Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blood Done Sign My Name

Headline: Riveting Historical Drama Revisits Infamous Civil Rights Case

After serving his country in Vietnam, Henry Marrow (A.C. Sanford) returned to his hometown of Oxford, North Carolina only to be murdered in broad daylight for allegedly leering at a local white woman. On May 11, 1970, the 23 year-old vet left behind a pregnant widow (Milauna Jemai) and two young daughters, while the perpetrators of the heinous crime would ultimately be found not-guilty by an all-white jury, despite credible testimony of several eyewitnesses who identified the perpetrators as Ku Klux Klan sympathizer Robert Teel (Nick Searcy) and his son.

The outcome of the trial was no surprise, after all, black-white relations hadn’t changed that much in the tiny Southern town since it was founded during the slave days by Samuel Benton, a wealthy, politically-connected, tobacco plantation owner. But what was unexpected was the rioting which would erupt in the wake of the verdict when outraged young African-Americans took to the streets in protest.

At that juncture, Marrow’s cousin, a schoolteacher named Ben Chavis (Nate Parker), would emerge to play a pivotal role in ensuring that cooler heads prevailed in the black community. He organized a peaceful, 3-day, 50-mile march joined by thousands to the steps of the state capitol in Raleigh where they petitioned the governor for both justice and integration. And that valiant effort, which kickstarted Chavis’ career as a prominent Civil Rights leader, is the subject of Blood Done Sign My Name, a riveting historical drama directed by Jeb Stuart.

This harrowing tale of hope and woe was based on the moving memoir of Tim Tyson (Gattlin Griffith) who was only 10 years-old at the time the events in the story unfolded. Tim’s father (Ricky Schroder) was the pastor of Oxford’s lily-white Methodist church, and what makes the film compelling is the way in which the narration alternates back and forth between the perspectives of little Timmy and the increasingly emboldened Ben Chavis.

Worthy of note is the fact that one of Tim’s childhood friends was Gerald Teel (Michael May) who basically bragged about his pappy and big brother’s having just lynched a [N-word]. And despite his being unable to influence the outcome of the legal case, the injustice deeply-affected young Tyson. Consequently, he went on to earn a Ph.D. to become a professor of Black Studies at Duke and to write numerous books and articles on the South’s shameful Jim Crow system of segregation.

A bifurcated bio-pic examining the equally emotionally-charged points-of-view of both a black and white observer of the fallout from the same ugly incident.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and intense violence.
Running time: 128 Minutes
Distributor: Paladin

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