Borderstan Movie Fan: Black History Month and the Media

by February 24, 2010 at 11:30 am 2,034 2 Comments

Borderstan Movie Fan movie reviews Mary Burganby Mary Burgan

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan looks at the media from the perspective of Black History Month. Normally, her column runs every two weeks and previous reviews are listed at the end.

Although we are already in the last week of Black History Month, there is still time to catch up on offerings in the media and at the movies.

A friend has mentioned that there will be a new and exhaustive history of African Americans in the military coming out on WETA on February 21. It’s called For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots. If the title sounds overly didactic, the series seems to follow suit, but the information is, like much Black History, startling in showing how tragic and yet how courageous has been the progress of African Americans in helping our country’s to reach any semblance of justice on race.

WETA’s web page has a list of all its offerings, and especially of walking tours in and around Washington where aspects of Black History can be made more tangible.

As for films, I would certainly go to Glory (1989) for a dramatic account of the black soldiers in the Shaw regiment during the Civil War. And although it doesn’t have the same power, Spike Lee’s The Miracle of St. Anna (2008) gives a psychologically acute account of black G.I.’s among the segregated “Buffalo Soldiers” in Italy in World War II.

I don’t recommend Mississippi Burning (1988) as highly because it centers on the white federal agents in telling about the civil rights movement in the South in the mid 1960s, and neglects thereby the story of the victims of violence. Still for those who have no memories at all of those times, it is worth watching.

There is a new film called Blood Done Sign My Name, just now in theaters. It tells about racism in the South as late at 1970. The reviews are mixed, but I do plan to see it.

There are also some film biographies that can help understanding of black history in America. I think first of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) because Denzel Washington gives such a remarkable account of that remarkable man’s life. The same goes for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1973) shown on television originally but available at Netflix now. Cecily Tyson inhabits the role of an anonymous black woman living from slavery into the Civil Rights Movement with utter dignity.

Finally, I recommend Beloved, the film (1998), but especially the novel (1987) from which it was made, as a supreme account of America’s history as experienced by black people in the South. The book’s epigraph, “Sixty million and more,” announced Morrison’s intention as a historian, as do the dates she placed at the headings of sections.

The germ of the novel was also historical. It is the story of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave from Kentucky, who killed her daughter rather than have the slave hunters empowered by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 carry her back to the plantation in Kentucky. The film Beloved has not received as much praise as the novel, but I recommend it nevertheless. I believe that it “gets” the novel, in all its narrative difficulty.

Since The Birth of a Nation (1915) the movies have presented many distorted pictures of black people on plantations before the Civil War. See, for one example, the famous Bette Davis film, Jezebel (1938), in which a group of joyful slaves come round to the front of the big house to sing spiritual harmonies to help the heroine prove the goodness of southern culture.

That scene epitomizes one lie about black history that Morrison sought to dispel. Toni Morrison wrote to say that there was no bright side to slavery and its aftermath. And despite bringing the heroism and achievements of many African American citizens into the light, Black History Month shares Morrison’s motive in Beloved as well.

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan


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