WOODSTOCK 99: PEACE, LOVE, AND RAGE (2021, doc)

July 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Character is revealed in the most unexpected places, and often at a time when one has a bit more freedom than usual. Like the mosh pit at a music festival. You may wonder why I’m disgusted and saddened at what stuck with me after this documentary. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the music. Instead the takeaway from Woodstock 99 is that far too many young men easily succumbed to aggressive and animalistic behavior, and worse, seized the opportunity to abuse women who were simply trying to have a good time. Of course, this was 22 years ago. Maybe we feel better about young men today.

Garret Price, the film’s director, begins by admitting Woodstock 99 played like a horror film, so we brace ourselves for what’s to follow. If you’ve seen Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary about the original Woodstock festival, then you know it’s a blend of some of the best live music of the era and a peek at the ‘peace and love’ counter-culture so prevalent in 1969. To really grasp this version of the 30th anniversary of that first festival, you should know that promoters John Scher and Michael Lang were coming off a very successful and smooth 25th anniversary Woodstock festival in 1994 (Lang was also behind the 1969 festival). 1999 was also the year of the Columbine shooting, we were on the brink of Y2K, and cell phones were quite scarce. The promoters thought was this would be the “last hurrah” for baby boomers. Instead, the festival is referred to as “the day the nineties died.”

The miscalculation by the promoters was in demographics. The transformation of MTV had skewed to younger viewers, and the “Girls Gone Wild” mentality seemed to feed the fantasy of every young male. “New Rock” featuring bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit played up misogyny, homophobia, and aggression. This was the antithesis of where society is headed today. On top of all that, the sweltering heat and overpriced fluids affected behavior, and a water shortage combined with mud pits that were actually raw sewage turned the festival into a nightmare. And then things got worse.

The 1969 music corresponded to that festival’s mission, but thirty years later, Kid Rock in a mink coat and Fred Durst inciting idiocy created a much different environment. Moby is interviewed throughout this documentary offering insight into the festival and how things went wrong. The lineup included only three female acts: Alanis Morissette, Jewell, and Sheryl Crowe, and they were scheduled one per day for the three day festival, meaning many of the other acts seemed to spur the aggression in the massive crowd of 400,000.

With nostalgia non-existent, commercialism booming, and what Jewell terms “fake rage” the calling of the day, rioting, looting, fires, and sexual assaults became the festival’s legacy. Price’s film (produced by former sportswriter Bill Simmons) allows us to watch how quickly things go sideways, and any thoughts of peace and unity disappear. It’s quite a snapshot in time of a generation and culture that was spinning out of control.

Streaming on HBO Max beginning July 23, 2021

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McCARTNEY 3,2,1 (2021, doc)

July 15, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Remember when … in 1993 … Chris Farley interviewed Paul McCartney on “Saturday Night Live”? That was awesome. Mr. Farley passed away four years later, and Sir Paul McCartney is now 79 years old and truly a living music legend. This Hulu original consists of six 30 minute episodes directed by Zachary Heinzerling, who was Oscar nominated for his 2013 documentary CUTIE AND THE BOXER. Filmed in black and white from inside a recording studio, McCartney and famed hip-hop music producer Rick Rubin spend three hours talking music, history, and influence.

Many of the stories McCartney tells here are the same he’s told numerous times over the years, however, he infuses each episode with some new tale or, even better, a peek behind the music he’s created over the last 60 years. Of course, there is next to nothing about his private life which he has expertly protected for so long, but this environment is about one topic. A sound studio with a music producer talking music with a musician should only be about the music, and McCartney and Rubin fascinate us by deconstructing some of the most famous and popular songs ever written.

The stories in the episodes meander a bit, rather than go in chronological order, and each contains some color clips that correspond to McCartney’s memory of the moment. Episode 1, “These Things Bring You Together” finds Paul recalling how Edith Piaf not only influenced his songwriting, but also his “French” phase (although Jane Asher is not mentioned). It’s really mesmerizing to hear Paul discuss the “intercontinental rivalry” with the Beach Boys and how the Pet Sounds album motivated him towards “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” (sprinkled with a humorous salt and pepper story). An incredible clip of Jimi Hendrix performing “Sgt Pepper”, and Paul incessantly chomps on his chewing gum as he refers to “George’s friend”, who just happens to be Eric Clapton.

