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Although this inspiring documentary about sagacious black congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia) wends its way from his 1960s civil rights activism through his elder statesman role in the dem-ruled congress of 2019, the film feels especially — if accidentally — timely in our current mid 2020 malaises. With the rapid ascension of BLM protests and heightening awareness of racial tensions and systemic bigotry, director Dawn Porter’s Lewis doc imparts an important back story to the legacy of black life in America, by chronicling a veteran powerhouse who moved from the streets to effect change from within the system. Vis a vis the title, Lewis speaks of the influence of early civil rights avatars Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King (a personal mentor), who inspired him to “get in trouble, what I call good trouble.”
Selma, Alabama, is something of a recurring motif for Lewis, and this film: he marched there in 1964, where he was injured by storm trooping police, and has returned many times in ceremonial visits with presidents Obama, Carter, G.W. Bush and others. Lewis was arrested more than 40 times during his time as an activist, finally entering the political ring in 1986. Rather than proceeding with neat chronology, the film wisely cross-stitches his various efforts on Capitol Hill and literally in the mean streets, in the ’60s and ’70s. As Lewis says, early in the film, “we’ve come so far, we’ve made so much progress, but as a nation and as a people, we’re not quite there yet. We have miles to go.” Part of that mileage of progress, so far, can be traced to this exemplary advocate of racial righteousness — a story warmly conveyed here.
John Lewis: Good Trouble opens Friday, July 3, at the Riviera Theatre.
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