The Rosa Parks Story (2002); Selma, Lord, Selma (1999)

The Rosa Parks Story (2002)
December 17, 2011 - 4:00 pm
In-person: 
filmmaker Julie Dash.

The Rosa Parks Story (2002)

Directed by Julie Dash

There are times when one small act can change the world. In The Rosa Parks Story, director Julie Dash chronicles the life and legacy of the “mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” The film premiered on the CBS network on Feb. 24, 2002. Relaying the social and cultural climate in Montgomery, AL, in 1965, the film juxtaposes the famous event of Parks’ refusal to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white patron with the lesser-known history of Parks’ personal background. With flashbacks into the history of a woman who has become a symbol of civil disobedience and human dignity, The Rosa Parks Story offers a glimpse into Parks’ childhood, upbringing and family life.

Focusing on her relationships with her husband Raymond Parks and her mother, the weighted shadow of Rosa Parks as an American icon is lifted to reveal the person, principles, pleasures and pains of Parks as an individual human being. Reminding us that every historical figure has a human story, the film balances the history of the Civil Rights Movement—particularly the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) boycott of Montgomery buses—with a focus on the internal and external forces that shaped Parks’ belief in equality and human dignity. In this sense, the film does not shy away from mentioning the tales of racial injustice that haunt American history.

In a story about challenging segregation and the events leading up to and after Dec. 1, 1955—when Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat—we are reminded that it was the audacious hope and courageous action of Rosa Parks that influenced local, and relatively unknown, religious leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and changed the American cultural, social and political landscape forever. —Samantha Sheppard

Producer: Pearl Devers, Elaine Eason Steele. Screenwriter: Paris Qualles. Cinematographer: David Claessen. Editor: Wendy Hallam-Martin. Cast: Angela Bassett, Peter Francis James, Tonea Stewart, Van Coulter, Dexter Scott King.

Digital video, color, 95 min.

Selma, Lord, Selma (1999)

Directed by Charles Burnett

“Human progress,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained, “is neither automatic nor inevitable. … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” In director Charles Burnett’s film Selma, Lord, Selma, the youthful eyes of 11-year-old female protagonist Sheyann Webb is the lens in which we see the determined bravery and compassionate humanity that was the hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement.

Set against the backdrop of the racially tumultuous 1960s, Selma, Lord, Selma is based on Sheyann Webb and Rachel West Nelson’s memoir "Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days" (1997). Produced by Walt Disney Pictures, the film premiered on the ABC network on Jan. 17, 1999, one day before King’s national holiday.

Chronicling the events leading up to the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches led by King and many notable Black and white civil rights leaders, Burnett’s film eloquently dramatizes African Americans’ fight to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Based on these historical events, including the horror of Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, the film celebrates the triumph of American humanity and nonviolent civil disobedience. Starring the late Yolanda King, daughter of King, the film honors King’s legacy of equality, love, change and courage in the face of bigotry, racism and hatred.

In taking a child’s point of view, Burnett employs a narrative strategy common to the L.A. Rebellion. Through the eyes of an innocent young girl, we learn that the fight for freedom demands faith and fortitude, education and empathy, strength and service. A film for the whole family to reflect on not just the darkness of the past but on the eve of a new dawn in America’s history, Selma, Lord, Selma reminds us, as King proclaimed, that “the time is always right to do what is right.” —Samantha Sheppard

Producer: Christopher Seitz. Based on the book by Sheyann Webb and Rachel West Nelson as told to Frank Sikora. Screenwriter: Cynthia Whitcomb. Cinematographer: John Simmons. Editor: Nancy Richardson. Cast: Mackenzie Astin, Jurnee Smollett, Clifton Powell, Ella Joyce, Yolanda King.

Digital video, color, 88 min.