Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
The institutional racism of the Oscar & Emmy ceremonies is a given. Everyone in the audience stares at the floor when award presenters like Kim Basinger or Chris Rock point this out in public. Afterwards, officials nervously cite programs like "The Corner" or "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" or "The Color of Friendship," but these are extremely rare exceptions and envelope pushers like Spike Lee and Chris Rock know it, as did the late Dorothy Dandridge. "Finding Buck McHenry," a fine film made in 2000, won the Silver award at the Worldfest Houston. Few actors know more about institutional racism than its stars, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Davis was 52 and 71 before he received his first Emmy nominations, losing to Paul Scofield and Robert Vaughn. Ruby Dee didn't receive her first nominations until she was 40 and 55, losing to Shelley Winters and Esther Rolle. She was particularly bitter about her 1979 loss, delivering a soliloquy on public television about how she had lost, even at that late date, to someone who was playing a MAMMY. Dee finally received the Emmy a dozen years later, in 1991, for "Decoration Day." Her fellow nominees were Olympia Dukakis, Doris Roberts, Vanessa Redgrave and Elaine Stritch. Buck MeHenry is the part of a lifetime for Ossie Davis, now 83, who plays it with all the youthful savvy, energy and confidence of a 28-year-old superstar.
As high school janitor Mack Henry, Davis plays a character who's reined himself in for over half a century. He has a good reason to reemerge, though. Mack and his wife (Dee, now 76) have custody of their orphaned grandson Aaron (Duane McLaughlin) who's in danger of retreating into himself with grief. When Michael Schiffman's pesty Jason Ross enters their lives, Mack is irritated at first, but then realizes that Aaron is actually laughing again. Jason is a baseball buff, collecting every card in the world, but lacking the skill to remain in a little league team. Mack is convinced that all Jason & Aaron need is a good coach and Jason is thrilled at the prospect, especially when he decides that Mack Henry IS Buck McHenry, a black superstar of the forties who vanished without a trace in 1950. When Kim Axelrod (Megan Bowers) joins the team, Jason's obsession intensifies, since Kim's dad Chuck (Kevin Jubinville) is the new sportscaster in town & dying for a real scoop. Jason doesn't get much support from Mack, Aaron or his own parents, but he persists, even looking up Ollie Johnston, Buck's old teammate. (The great Ernie Banks plays Ollie with a shrewd twinkle in his eye.) Finding Buck McHenry" was directed by Charles ("To Sleep With Anger") Burnett & scripted by Alfred Slote and David Field from Slote's novel. It brings the past into the Present in a meaningful way, free of nostalgia, and it gives Davis and Dee two of the meatiest roles of their long careers. If you didn't see the original broadcast, don't miss "Finding Buck McHenry" on video.
© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 9/13/00
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