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Review: John Lewis: Good Trouble

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just — say something, do something…” Make trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble. That’s the message from civil rights icon, and longtime U.S. Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis. He’s been talking the talk – and walking the walk – since the 1960s: The 1961 Freedom Rides from DC to New Orleans? Lewis was on them; The historic 1963 March on Washington with MLK? Lewis helped organize it; The treacherous walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on what became known as “Bloody Sunday” in 1965? Lewis was there – and badly beaten.

At a time when democracy seems under relentless attack, and the Black Lives Matter movement is ignited anew, it seems especially fitting to watch this documentary chronicling Lewis’s 60+ years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health-care reform, immigration, and more. Lewis, now 80, would seem to have every reason to feel discouraged. Yet he maintains a sense of optimism, while acknowledging that “every day is a fight”. Just keep believing we can change things and make them better, he says.

The documentary, directed by Dawn Porter (Trapped, Gideon’s Army), uses a mix of archival footage and present-day interviews with political leaders, Congressional colleagues, and others, to illustrate Lewis’s journey and sphere of influence. There are some interesting tidbits along the way, including details of his 1986 upset victory over fellow civil rights activist and friend Julian Bond for Atlanta’s fifth Congressional district. Things got a bit ugly between friends. There’s humor too – including an admission from the late Congressman from Maryland, Elijah Cummings, acknowledging he’d taken his share of selfies with people mistaking  him for Lewis. And, there’s Lewis’s infamous “Happy” dance that went viral in 2014. The documentary strives to end on a “happy” note, infused with a spirit of hope.

John Lewis: Good Trouble is available On Demand starting July 3rd and is tied to a voter registration campaign, encouraging folks to “Make Good Trouble” by fighting voter suppression and protecting the right to vote, particularly in states like North Carolina and Georgia. Good trouble. Necessary trouble. And things will get better.

Arty Chick’s take: “John Lewis: Good Trouble” is definitely a timely offering worth watching. The man has led a remarkable life and stands as a shining example to everyone working for racial justice. It’s a pretty straightforward documentary chronicling his life – marching with Dr. King, organizing voter registration drives, getting beaten, then getting back up and keeping on getting in good trouble. Activists at this moment can learn a thing or two from him since he took the first steps that led us to where we are now. I hope the film is see widely. (I loved the “Happy” dance.)

 

For a cool double-feature, consider pairing the John Lewis documentary with a viewing of the excellent 2014 drama, Selma (with Stephan James as John Lewis).

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