MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
John Lewis: Good Trouble - Video on Demand Rental from Prime Video, VUDU, Apple TV, Google Play, and cable and satellite TV providers ($6.99) Virtual Cinema rental to support local theaters ($12)
Documentary directed by Dawn Porter
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
John Lewis was a civil rights leader whose life lived up to his own demanding standards. John Lewis: Good Trouble was completed last year while Lewis was undergoing treatments for the pancreatic cancer that would eventually take his life on July 17. It is a stunning collection of archival footage (including his work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), television appearances (including his 1986 campaign in the Democratic primary for the House of Representatives against fellow activist Julian Bond), complimentary sound bites from progressive politicians, family snapshots, and personal remembrances from Lewis himself.
The film was released this month just days before Lewis’ death. Considering our nation’s focus on systemic racism following years of peaceful demonstrations and the tragic death of George Floyd, John Lewis: Good Trouble should be considered required viewing.
Growing up as the son of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama, Lewis aspired as a boy to one day become a minister. His oft-told story about preaching to the chickens in the barnyard is repeated in this film for comedic effect. Lewis eventually went to seminary in Nashville and was ordained as a Baptist preacher (and mentored by Methodist pastor James Lawson who was leading non-violence workshops at Clark Memorial Methodist Church). Lewis’ oratorical skill and passion for justice were always in full display during his 60 plus years in the public eye, including a speech during the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis was involved in every phase of the civil rights movement, as a freedom rider in 1961 and as a participant in the historic march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma (where he was brutally beaten by state troopers). It is still shocking to observe the persistent response of violence against peaceful demonstrations.
While this movie is a nice tribute to Lewis (and one that he deserves), I felt that a more nuanced story would have included more of the ongoing pushback that Lewis has received in recent years when speaking out for voting rights, gun safety, and his endorsements and opposition to a number of sitting presidents. The film seems content with sharing Lewis’ activism in the past while neglecting his ongoing dedication for justice during his lifetime. While it is great to see the admiration from fellow progressive Democrats, it is important to remember the lesson that John Lewis learned early in life: speaking out for the powerless comes with a price. Jesus was a troublemaker.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A somewhat scattershot depiction of a great man is nevertheless full of powerful images and noble aspirations.
Three pitchforks: Even a family-friendly film about racism is filled with scenes of violence, hatred, racial slurs, and oppression.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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