About: An expansive consideration of how the movement of Black people has been policed in American history.
Based on Gretchen Sorin’s book DRIVING WHILE BLACK: AFRICAN AMERICAN TRAVEL AND THE ROAD TO CIVIL RIGHTS, this screen version reveals the pivotal role transportation and movement have played in African American life in the 20th century. While mainstream (white) audiences were introduced to the treacherous aspects of road travel for Black individuals via Hollywood’s GREEN BOOK, Sorin and her co-director Ric Burns delve more deeply, and broadly, into the concept of the transformative possibilities – and limits – of travel by African Americans in the US, from slavery through Jim Crow, the Great Migration through the Civil Rights era and into the present day. They cover a wide swath of history, perhaps too wide – an exploration of the restrictions on the Black body for any of these periods could easily fill its own feature length treatment – but it’s an informative and insightful meditation that remains all too relevant to this day.
About: An exploration of the political activism and impact of six legendary Black female actresses and musicians.
Based on HOW IT FEELS TO BE FREE: BLACK WOMEN ENTERTAINERS AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, Yoruba Richen’s screen treatment profiles five of the women featured in Ruth Feldstein’s book – Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, and Cicely Tyson – and swaps in Pam Grier instead of Miriam Makeba for the sixth spot. This multi-subject focus is a departure from the typical singular approach for American Masters, and a daunting one – each of these icons could and should receive their own standalone doc, or, at the least, would have benefitted from an episodic form instead. Richen and her panel of experts – Feldstein as well as historians, family members, and notable present-day performers – do succeed in drawing out compelling arguments and observations about how these subjects broke barriers in Hollywood and the larger entertainment industry, and, just as often, were frustrated in their efforts, as well as the more overt activism some of them engaged in, particularly around civil rights. At the same time, the need to balance six biographical threads lends a choppiness to the proceedings, and a sense that there’s far more to each women’s story than is possible to cover in the available time.
Coming to select theatres and to VOD tomorrow, Friday, January 15: MLK/FBI
Director: Sam Pollard
World Premiere: Toronto 2020
Select Festivals: DOC NYC, New York, Chicago, IDFA
About: An exposé of the FBI’s adversarial relationship to the Civil Rights leader.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Sam Pollard’s latest film performs the vital task of examining FBI director J Edgar Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, when King is celebrated across political spectrums as a moral hero, it’s jolting to confront the years when federal agents targeted him as a villain. Inspired by the work of historian David Garrow, the film uses recently declassified files to study the FBI’s motives and methods.