April 4, 2008

Resources For a Sad Anniversary

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died forty years ago today, a sad, sad anniversary. The presence of minority characters on screen is finally increasing, but is still so infrequent that one has a reasonable chance of counting the number of black or Hispanic or Asian lawyers, for example. Here's a partial listing of black tv lawyers over the past few years.

Any Day Now (Lifetime, 1998-2002). Features Lorraine Toussaint as a lawyer who gives up her big city practice to continue her father's work in Birmingham, Alabama.

Boston Legal (ABC, 2005---). Kerry Washington played associate Chelina Hall (2005-2006).

The Cosby Show (1984-1992)(currently in reruns on various stations). Claire Huxtable is an attorney married to a successful OB-GYN; they raise five lively children, one of whom (Sonia) also becomes an attorney, in this successful series.

First Years (2001). Sydney Tamiia Poitier is one of the first year associates at a big law firm.

Cosby (1996-2000)(currently in reruns on various stations). Cosby is Hilton Jacobs, Phylicia Rashad returns as his wife Ruth, and T'Keyah "Crystal" Keymah is their daughter Erica Lucas, who gets a law degree but decides her heart is in being a chef.

For the People (2002-2003) Lifetime TV's television series starring Debbi Morgan as the newly elected District Attorney of Los Angeles.

Kevin Hill (UPN, 2004). Taye Diggs as a New York metrosexual lawyer in a boutique firm headed by Jessie Grey (Michael Michele).

Soul Food (2000-2004). Showtime series based on the television movie of the same name (1997). Features a family of three daughters, one of whom is an attorney.

Sparks (1996-1998). Female attorney joins a brother-brother law firm.

Sweet Justice (1994-1995). Cecily Tyson is partnered with Melissa Gilbert in this series.

Will &  Grace (1998-2006). The late Gregory Hines played the role of Ben Doucette (1999-200), the head of a high-powered law firm, who hires Will Truman.

In addition, Judging Amy (CBS). Episode: Thursday's Child. Kathyrine Dora Brown is Zola Knox, an aggressive African-American attorney filing a class action lawsuit who wants Bruce to join the class. Good scene between her and star Amy Brenneman in a courthouse corridor.

Here's a listing of films with civil rights themes.

The American Experience (1993). Based on Richard Kluger's book Simple Justice, this film follows the attempt to desegregate the public schools in the U. S. south. Also called Simple Justice.

Amistad (1997). Dramatization of the 1839 case against African Americans who mutiny aboard a slave ship (40 U.S. 518 (1841)).

Assault at West Point (1994). Dramatization of the trumped up court martial of a black cadet.

Birth of a Nation (1915). Extremely controversial film made by D. W. Griffith, purporting to tell the story of the South after the Civil War. Stars Lillian Gish.

Black Like Me (1964). Film version of the 1959 book by John Howard Griffin, a white man, about his travels as a black in the racially segregated America of the 1950s. The book had a tremendous impact on civil rights thinking in the 1960s.

Bojangles (TVM 2001). Gregory Hines as the legendary dancer, William "Bojangles" Robinson.

Boycott (TVM 2001). Docudrama based on the Montgomery bus boycott. Compare with The Long Walk Home.

Chiefs (1983 TV miniseries). Three generations of police search for a serial killer in a Southern town.

The Color of Courage (TVM 1999). Dramatizes the civil rights case of Sipes v. McGhee. Features Roger R. Cross as Thurgood Marshall.

Common Ground (TV 1990). Based on the book by Anthony Lucas about desegregation in Boston

Dangerous Evidence (TV 1999). Lynn Whitfield is a civil rights activist who investigates the wrongful conviction of a Marine for rape.

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995). Based on the Walter Mosley novel.

4 Little Girls (1997). Spike Lee's documentary about the bombing of a Birmingham church that resulted in the deaths of four small girls.

The Ghosts of Mississippi (1996). Features James Woods as Byron de la Beckwith, the murderer of civil rights activist Medger Evers.

Gone wIth the Wind (1939). Stars Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, directed by Victor Fleming in the famous adaptation of the Margaret Mitchell novel. In 2001 Houghton Mifflin fought a successful battle to publish a parody, Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone.

Good Neighbor Sam (1964). The probate judge is African-American; unfortunately www.imdb.com does not give the name of the actor.

Good Night Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston (1990). Docudrama based on the murder of a pregnant white lawyer by her husband; the husband blamed a non-existent black man, sparking racial hatred and near riots before he confessed and committed suicide.

Howard Beach: Making a Case for Murder (1989). Docudrama about a racial killing stars Daniel J. Travanti as the prosecutor who tracked down and convicted white teenagers who beat a black man to death in Howard Beach. Also called: In the Line of Duty.

The Hurricane (1999). Denzel Washington plays Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the prize fighter framed for murder.

In the Heat of the Night (1967). This powerful drama features Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger and was one of the first feature films to confront the relationship of racism and police corruption. Followed by They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!

The Inspectors (TVM 1998); The Inspectors: A Shred of Evidence (TVM 2000). Louis Gossett Jr. is a U. S. postal inspector, Claire Riley his love interest as attorney Catherine Hughes.

Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (TVM 1976). Based on the famous rape case; engendered its own lawsuit. Street v. NBC; 645 F 2d 1227 (1981).

Just Cause (1995). A law professor takes on the case of a young African American accused of murder.

King (TV miniseries 1978). Features Paul Winfield as King and Cecily Tyson as Coretta Scott King.

A Lesson Before Dying (TVM 1999). Based on the Ernest Gaines novel.

The Long Walk Home (1990). Powerful dramatization of the Montgomery bus boycott. Compare with Boycott.

Losing Isaiah (1995). Courtroom drama about the custody battle over an African American boy.

Malcolm X (1992). Dramatization of the life of the civil rights leader.

The Mighty Quinn (1989). Set in the West Indies, but features Denzel Washington as a police officer with professional and personal problems.

Mississippi Burning (1988). Based on the lives and deaths of civil rights workers who came to Mississippi to register black voters in the 1960s. Based on the killings of Viola Liuzzo and her companions.

Mrs. and Mrs. Loving (TVM 1996). Well done dramatization of the case Loving v. Virginia (388 U.S. 1 1967) which finally struck down laws against interracial marriage.

Murder in Harlem (1935). A lawyer helps his girlfriend prove her brother is innocent of murder.

Murder in Mississippi (TVM 1990). Dramatization of the deaths of three civil rights workers in 1963. Compare with Mississippi Burning and The Ghosts of Mississippi.

Native Son (1986). Based on the Richard Wright novel.

The Organization (1971). A third Virgil Tibbs movie, starring Sidney Poitier.

Roots (1977 TV miniseries). Dramatization of Alex Haley's book.

Separate But Equal (TV miniseries, 1991). Sidney Poitier is a determined Thurgood Marshall in this dramatization of the events leading up the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Selma, Lord, Selma (TVM 1999). Dramatization of the Selma to Montgomery march led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Simple Justice. See The American Experience.

They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970). Sequel to In the Heat of the Night, also starring Sidney Poitier.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Based on the Harper Lee novel. Story of a Southern lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.

The Tuskegee Airmen (TVM 1995). Dramatization of the attempts to integrate the Air Force during the Second World War.

A Time to Kill (1996). Based on the John Grisham novel about a black man avenging the rape of his daughter.

White Lie (TVM 1991). Gregory Hines as a son investigating the lynching of his father for the alleged rape of a white woman.

Who Killed Martin Luther King? (TVM 1992). Documentary about the assassination.

More resources at Black History Month Bibliography and Bibliography of African-American Detectives (which I'm planning to update in my copious free time).

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