erik lundegaard

Does Anyone Know What the Civil Rights Movement Is Anymore?

Lee Daniels "The Butler"

The other day a Facebook friend directed me to Ann Hornaday's Washington Post article about how “The Butler,” or “Lee Daniels' The Butler,” will finally be putting the Civil Rights Movement on the big screen. Then she admits this:

“The Butler” largely focuses on Gaines’s family life and interactions with the presidential families he serves. But it also chronicles the burgeoning movement taking shape on the streets far beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Exactly. It's the ups and downs of one fictional family—at least a black family this time—as seen against a backdrop of some aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. It's some mix of “Dowtown Abbey,” U.S. version, and “The Help.” It's a 21st-century “Backstairs at the White House,” which itself was a mix of “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Roots.” But it's hardly a big-screen rendition of the Civil Rights Movement.

I've complained about this paucity from so-called liberal Hollywood before. Here, for example. And here.

But “The Butler” is a start, right? It's an attempt. That's mostly what Hornaday is saying. Particularly on the second and third pages of her essay, which go into the usual sad complaints that Hollywood studios only back superhero and tentpole movies rather than dramas. 

And then you read the comments to her article.

I know. Never read the comments. It's the online version of “Never get off the boat.” And yet there they were.

The first commenter refuted the notion that we haven't portrayed the Civil Rights Movment on the big screen:

Mississippi Burning
Malcolm X
Ghosts of Mississippi
To Kill a Mockingbird
I'm sure there are others I can't remember.

The second one piled on:

Remember the TItans
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

A little American History 101 (or is it Movie History 101?) for the kids:

  • Mississippi Burning: A glorification of the FBI during a fictionalized account of the murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner in Mississippi in 1964. Black people in the movie are mostly backdrops. They are incidental characters in their own story.
  • Malcolm X: About the man who brought the Nation of Islam to prominence. But this is not about the Civil Rights Movement. It's about a different kind of separatism rather than an attempt at integration.
  • Ghosts of Mississippi: More white people wrangling over black tragedy: this time, the murder of Medgar Evers in June 1963.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Set in the 1930s, it has nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Remember the Titans: Set in the 1970s, it's about football. (But it does have a good line by Denzel.)
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: A white famly wrangles with the prospect of their daughter marrying a handsome doctor.

Seriously, does anyone know what the Civil Rights Movement is anymore?


Posted at 08:51 AM on Thu. Aug 15, 2013 in category U.S. History  
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COMMENTS

Reed wrote:

“Never get off the boat.” Gonna remember that one next time I read any online column lest a tiger chases me through the jungle again...

Comment posted on Fri. Aug 16, 2013 at 12:58 AM

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