Episode 2, “The Notes That Like Each Other”, has Paul discussing how Bach influenced his songwriting, and we get insight into “Eleanor Rigby” (and the Octet), “Penny Lane” (with Dave Mason’s piccolo trumpet), “Band on the Run”, “Blackbird”, and the trip to Lagos. It’s in this segment where Paul first acknowledges the importance of George Martin as producer, performer, and arranger. Episode 3, “The People We Loved Were Loving Us”, opens with “Back in the USSR”, and the Beatles first number one hit in the U.S.: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Paul then reiterates the importance of seeing Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan perform, and how every musician is influenced by others. He re-tells the too-familiar “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” story, and recalls the band’s trip to India.

Episode 4, “Like Professors in a Laboratory”, is a bit of a hodgepodge, but may include the most new details of any. Rubin and McCartney discuss the process for pushing the treble on George’s guitar for “Nowhere Man”, the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the band’s fascination with having Robert Moog and his new invention at Abbey Road. We also hear “the Ringo moment”, and Paul talks about penning his James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die”, and the segment ends with “You Know My Name”. Episode 5, “Couldn’t You Play it Straighter?”, and Episode 6, “The Long and Winding Road” find Paul and Rubin digging deep into creating some of the unique sounds within the songs – the bass line in “Something”; George telling Paul, “you play it” in regards to the guitar solo on “Tax Man”; John’s impact and the famous bass line on “Come Together”; and George Martin’s string quartet for “Yesterday”. Episode 5 closes with “Helter Skelter”, while Episode 6 ends, of course, with “The End”.

Director Heinzerling has the camera track set up as if to film Rubin and McCartney performing in the round – with a couple of exceptions when Paul picks up a guitar or plops down at the piano to make his point musically. Rubin plays the roles of fan boy, music professional, and interviewer, and he does a nice job getting Paul to go a bit deeper than he typically would. As the two isolate fragments of songs, it’s fun to see the joy on Paul’s face as he recalls the “luck” (his word) involved with some of the band’s quick work in the studio. McCartney does manage to give John, George, and Ringo brief moments of tribute, but make no mistake, this is Paul’s show. For music lovers, this is an enjoyable 3 hours, and whether by design or not, it certainly ups the already high anticipation for Peter Jackson’s upcoming, THE BEATLES: GET BACK for Disney+ later this year.

Premieres on Hulu on July 16, 2021

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ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN (2021, doc)

July 15, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. As the film begins, we understand there will be no happy ending. Anthony Bourdain committed suicide by hanging in 2018 at the age of 61. As it was reported, everyone was shocked. Oscar winning documentarian Morgan Neville (TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, 2013) interviews those who knew him best, and by the end of the film, we are left wondering why these folks were shocked at how his demise.

Bourdain … called Tony by those who knew him … spent most of the last 20 years of his life with a camera focused on him, so director Neville allows Bourdain to tell much of his own story. “I got very lucky” is how he explains turning a dishwasher job into the position of Chef at Brasserie Les Halles on Park Avenue in New York, and then evolving into an author, talk show guest, and host of TV travel and culinary shows.

Perhaps you read Bourdain’s first book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly”, or maybe you know him from one of his four TV shows where he traveled around the globe eating strange food and exploring unusual cultures. Then again, to some, he’ll always be known as the guy who was filmed eating a live cobra heart. All of those bits are discussed here, but the real interesting segments occur as others talk about the man they knew/loved/worked with.

Bourdain’s second wife Ottavio, his brother, his friends, his agent, and his production crew are all interviewed here and are surprisingly forthcoming in their recollections and insight into Tony. We even see clips of Bourdain with his daughter, though she is not interviewed. The descriptions add up to a complicated guy. A natural storyteller who was a control freak and hard on those he worked with. Yet he was also charming, immensely intelligent and articulate, and eager to make satisfying TV. He also comes across a bit lost as a person most of the time, never more than when he’s filmed asking Iggy Pop, “What thrills you?” There is even a segment with Tony in a session with his therapist.

