Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 8
 
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

THE LONGEST JOURNEY BEGINS WITH THE FIRST STEP: Young school teacher Ben Chavis (Nate Parker, center, wearing a tie and jacket) begins a peaceful three day 50 mile march to Raleigh, North Carolina in order to petition the governor, on the steps of the state capitol building, for justice in the murder of Henry Marrow that was allegedly committed by Robert Teel and his son. Chavis then went on to become a prominent civil rights activist.

Blood Done Sign My Name: Riveting Historical Drama Revisits Infamous Civil Rights Case

Kam Williams

After serving his country in Vietnam, Henry Marrow (A.C. Sanford) returned to his hometown of Oxford, North Carolina and was 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. This verdict came down despite the credible testimony of several eyewitnesses who identified the perpetrators as Ku Klux Klan sympathizer Robert Teel (Nick Searcy) and his son.

Black-white relations hadn’t changed that much in the tiny Southern town that had been founded by Samuel Benton, a wealthy, ante-bellum tobacco plantation owner. So the outcome of the trial was no surprise. However, what was unexpected was the rioting which erupted 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), emerged to play a pivotal role in ensuring that cooler heads prevailed in the black community. He organized a peaceful 3-day, 50-mile march, that was joined by thousands, to the steps of the state capitol in Raleigh, where they petitioned the governor for justice and integration. That valiant effort, which was the beginning of 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.

The harrowing story of hope and woe is based on the memoir of Tim Tyson (Gattlin Griffith) who was only 10-years-old at the time the events in the story occurred. Tim’s father (Ricky Schroder) was the pastor of Oxford’s white Methodist church. What makes the film compelling is the way in which the narration alternates between the perspectives of young Timmy and Ben Chavis.

Worthy of note is the fact that one of Tim’s childhood friends was Gerald Teel (Michael May), a younger son of Robert Teel. Gerald bragged about how his father and older brother had lynched a [N-word]. Although Tim Tyson was unable to influence the outcome of the legal case, the injustice deeply affected him. Consequently, he grew up to become a professor of Black Studies at Duke and wrote numerous books and articles on the South’s Jim Crow system of segregation.

The movie is a biopic that examines the points-of-view of both a black and a white observer of the results of the same ugly incident.

Excellent (3½ stars). Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and intense violence. Running time: 128 Minutes. Distributor: Paladin.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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