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The Trial of the Moke (Broadway Theatre Archive)
The Trial of the Moke
Broadway Theatre Archive
Actors: Robert Burr, Montgomery Davis, Ron Frazier, Samuel L. Jackson, Durward MacDonald
Director: Stan Lathan
Genres: Drama, Television, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2002     1hr 30min

This play is based on the tragic true story of the first African-American to graduate from West Point. Assigned to Fort Davis, Texas in 1881, Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper was framed by white officers who accused him of embezzl...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Robert Burr, Montgomery Davis, Ron Frazier, Samuel L. Jackson, Durward MacDonald
Director: Stan Lathan
Creator: Ken Campbell
Genres: Drama, Television, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Drama, Television, Broadway Theatre Archive
Studio: Kultur Video
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 11/26/2002
Theatrical Release Date: 10/09/1992
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

"How much more are you going to take before you fight back?"
Mary Whipple | New England | 01/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Henry O. Flipper (played with subtlety by Franklyn Seales), the son of a white mother and a black father, particularly resented being called a "moke," a crossbred ass, the equivalent of a mule. "Moke," however, was just one of the names he was called as a cadet at West Point. Though there had been other non-white cadets, Flipper was the first to ignore all the harassment and actually graduate. In this play, Flipper is in his third year as a lieutenant in the army, stationed at Fort Davis, Texas, and his race has become an issue. A new, grassroots colonel (crudely played by Robert Burr) and a group of uneducated fellow officers frame Flipper, the only black officer, and put him on trial for stealing funds from his commissary job.

Produced in 1978, this play by Daniel Stein, set in 1881, illustrates the depth of resentment against educated black men, even in the army. Seales carries the weight of the play's message, but he keeps the drama under control, resisting the temptation to push the message by "emoting" for dramatic effect. Instead, he portrays Henry Flipper with the dignity and self-respect which were his due. Alfre Woodard sensitively portrays Lucy, the black maid who is attracted to him, representing Flipper's opportunity to become part of black society and anchoring the play thematically. Johnson Whittaker (Samuel L. Jackson), a fellow cadet at West Point, appears and reappears as a ghost through Flipper's memories. Whittaker was dismissed from West Point when Flipper did not support him in a trial.

Black/white issues permeate the visual aspects of the drama, which features tasteless entertainments starring a white man in blackface playing Frederick Douglas, "the head of the Miscegenation Society"; blackfaced minstrels appearing in black and white (though the rest of the film is in color) as ghosts during Flipper's trial; and repeated references to "twilight," when the day is part white daylight and part black night. The trial is a foregone conclusion from the beginning, but Flipper and his lawyer fight the authorities for weeks.

A true story, the play, directed by Stan Lathan, drew public attention to this injustice when it was presented by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 1976, and was instrumental in having the court martial reversed, posthumously. Flipper, after serving as a respected mining engineer, was reburied with military honors later that year. The acting is superb, the production is thoughtfully presented, though a bit didactic, and the message is still pertinent. Mary Whipple

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