The film, and Bourdain himself, don’t shy away from his addictive nature. He admits to a drug problem when he was younger, and for the rest of his life he jumped from one non-drug related addiction to another. His personal life seemed to take a turn when he fell for Italian actress Asia Argento and he became an advocate for the #MeToo movement. His tragic end is discussed, and maybe those closest to him were simply too close to see what seems obvious to us now. Director Neville uses no shortage of archival footage and photos, but it’s the personal interviews that strike the emotional chord here. Two films, APOCALYPSE NOW and VIOLENT CITY apparently had a dramatic impact on Bourdain, and though the end is tragic, his legacy as an adventurous storyteller lives on.

In theaters on July 16, 2021

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THE LONELIEST WHALE: THE SEARCH FOR 52 (doc, 2021)

July 8, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The old adage goes, “There’s someone for everyone.” Even for the outsiders and misfits. But what if there is only one? First heard by Navy research in 1989, “the Loneliest Whale in the World” has been named “52” due to his unique 52 Hertz call. He has never been seen and his song was last heard in 2003 … so there is no guarantee he’s still alive. Director Joshua Zemen has long been fascinated by the legend of 52 – a majestic creature assumed to be living in isolation since no other whales can hear his call.

It’s a sad story and one that caused a social frenzy as so many related their own stories of loneliness, proving yet again how humans connect with the animal kingdom. Whales have long played a role in the bible (Jonah) and in literature (Captain Ahab from “Moby Dick”), but 52’s unusual call was picked up thanks to the Navy’s Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) which had been developed to track submarines during war time. It took the late Oceanographer Bill Watkins to recognize the call as biological, creating the origin of the legend and mystery. Watkins claimed we can hear more than we see in the ocean, and there’s much to learn from those sounds.

When the 52 Hertz call was once again heard, director Zemen secured funding for a 7-day excursion off the Santa Barbara coast with the goal of locating the whale. He assembled a team of Oceanographers, Biologists, and researchers – each knowledgeable and passionate. Zemen is the outsider of this group, and in the film’s only flaw, allows himself to be the focus a bit too often. Interspersed within the 7 day mission are history lessons regarding the hunting of whales, once commonplace. All of that changed with the 1970 best-selling record entitled, “Songs of the Humpback Whales”. Hearing their calls and singing led directly to the “Save the Whales” era – and the hunting and slaughtering was cut by 99 percent.

Director Zemen is having quite the year, as his excellent docuseries, “The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness” was recently released. Here he works hard at instilling some entertainment into the science project by including the captain’s 52 Lost Love music tape featuring Pablo Cruise, and a quick segment with the quirky and brilliant Kate Micucci … plus a humorous moment informing us that single bunks are for one person. The film doesn’t get the “tied up with a bow” ending Zemen and the researchers might hope for, but the mystery shifts a bit, and we realize how much we’ve enjoyed spending time with these smart, caring folks. Leonardo DiCaprio donated $50,000 to the project and is listed as an Executive Producer for the film that offers some close-ups and details that are likely new to many of us.

Bleeker Street will release the film in theaters nationwide on July 9 and on Digital July 16.

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THE PHANTOM (2021, doc)

July 1, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Will the real murdering Carlos please come forward? Unfortunately it’s too late for the other one. Store clerk Wanda Lopez was murdered in Corpus Christi, Texas one night in 1983. The recording of her 911 call is brief, but documents her identifying the assailant as Hispanic, and noting that he was brandishing a knife … the knife the man would use to take her life.

After a short manhunt, the Corpus Christi police found a shirtless 21 year old Carlos DeLuna hiding under a car. He was identified by eye witnesses and immediately arrested on suspicion of murder. From the beginning, DeLuna was adamant about his innocence and claimed he knew the actual murderer, Carlos Hernandez, DeLuna’s doppelganger.

Patrick Forbes is a documentarian whose previous topics included Brexit, the human heart, and WikiLeaks. This time he walks us through the steps of a criminal system that executed the wrong man. He uses interviews, archival footage, and documentation from the police reports and trial. We hear from the District Attorney, the defense attorney, Wanda Lopez’s attorney, and the eyewitnesses. The original Medical Examiner (ME) even reads aloud from his report. Forbes presents the facts of the case so that we understand how such a travesty occurred.

