Boycott (2001)

Genres - Drama, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Message Movie, Period Film, Political Drama  |   Release Date - Feb 24, 2001 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Tom Wiener

Thanks to a magnetic lead performance by Jeffrey Wright as Martin Luther King Jr. and inventive direction by Clark Johnson, Boycott is both an informative and hugely entertaining look at a crucial chapter in the history of the modern civil rights struggle. Wright embodies many facets of King's personality: his personal charisma, his faith in the power of nonviolence, and (at this moment in his life) his uncertainty about what the struggle would mean to his career and to his family. Johnson adroitly mixes in vintage footage and black-and-white cinematography (mainly in meetings between the African-American activists and the white power structure in Montgomery), using handheld cameras in many scenes to create a sense of urgency and immediacy. Though the white characters come off as rather one-dimensional, this is a film about the varying attitudes of the black characters to the burgeoning movement. At the beginning of the film, Rosa Parks has to talk her husband into endorsing the boycott, as does King with his wife Coretta. Even as the boycott picks up steam, the film continues to explore its internal politics, revealing that King's own father wanted him to withdraw from Montgomery. There's some witty and touching use of source music, including Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," Dizzy Gillespie's "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac," and Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody." A standout in the supporting actors is Erik Todd Dellums in the key role of Bayard Rustin, whose encouragement of King was crucial to keeping the boycott nonviolent. Sharp-eyed viewers may also spot the director as a journalist and singer Aaron Neville in the crowd of citizens who gather outside King's home after it is bombed.