To see footage of US Rep. John Lewis facing down violent mobs at lunch counters, in the streets across the south and on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama truly hammers home how recently the fight for civil rights took place.
Often, we're inundated with grainy old news footage and black-and-white photos, deepening the divide between past and present and painting a sort of half-picture that makes events like Selma, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and so on feel like a million years ago rather than the 1960s. That seems odd or wrong, especially with a wealth of color photos out there—it's almost like another way to inadvertantly distance ourselves from recent history.
In the new documentary from filmmaker Dawn Porter, we see Lewis up close and as he is today, a hardworking Georgia congressman who phased so effortlessly from activism to public service, it's almost hard to believe he's that same guy who faced hateful white hordes at the Nashville sit-ins in 1960. He likes to get into what he calls "good trouble," and he likes to fight for his beliefs. It's easy to fall in love.
Porter interviews Lewis while sporadically showing him films from his days with Dr. King. He is stalwart during the viewings, composed and quiet—maybe mentioning he'd yet to see some of the film reel footage and photos, but never braggy about his accomplishments. This paints a moving portrait of a young man who grew up wanting to be a preacher (he'd preach to the chickens on the family farm, he says), wound up a vital player in the passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and ultimately became one of the most dedicated and progressive politicians working today. He'll do so, he says, until he can no more.
Porter's film showcases a well-earned reverence for Lewis, but fails to make it particularly interesting for the viewer. No one would dare claim civil rights are boring, but Good Trouble becomes a dry history lesson told slowly; important, yes, but awfully slow. Perhaps a narrator could have helped, or even if Porter had succeeded in opening Lewis up a little more. He's stoic, however, to a high degree.
Modern footage of his day-to-day and stories from his loving staff provide a glimpse at why Lewis is considered great, as does a run-down of some of his biggest political achievements. Nevertheless, Good Trouble will probably be screened by people who are already fans and sadly ignored by those who might need it most. But is it required viewing during the momentous Black Lives Matters movement? Yes. Show it to your kids as a primer against racism; watch it yourself as a refresher.
+Lewis rules; valuable time capsule of two eras
-Dry as can be; slower than necessary
John Lewis: Good Trouble
Directed by Porter
Violet Crown Virtual Cinema, PG, 96 min.