The evidence that convicted Carlos DeLuna was limited to the eyewitnesses and a wad of cash in his pocket. No fingerprints. No blood on his clothes. No DNA. Somehow this was enough to not just find him guilty, but also sentence him to death. DeLuna testified at his own trial and claimed under oath it was Carlos Hernandez – a man the Corpus Christi police were unable to find, despite his significant (and violent) criminal record.

We hear from the reporter who received correspondence from DeLuna while he was incarcerated. She recounts their exchanges and notes that she was a somewhat green reporter who had no real idea how to handle this. We also hear from the Chaplain who details the issues that occurred during the execution, and from DeLuna’s estranged brother who tried to assist. Mr. Forbes is efficient and precise in the structure of the documentary based on the Columbia Law School research paper, “Los Tocayos Carlos”. Is the criminal justice flawed or outright broken – for those wrongfully accused and convicted, the answer is simple.

Opening in theaters on July 2, 2021

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A&E Biography: KISStory (2021)

June 27, 2021

Biography: KISSTORY (2021, 2-part Documentary)

Greetings again from the darkness. Even for those who aren’t rock ‘n roll fans, there is a familiarity and curiosity about the band KISS and their fans, known as the KISS Army. It’s the face make-up, the outlandish costumes, the raucous concerts, the best-selling albums, and of course, that tongue. Director D.J. Viola, working in conjunction with A&E’s “Biography” series, has put together a comprehensive 2-part documentary billed as a backstage pass to the history and impact of the band.

KISS has been performing and recording for almost 50 years, and Volume One (as the first episode is titled) goes back even further, as we learn Gene Simmons was born in Israel and moved to the U.S. in 1958, while Paul Stanley was born in Queens. The two men met in 1970, and much of the time is spent with the two co-founders of the band recollecting those early years. Viola chronicles their memories with clips and photographs, as well as commentary from others. The band’s “End of the Road” tour, supposedly their farewell act, began in 2019 and has been suspended until August 2021 due to COVID.

The early formation of the band is a bit unusual, as Gene and Paul found drummer Peter Criss from an advertisement Criss put in the newspaper, and Ace Frehley answered the band’s “Village Voice” ad for a lead guitarist. 1973 brought the first KISS photograph, their earliest known recording, and the earliest concert footage. Their time in Electric Lady Studio, the same one used by Jimi Hendrix, is recalled with reverence, and we get to hear how the band was committed to being “big” on stage, and were influenced in their style by New York Dolls, Alice Cooper, and the idea of a full musical production on stage. It didn’t take long for smoking guitars, airborne drum sets, blood baths, and pyrotechnics to become inseparable from the music and these comic book heroes.

Each band member created their own makeup and character. For instance, Gene’s demon was supposedly influenced by “Phantom of the Opera”. Their new manager, Bill Aucoin recognized the potential and hooked them up with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records. By 1975, the band had their anthem, “Rock ‘n Roll All Nite”, and as Dave Grohl describes, their stage show was “ballistic”. Despite all of that, they were definitely a “people’s band, not a critics’ band”, and it took the huge success of their “Alive!” album to save the band and the record label. And what typically follows success?  Yes, turmoil. By 1982 both Criss and Frehley had left the band, due to drugs and creative differences.

Volume 2 of the two-part documentary focuses on the band’s ever-changing musical styles and various personnel changes at drummer and lead guitarist, as well as the rollercoaster ride of popularity and faded stardom followed by recapturing the magic. It’s difficult for a band to reinvent themselves once their look, style, music, and stage show have garnered such a loyal following. Disco, dance music, androgyny, and a rock opera didn’t work for the band or their fans, and Gene and Paul readily admit they spent some years floundering.

It was 1983 on MTV when the band first appeared without makeup, in yet another attempt to reinvent themselves. After the split with Criss, Frehley, and Aucoin, the next dozen years brought multiple lead guitarists, the tragic loss of one drummer to cancer, and even a delve into acting by Simmons. It was an appearance on “Unplugged” in 1995 that led to a huge reunion tour for the band, including KISS Convention – a traveling museum for fans. Predictably, the big bucks tour as not enough to stave off yet another band breakup. Gene and Paul were the leaders of the band, as they were the two that had stuck it out through good times and bad.

