Where's the great Civil Rights Movement movie? Held up by cowards apparently

John Lewis is the congressman for the district next to mine and he is held in high regard around here.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom recently and if you know much about him, you would agree that he is arguably the greatest living American.

Wikipedia bio

I’ve been saying for years that his life is just aching for a Hollywood biopic. It’s amazing.

Then I read in this past week’s EW that civil rights movement films in Hollywood can’t get off the ground because, according to Taylor Branch, Hollywood can’t deal with the infighting among the movement’s leaders.

Can this be true?

Where are these films? That was a incredibly dramatic, important time.

There are movies about the civil rights movement and that era (The Long Walk Home, Love Field, Mississippi Burning, the TV series I’ll Fly Away), but probably not much about the Movement.

The politics and strategies and infighting is much harder to make a dramatic film about. But you don’t see many movies about the politics and strategies and infighting about things like World War II.

In what sense can’t they deal with it? Infighting would make for very compelling drama.

The problem would be making it into a good story.

The goals of the civil rights movement were great. And so were their accomplishments. But the path between the goals and accomplishments had a lot of normal human frailty.

You could probably make a good movie about that reality but people would protest that you were insulting the memory of great men. And if you made a movie that only showed the noble and pure stuff it would be bland or boring (and false by omission).

Ah, Mississippi Burning. The story of of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi made by an Englishman and with no black actor in a major role.

I think I saw that one. Didn’t it suck?

This reply inadvertently answers the question in the OP as to why more films about the Civil Rights Movement have not been made.

Not sure I follow you here. I have a guess, but it’s a pretty dumb guess. Could you clarify?

This is apparently the problem. Hollywood is afraid to cast Civil Rights leaders as real-life heroes instead of movie-like heroes.

According to the EW article there was a lot of doubt and opinions about the sit-ins and Freedom Riders, etc.

That would make the story more dramatic.

Looking back, their success seems inevitable and all the decisions obvious.

but these people were making historic, dangerous decisions and many (like John Lewis)were putting life and limb on the line to see the decisions through.

I always thought a movie along the lines of “All the President’s Men”** or “Zodiac”** or even "Prince of the City."

those movies had a lot of talking and decision making going on instead of traditional action, but were very compelling.

If they can make a (supposedly, i haven’t seen it) compelling movie about the king of England’s speech problem … jeez, you think they could do Lewis and King just as well.

There was a film about the Montgomery bus boycott. I think it was an HBO Films movie, and I think it was called Boycott. I thought it was interesting, in that it portrayed the problems the organizers encountered simply with getting people around. (If you’re going to ask people not to ride the municipal buses, you need to come up with alternatives.)

Would you show Martin Luther King cheating on his wife?

Would you show the movement kicking out Bayard Rustin because he was gay?

Would you show the civil rights leaders making alliances with communists?

Would you show civil rights leaders deciding Rosa Parks would be a better symbol of the bus boycott than other women because she had lighter skin?

Like I wrote, there were great goals and great accomplishments. But there was also some sordid reality along the way.

I’m pretty sure the primary reason they settled on Parks was because she was a morally upstanding citizen and it would be difficult to paint her as a rabble rousing trouble maker. Contrast that with the pregnant teenaged girl who was in a sexual relationship with a married older man who had previous refused to give up her seat and you can see why Parks made such a fantastic choice.

There are a lot of difficulties with making a movie about the civil rights movement. First, in popular culture the civil rights movement begins and ends with M.L.K. This is certainly not the reality but this is the general perception, thanks, in large part, to civil rights organizations in the 50s and 60s who chose to adopt him as their symbol. As such, a lot of what we think we know about the Civil Rights movement is very simplistic and one sided. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned that Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat was not a spontaneous act but was planned out in advanced. But the more popular civil rights narratives do not mention this.

Where does Black Power fit into the narrative? Whites especially love to remember MLK but what about Malcolm X or Stokley Carmichael? (I know they made a movie about X.)

I think an honest biopic of MLK would be fantastic. But then others might see it as an attack on the civil rights movement as a whole in the same way many people felt that criticisms of Thomas Jefferson was a criticism of the United States. It might not sell tickets.

Heck, Nemo, while we’re on King. Would you show him attempting to get a permit to carry a gun in 1955? Would you show him dating and seriously considering marrying a white woman before becoming a minister? Would you address issues of plagiarism? How about his part in the decision to allow children to participate in a march he knew likely to turn violent? It’s a sticky wicket.

OTOH, few movie topics enjoy a public observance on the order of Black History Month.