Film Scouts Reviews


by Leslie Rigoulot

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This is an important and entertaining movie.

Remember when Susan Smith's children were first reported as missing? Whom did she blame? A black man, a black stranger had taken her boys. Well, this is an old story, playing on prejudice as a tool to to obscure the truth. In the true story of "Rosewood", when white trash (Catherine Kellner) blames her bruises on a black man rather than face her husband's wrath for her affair with a drifter, racial hatred turns to hysteria in 1923 Florida. The whites of Sumner, a sorry company town, are jealous of prosperous landowners in neighboring Rosewood. Director John Singleton ("Boyz N the Hood", "Poetic Justice", "Higher Learning") lets the audience feel the escalation in tension, the raw hatred, as events overtake the people. A hanging here leads to a mutilation and murder there. The confrontation at one house brings the burning of the town. The good folks of Sumner were not defending the honor of a woman they knew to be a tramp; they were exacting the worst revenge while bolstering their shaky sense of superiority. It would be a hopeless story where it not for the few who stood their ground.

A World War I vet, Mr. Mann (Ving Rhames) has dignity and heroism - along with a good deal of firepower. Reuniting with "Mission: Impossible" co-star Jon Voight, Rhames' fictional character helps to fill in the gaps in the oral accounts and also gives "Rosewood" a central focus. Voight has the unenviable position of portraying the white shopkeeper in the black town whose superior attitude is tempered by his involvement in the community. Only Oscar-winner Voight could manage this tightrope walk between scum and savior. I was delighted to see Don Cheadle, who made quite an impression as Mouse in "Devil in a Blue Dress", as Sylvester Carrier, a music teacher. As the matriarch of the family, Esther Rolle (best known for TV's "Good Times") gives a face to the irony that still exists. She is maid to the tramp who starts the tide of hate rolling toward Rosewood and yet feels that her silence will protect the African-Americans who have learned to just stay out of the way of the crackers.

Rosewood fills in a hole in the story of race relations in this country. What happened between the Civil War and our current dirty situation? The survivors of Rosewood tried not to remember. In 1982, Gary Moore, a newspaper reporter, was working on a piece about Florida's Levy County and its lack of black residents. Why would they have left? As he found old newspaper accounts, he was drawn to find the survivors of the massacre and burning. Most had moved far away and, after having lost their land, homes and possessions, had been forced to take menial jobs. Arnett Doctor told how his mother Philomena, a survivor, would tell the story every Christmas in an agonizing annual ritual. Doctor declares "We didn't go from chains to the projects. 'Rosewood' will lend credence to the fact that African-Americans were important in the development of the state of Florida, and the country as a whole, and it will point out the fact that there were strong black men who raised and defended their families. From that perspective, the telling of this story today will be very important to how African-Americans will be portrayed in years to come."

It should be noted that several people were folded into the lionized Mr. Mann, and only one hanging occurred. But the fear is real. The hatred is real. The shame is real. I think this film can make a difference if it can reach a wide audience as is not seen as just an African-American film. Rated R with sexual scenes and authentic violence. Warner Brothers

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