This is a band that has sold more than 100 million records and countless concert tickets over a five decade span. Self-destructive band members, an addict as a manager, and changing music tastes of the public were all obstacles that couldn’t ultimately stop the band. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley declined to participate in the making of this documentary, so we have to accept most of this is told from the viewpoint of co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. Still, it’s been a fascinating journey for one of rock’s most unusual bands. If it truly ends after the farewell tour, their place in history is secure (2014 inductees into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame). Until then, “You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world. KISS!”

The four hour, two-night event airs on A&E on Sunday, June 27 and Monday, June 28, 2021, from 9-11pm ET/PT.

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MARY J BLIGE’S MY LIFE (2021, doc)

June 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The project began as a way to document the 25th anniversary of Mary J Blige’s enormously influential album “My Way” and her celebratory live performance to mark the milestone of the album. Vanessa Roth won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject FREEHELD (2007), and as director of this film, she turned it into a profile of the woman behind the music, resulting in surprisingly effective life lessons for those in need.

As if to caution viewers that this is more than a concert film, we are five minutes in before director Roth allows us to hear Mary sing. We learn of her childhood in poverty living in the Yonkers projects, and how singing was her escape – a way to feel free. It was Sean “Diddy” Combs who discovered her for Uptown Records. Of course, Combs is now a hugely successful producer, musician, and entrepreneur, and he’s forthcoming in his recollections of those early years. “My Life” was Mary’s second album, and she’s credited with blending hip-hop and R&B and bringing a new music style to the masses. How successful has she been? Try 31 Grammy nominations (9 wins) and Two Oscar nominations (including one for acting).

Actress Taraji P Henson and multi-Grammy winning musician Alicia Keys both provide perspective on Mary’s influence, not just in the music world, but also in helping women believe in themselves. Mary J Blige has had emotional struggles, survived an abusive relationship, and overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol. Sharing her story and how she has persisted through the years turns this into a story of feelings, truth, and heart. The music is impressive and provides the platform, however, it’s the woman who shines through here.

Available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on June 25, 2021

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CHASING CHILDHOOD (2021, doc)

June 23, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Yours truly is of the age where childhood presented an abundance of freedom to play unsupervised outside, parenting years were filled with coaching and volunteering for the various structured kid activities, and grandparenting is comprised of waxing nostalgic for a simpler time when kids could be kids and parents weren’t so focused on their kids’ achievements and pursuit of perfection. Co-directors Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld dig into the evolution of parenting and the banishment of “free play”.

The topic is broached across diverse socio-economic classes in Wilton, Connecticut (a cluster of one-percenters), Patchogue, New York (a blue-collar, working class area), and Manhattan with its cross-section of race and class. The co-directors lean heavily on author and psychology researcher Peter Gray, who wrote “Free to Learn” and is considered an expert on “play”, and Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the “Let Grow” organization. Ms. Skenazy received worldwide attention when she allowed her 9-year old son to ride the New York subway alone. For that, she was labeled “America’s Worst Mom.”

Of course much of the societal shift can be associated with the concerns parents have of putting their kids in harm’s way. “Stranger Danger” and the faces of missing kids on milk cartons, as well as the tragic story of Adam Walsh in 1981 should all be factored in to the foundation of what we now call “helicopter parenting.” Instead of parents directing their kids to be home by dark, as the screen door slams behind them, the days and evenings and weekends of kids are structured and entered into the family calendar.

We hear directly from kids as they go through their daily commitments: sports, band, dance, tutoring, etc. Hanging out with friends is never mentioned. The film does a terrific job of detailing the consequences of this contemporary form of parenting. High stress and frazzled nerves for both kids and parents are commonplace. Free-play offers many opportunities for learning – especially the life skills that allow kids to grow into independent thinking adults, and hopefully, happy people. The film should resonate with parents, kids, and teachers, and this quote from the film will stick with many viewers (at least me): “All the worry in the world doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.”

Abramorama will release the film via a virtual live world premiere event screening on June 24th followed by a nationwide Watch Now @ Home Cinema Release on June 25th

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RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There she sits. Rita Moreno looks directly into the camera as she tells her own story. And what a story it is. She talks about the good times and bad. She recalls the challenges of being a Puerto Rican immigrant in a predominantly white industry. Documentarian Mariem Perez Riera understands there is no one who can tell Rita’s story better than Ms. Moreno herself, yet knows the story becomes even more powerful with the insight of others.

