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