Eyes On The Prize (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 17, Number 2, May 1987
- pp. 43-46
- Additional Information
Film Review Eyes On The Prize. Having been teaching courses on the struggle for racial equality for some two decades, I know only too well the paucity of quality documentary media materials on this subject. Consequently, I responded eagerly when Henry Hampton, the founder and president of Blackside, Inc., one ofthe nation's most successful black media production firms, first approached me several years ago to assist him in planning a telehistory on the civil rights movement. We labored together on some grant proposals and on the pedagogical needs of such a telecourse. Then I lectured in the "Civil Rights School," an intensive crash course for the production team on the themes and events of the black struggle. My work done, I waited—expectantly and hopefully. Eyes on the Prize fulfills my expectations, although not all my hopes. The series of six one-hour programs on the civil rights movement, premiered on PBS on Wednesday, January 21, is quite simply the most authoritative and stirring documentary yet produced on this critically significant topic of our history. The first segment, Awakenings 1954-1956, highlights the courageous testimony of Mose Wright in the trial of two white men for the murder of his nephew, Emmett Till, in Mississippi in 1955, and the actions taken by Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the boycott against bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama . Fighting Back 1957-1962 depicts the clash of states' rights advocates and federal authorities in the 1957 battle to integrate Little Rock's Central High School, and in James Meredith's 1962 challenge to the white-only admissions policy of Ole Miss. The especially exciting third program, Ain't Scared of Your Jails 1960-1961. dramatically recounts the stories of the lunch-counter sit-ins by black college students in Nashville, Tennessee, and the vicious white mob attacks on the Freedom Riders in Anniston, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama. Focusing mainly on the emergence of Martin Luther King as the most prominent and charismatic civil rights leader, the fourth segment, No Easy Walk 1961-1963, chronicles the mass demonstrations against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham, and displays the broad national support for civil rights evidenced at the 1963 March on Washington. Then Mississippi: Is This America? 1963-1964 truly reveals the potential of telehistory to bring the past alive in its searing account of the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the confrontation between Freedom Democrats and party regulars at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Bridge to Freedom 1965, the final program of the series, details the bloody response of white segregationists to the black campaign for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, and the growing rift in the movement over strategy and tactics, and concludes with an emotional crescendo as Martin Luther King leads the climactic march from Selma to Montgomery. 43 Eyes on the Prize, inevitably, will be compared to Vietnam: A Television History, on which it is modeled. Very much like the telehistory on the Vietnam War, it most effectively and movingly evokes the past by its adroit use of extensive archival footage—much of it never before broadcast. If for nothing else, this series would be worth every penny it cost just for the opportunity it affords us to see and hear CORE's Dave Dennis speaking at the funeral of James Chaney and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer testifying and singing at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, or to watch the Rev. C. T. Vivian confronting Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma and the hospitalized Jim Zwerg vowing that the Freedom Riders will keeep coming—no matter what the cost—until segregation is ended. Also like its predecessor, Eyes on the Prize tellingly makes its points without bombast or judgemental moralizing. Julian Bond's low-key, yet poignant, narration is perfect. And like Vietnam: A Television History, it provides abundant historical perspectives and evaluations by frequently switching from the events depicted in archival footage to contemporary interviews with the participants . Unfortunately, most of the recorded recollections are of the leaders and officials whose views are already well-known and documented, and far too few are with the rank-and-file activists or even those...