We get the background on her childhood, and what stands out is Rita’s admission that she was born to be a performer and danced professionally at age 6 (made her Broadway debut at age 13). It’s heart-breaking to hear her talk of breaking into movies, stating, there’s nobody “like me” up there. Forced to take “exotic” roles and speak with a heavy accent while wearing makeup “the color of mud”, Rita initially took every role she could. The prestige projects finally started to come: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952), THE KING AND I (1956), and yes, WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Her role as Anita in the latter won her an Oscar, which shockingly, did not lead to more quality film roles.

It’s stunning to find out that she went seven years without making a movie, but Rita is never shy about her personal life … which includes being raped by her agent, and having a 7 year affair with Marlon Brando that resulted in an abortion and a suicide attempt. Rita is matter-of-fact about the low points, and positively glowing about the good stuff: her work and music on “The Electric Company” (with Morgan Freeman) earned her a Grammy, her stage performance in “The Ritz” won her a Tony, and “The Muppet Show” and “The Rockford Files” won her Emmys. If you are keeping score, that places Rita Moreno in rarified air – she’s an EGOT.

Two of the film’s producers, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Norman Lear also provide their own perspective, as do Rita’s daughter, fellow EGOT Whoopi Goldberg, her WEST SIDE STORY co-star George Chikiris, Mitzi Gaynor, and other Latinos who pay their respects, including Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, and Hector Elizondo. This is a profile and tribute to a woman who turns 90 this year and is still hard at work. Some of her recent work includes playing a nun on “Oz”, being a regular on “One Day at a Time”, and an upcoming role in the Steven Spielberg remake of WEST SIDE STORY … now that is what’s called “Full Circle”!

The American Dream didn’t come easy for Rita Moreno, but her commitment to her profession took her to the top not just an as EGOT, but also her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She’s an energetic woman with amazing talent, and director Mariem Perez Riera includes some of Moreno’s work on the Civil Rights Movement and political issues. The film is part of the American Masters series on PBS, and I’ll leave you with this: “Hey, you guys!” … watch this movie!

In theaters June 18, 2021

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RISE AGAIN: TULSA AND THE RED SUMMER (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s inexplicable how so much hate-based violence was ignored by the mainstream media for so long. Documentarian Dawn Porter is here to correct some of that. The film opens as a backhoe breaks ground in search of a mass grave site in Tulsa. If you watch or read the news, you have seen the current day reporting of the 100 year old massacre that occurred in 1921 in Greenwood, the “Black Wall Street” area of Tulsa. Over two days, an angry white mob killed hundreds of blacks, destroyed buildings and homes, looted valuables, and displaced thousands.

Details of the Tulsa massacre have finally been brought to light, but Ms. Porter, working in conjunction with “Washington Post” reporter DeNeen Brown, also pulls back the cloak of secrecy on how the Red Summer actually began in 1919 with tragic and violent events that led up to Tulsa. These events occurred in East St Louis, Omaha, Washington DC, and Chicago. We learn that Elaine, Arkansas still refuses to search for what might be one of the largest mass grave sites in U.S. history. Of course, the connection to the modern era is easily traced to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and too many other events to list here.

The film is well-researched and well-documented. Reporter Brown acknowledges picking up the torch left by Ida B Wells, whose courageous reporting and research were instrumental in leading to these stories getting published – even if it’s decades later than it should have been. Historians and academic leaders are given a platform to discuss how the media previously ignored these stories, and the 1990s interviews with survivors of the Tulsa massacre are especially poignant.

Tulsa’s mayor, GT Bynum, and Reverend Dr Robert Turner, are both working in their own way to find justice for those impacted. Bynum’s directive for mass graves is: location, excavation, and identification, so that names will be known. Turner is pushing for reparations as the main form of justice. The talk of reparations and the importance of the Black Press are provided substantial emphasis in the film, and the inclusion of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, allows for familiar and distinctive visuals to reinforce the points being made. The old saying is that there are two sides to every story, but in this case, the hatred on one side deserves no attention, while the stifling of the victims’ stories has gone on for too long. Dawn Porter’s film ensures the story doesn’t remain buried.

Premieres on NatGeo and Hulu on June 18, 2021

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