The More Things Change....
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 04/01/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In 1995, Susan Smith drowned her own sons and blamed it on a Black man. In the 1990s, about a dozen Black men were on death row in Illinois, and none of them had actually committed the crime. Some may think the oppression of Black men in the American criminal justice system is new or sporadic, but it has a long history. Few outside of African-American studies enthusiasts remember the Scottsboro case. Luckily, this program has been made to remind the masses of injustice in this country. Because character Michael Evans was right in asserting that "Boy is a white, racist term!", I cringed hearing these accused being called "boys." However, each of the accused were between the ages of 13 and 19 when a white woman of questionable morals framed them during the Great Depression.
This tragedy will remind many of the O.J. Simpson case of the last decade: the dynamics were much larger than the individuals involved. Just as Emmett Till's murderers went free, here a Southern court and its players made incorrect decisions just to maintain the status quo and tell Northerners, "Leave us alone!" There are elements of anti-Semitism here as well as racism.
I don't care for André Braugher as an actor, but he did a good job of narrating this work. Actors re-interpreted the court dialogue, but photos were the visuals, instead of modern background actors being recorded. People who love Court TV will love seeing this, besides the serious issues here, this is basically a court drama, a genre that many Americans love.
I continue to applaud the "American Experience" series for including the low points of American history and not just the high points. I also thank them for including people of color, and how we've been wronged."
An American Travesty
Alfred Johnson | boston, ma | 05/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the late 19th century; Sacco and Vanzetti, probably the most famous case of all, in the 1920's; the Rosenburgs in the post-World War II 1950's Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. Here we look at the case of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930's. The exposure of the tensions within American society, particularly around the intersection of race and sex, which came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the documentary under review.
In a certain sense this is another one of those liberal do-gooder films that the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is known for. That is indicated in the title of the work-an American tragedy. The underlying premise is that the fate of the Boys, ugly in many aspects by the standards of that time and certainly by today's standards, was now merely a long past singular aberration of the American justice system that eventually got righted. Tell that to the vast black and Hispanic majority of today's victims of that same `justice' system languishing in America's prison's in the overwrought `war on drugs'. Tell that to the kids down in Jena, Louisiana. But that is a story for another time.
What the PBS film does here is highlight the various legal trials and tribulations, over many years, which most of the nine Scottsboro defendants faced including four trials, many appeals and, ultimately for the lone survivor who lived long enough, a pardon. All for crimes that they did not commit and that the state of Alabama knew that they did not commit. For those unfamiliar with the case this chronology is a nice primer on the key aspects of the case. But it should make one think more about how the lives of the Scottsboro Boys were really saved.
Although the documentary tips its hat, somewhat begrudgingly, to the titanic efforts of the American Communist Party in 1931 to make the case internationally known, and gain a hearing from blacks on other social and economic issues as well, that tendency to highlight the legal side of the battle plays the filmmakers false here. There would have been no cause celebre without the communists, although the fate of the feisty New York Jewish lawyer who handled most of the stages of the case and holds center stage here is certainly of interest. As is the question of plebian anti-Semitism as a proper subject for study in its own right.
The vaunted NAACP, nominally the legal voice of the black community, did not want to touch the case because it involved accusations of interracial sex and would have wrecked havoc with their liberal base. I will argue here that without the dreaded communists to stay the state of Alabama's hand the boys would have long before been executed -or been hanging from the nearest poles.
I might also mention that the American Communist Party was acting under the Communist International's direction. On the black question in America that meant support for the slogan of national self-determination for blacks in the South (the actual configuration for that is rather weird by- black majority counties). That slogan played a propaganda role in the background for holiday occasions during this period, called the `third period' in communist parlance, but the heart of communist work in the early 1930's were in struggles over wage equality, saving jobs, evictions, unemployed work, the fight against lynch law in the South and labor and black defense work.
For most of my adult political life I have been an anti-Stalinist leftist but for their Scottsboro Boys defense-all honor to the party and its legal arm the International Labor Defense. As pointed out above this documentary is a good primer on the case but one should Google for books on the case. Then, I hope, you will be able to agree that this case was not merely an American tragedy but a travesty."
Get Your Kleenex Out
L. N. Cockerham | Winston Salem, NC USA | 02/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is utterly amazing that a situation of this magnitude even took place. My students were astounded by this DVD, and had many questions. Truly, a very good show of racism in America. We need to begin teaching true history and not glossed over African and African-American history."
Miranda Wise | Northern, VA | 04/22/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Straight-forward and true. This DVD confirmed my beliefs that the darker a black man is, the more of a threat he is to white society, even if he has not done anything particularly "illegal". one of the young men, because he was dark and was not talkative, he was considered a threat and had received most of the interrogation from law enforcement."