Saturday, December 03, 2005


Allie and I went to a double feature matinee with our friend Mark. It was at the new Screenland theater. Great place. They've got some plush recliner chairs.

We saw The Untold Story of Emmitt Louis Till and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, both of which were fantastic.

It was a good pairing. Both were set in the 1950s (the latter stretching into the 60s) and they both gave a some perspective on how much American society has changed over the last 50 years. We still have a lot of growing to do in this country. But sometimes it's good to take stock of the progress we've made.

The Emmitt Till documentary told the more extreme story of the two films. It's kind of startling to look back only one or two generations and see a culture with values that are so utterly foreign to those of today. Can you imagine a group of white men committing such an evil, hateful crime? And then being declared not guilty to the applause of an entire community?

Watching this documentary I got to thinking of the OJ trial. Imagine if that had happened in 1955. A black guy is charged with the murder of a white woman, and it looks like a slam dunk, with blood and DNA everywhere. Then when he's declared innocent blacks are out dancing in the streets. And there are no riots and lynch mobs in response. The connection might be tenuous. Indeed, the celebration wasn't for OJ's innocence so much as for a win against a so-called justice system that's still terribly unfair, for an instance in which a black man beat whites at their own game. But certainly these events are milestones in an era of incredible societal change.

The oppression depicted in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio wasn't anywhere near as intense, but it showed a time when the order of things were quite a bit different. Great film, with many insights into the ways gender roles have transformed over the last half century, and ways they've stayed the same. I found it unsettling how I could relate on some level to Woody Harrelson's character, the drunken loser dad, whose anguish thrived on almost mythical social constructions of who he ought to be. Just a little thought, really. A small opportunity for introspection. The overwhelming feeling I had was one of gratitude for living in a time and relationship where equality is more the norm.

I guess this film hasn't quite caught on yet. I think it will, though. It's just terrific. Brought tears to me eyes.

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