John Lewis has some advice for you… “Get into trouble, good trouble,” he recommends.
The 80-year-old Congressman and longtime Civil Rights advocate from Atlanta, GA is the subject of a new documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble. The film opens in the virtual screening room of the Jane Pickens Theatre Friday July 3rd (Details here).
The film tells Lewis’ life story, in especially his years on the frontline of the Civil Rights Movement where he was arrested over 40 times and literally had his head bashed in more than once. He stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and numerous others over the course of the struggle, all events duly documented in the film.
Director Dawn Porter, known for her work on Spies of Mississippi and Gideon’s Army does a worthy job of bringing together veterans of the Movement and contemporary witnesses, including many new members of Congress. She interviews an impressive cast that includes both Clintons, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams, Lewis’ office staff and the late Representative Elijah Cummings, who tenderly recounts how he is often confused with Lewis.
Told mainly in cinéma verité style, there is a serious tone, mixed with moments of delight, such as Lewis leading his office staff in a “Happy” dance party. Most compelling is his life story, which certainly doesn’t need a lot of added flash and fury. That story has inspired other films and several books including the popular “March” series of graphic novels. No doubt, Lewis is an American hero on par with Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks and MLK.
Lewis picked cotton as a child. The Alabama native excelled at school, where, according to family members, he always wore a tie and carried a bible. At 17, he wrote to Martin Luther King, Jr. who sent him a bus ticket. That was his welcome to the Civil Rights Movement where he later became a leading voice and President of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
It’s amazing to see Lewis present at so many pivotal events in the fight for civil rights, from the lunch counter sit-ins, to the Freedom Rides, to the March on Washington. He describes events like the iconic march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama where he was attacked by police. With death a very real possibility, he explained “I lost all sense of fear; when you lose all sense of fear, you’re free.”
While perhaps best known for his leadership in the 1960’s (including a speaking role in the March on Washington), Congressman Lewis has also authored federal legislation that led to real gains for African Americans. Many, like the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, were bi-partisan efforts with broad political support.
The documentary follows Lewis through a typically busy schedule – meeting with staffers, constituents and lobbyists, while pausing to take selfies with admirers on the street and in the airport. No doubt, he is a recognized celebrity these days. Lewis stoically views archival footage of himself at various demonstrations. With little comment, he witnesses his own role in making history. The camera pauses – what is he thinking, we wonder.
What this film does best is to place the events of Lewis’ life in a modern context. As former Attorney General Eric Holder explains, “2019 is not a time for despair, it’s a time for action.”
Lewis recently announced that he is battling cancer, still, the spy 80-year-old is running for re-election in 2020. No doubt, Lewis’ life work is not finished. “I still believe, we shall overcome,” he notes at the film’s conclusion. Indeed, you’ll be inspired viewing this film – we highly recommend it!