Instead of Making Films About the Civil Rights Era, Hollywood Has Made Excuses





Sometimes it takes the briefest glimpse of something to make its absence so scandalously obvious.

Consider: Midway through the film "Talk to Me," which opens Friday and stars Don Cheadle as the legendary Washington disc jockey Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene, a remarkable scene transpires in which, in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Greene tries to calm a city in flames. As the sequence plays, and the fires climb higher on 14th and U, it becomes almost a movie-within-a-movie, evoking the meaning of King's life and death in just a scant few moments.

The scene (which admittedly takes some liberties with chronology) also reminds viewers that, while familiar images of King are commonplace in 1960s montage sequences, Hollywood has yet to make the definitive King biopic. Indeed, of all the social, cultural and political touchstones of the baby boom generation -- World War II, the Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, Watergate, feminism, gay rights, AIDS and all manner of political coverups -- the civil rights movement has yet to be the subject of a pivotal, defining feature film.

That the story of the most important social and political moment in this country's history has gone untold in its dominant narrative art form is shocking on any number of levels (one being that among the movement's most effective tactics was creating media images). Here is a chapter of American life whose legacy and ramifications -- from Don Imus's idea of humor to the decisions of the current Supreme Court -- are still deeply, if painfully, felt. It's a chapter filled with charismatic characters and compelling stories. It's a chapter that -- considering the ever-increasing number of bankable African American stars -- seems not just worthy of Hollywood's attention but positively ideal for a major movie event.



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