, didn't you?) With the beard you might not recognize him from Quantum Leap, where he played God in the final episode. McGill is the central figure among the racists, Ving Rhames ("Dave") anchors the story from the black side, while Jon Voight ("Odessa File," "Conrack") represents the white conscience, as weak and wavering as it is. Music is by the great John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc.).
Whether the movie perfectly matches the historical incidents perfectly is secondary. There were other Rosewoods in America, and I feel it is trying to tell their stories, too; you get the feeling they probably all follow a similar pattern: a false or exaggerated accusation by a white woman, etc.
Florida during that period had the highest per capita rate of black lynchings of any state in the South. If anything, "Rosewood" may have understated the problem. But not all whites were racists. The problem was the Klan intimidated whites as well as blacks.
But the bottom line is "Rosewood" is a brutally honest account of a shameful episode in American history. For that honesty, and that so much great talent came together to make this movie, I, as an American, am proud.
For foreigners reading this review, I lived for many years in the South, including Florida, and I can assure you race relations have changed enormously (though all is not perfect), in part because we, as a nation, have been honest about our past. Look up the Rosewood Massacre online. Please read about the history of racism and the civil rights movement in America. That is the lesson I hope other nations will gain from this movie: If you are honest about your past, you no longer have to be ashamed of it.
But there is more to be told. I hope that one day someone, perhaps John Singleton, will make a movie about Harry T. Moore, one of the great unsung heroes of the civil rights movement.
The movie takes place in 1923 in a town in Florida called Rosewood. During the time, there was much hatred and racism towards the African Americans. In the movie, a false claim made by a white woman starts a series of race riots that eventually leads to a great disaster.
Everything about the movie is true except for the character of Mr. Mann(played by Vingh Rames). This is a very exciting movie from the director of Boyz N The Hood, and I strongly recommend it.
This film hits hard. It will move you to tears and anger you at how some people close by are seething with hatred. I would even go so far as to say that if it doesn't viscerally affect you, then you are either dead or part of the problem.
The film itself features outstanding performances by Ving Rhames, Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, Esther Rolle and many others. Their work will hopefully inform the viewer of this great tragedy and remind them that it is not something in the past. Florida's election fiasco of 2000 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina serve as evidence that the State and federal government is full of racists who continue these acts today.
Historians have argued about the specifics for years now. Some say the rash of attacks against whites perpetuated by blacks leading up to the Rosewood attack is insignificant because the black suspects were framed by racist whites. To others, the burning of the village and subsequent murders of at least six blacks are justified because of the considerable rise in black crime.
This story had all the earmarks of becoming a memorable feature film. It had a small gathering of sympathetic characters, a hoard of evil antagonists, and most especially an extra heaping of abject tragedy.
Unfortunately, the film is horrendously one-sided as it depicts nearly every white person as bloodthirsty savages bent on absolute hatred, while the black people appear as radiant beacons of righteousness. The story essentially is told from the viewpoint of the very models of propriety (the blacks) set against the fierce malevolence of humanity's abominations (the whites).
It's a puerile and half-hearted attempt at framing what at it's heart is a very real and horrifying picture of cruel annihilation. There are good and bad people in every social strata, and to stereotype an entire race (even within the context of but one film) is narrow-minded and ironically racist in itself.
Sure, you have Jon Voight portraying the token "good" white by trying to save many of the blacks that frequent his general store - but even he's a scumbag. He brazenly carries on with a young black girl and has a mean disposition.
You also have Ving Rhames playing the ubiquitous Hollywood "badass" who aids in the defense of the village by fighting the attacking whites off with two pistols, one in each hand, channeling his best knock-off of classic John Woo action.
I could forgive much of this if, in the end, we were left with an overall enjoyable film. Sadly, this piece of celluloid stinks like month old meatloaf. It's banal, derivative, and worst of all - unconditionally forgettable.
The cast is absolutely great throughout the film. Ving Rhames, Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, Bruce McGill, Loren Dean and Michael Rooker all do a great job with their parts. Also, Robert Patrick has a small role in the film, but does a good job with it as well. The rest of the cast is very good as well.
Other than the film being a tad on the lengthy-side, the film is very well done and moves along very well. There are a few scenes in particular that are really quite cool and VERY well directed! If you are the kind of person that likes drama's about America's history or you just like any of the actors mentioned above, then hopefully you'll like this film. I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did. Thanks for reading,