(Air Date: Week Of 2/19/97)
In 1923, Florida had two communities existing side by side. Sumner, where the white folk lived and the N word flew freely and Rosewood, where the black folk lived and the C word, that would be cracker, flew just as free. Slavery hadn't quite slipped from living memory. Reconciliation was not the order of the day. In fact, what was simmering was nothing short of a down home Kristalnacht just waiting to explode.
The trigger was a white woman, beaten black and blue by her lover. To explain the bruises to her husband, she claims that a black intruder worked her over. Never mind that her housekeepers saw perfectly well who did it. And that he wasn't black. Forget due process. In short order, strange fruit was hanging high and blood lust for more was in the air. When one of the housekeepers finally stepped forward to try to quell the tide of violence by telling what she saw, well, suffice to say that no good deed goes unpunished. Ultimately, Rosewood was reduced to ashes.
Director John Singleton, of "Boyz N the Hood" fame, does a top-notch job throughout this two and a half hour film of conveying the building and inevitable terror of what is to come, and of then sustaining that terror. Visually, he's a master storyteller.
Gregory Poirier's script is almost as successful. Most of the characters fall too easily into the predictable saint or sinner categories. A welcome exception is the only white merchant in Rosewood, John Wright, played by Jon Voigt. Wright's motives and loyalties are constantly in question, sometimes by Wright himself. Voigt's slightly vacant acting style enhances that ambiguity. Poirier is better handling some barely believable, mythically heroic elements. Maybe they're a result of survivors retelling traumatic childhood memories, but true or not, emotionally, they work as a counterpoint to the overwhelming horror. Poirier's also added a wonderful, hopeful thread on the difficulty of teaching hatred to children.
This is a gut-wrenching true story about the wages of bigotry. If it doesn't make you cry, you might want to check to see where you've misplaced your soul
Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase
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