|BOOKER'S PLACE: A
MISSISSIPPI STORY (director:
Raymond De Felitta; cinematographer: Joe
Victorine; editor: George Gross; music: David
Cieri; cast: Hodding Carter III, Frank
De Felitta, Yvette Johnson, Katherine
Jones; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR;
producer: David Zellerford; Tribeca Film; 2012)
"A heart-felt movie that gives you a good idea of how backward a state is Mississippi."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
De Felitta ("City Island"), in this passionate
black-and-white shot documentary, visits Greenwood,
Miss., the segregated backwater
town, famous for fervent KKK activity, razed black
churches and lynchings, and the site of his
father Frank's documentary on racism
in the South, which was made for NBC news in 1966
and shown nation-wide and then forgotten everywhere
but in a vengeful Greenwood.
The ugliness of whites in their racial attitudes comes glaringly to light when a brief interview with a black illiterate waiter, Booker Wright, exposes how hurt he is inside from being treated as an inferior citizen, even though on the outside he might be all smiles. In Booker's brief interview, he goes through his sing-song spiel he delivers nightly for his job at Lusco's, the local steakhouse that serves only whites (uses the ploy to beat the integration laws by claiming to be a private club). Since there are no menus Booker and the other Negro waiters must recite what's available. For the interview he gives us a taste of how that sounds and then goes off script to tell how he feels about his white customers: "Some is nice, some is not, some call me Booker, some call me John, some call me Jim and some call me nigger." He then tells how that makes him feel: "I have to smile, the meaner the man be, the more you smile, although you're crying inside." He further tells why he endures it: "so that my children can get an education and not suffer what I suffered."
life is like for a black person in the South, in the
1960s, is revisited by replaying and re-evaluating
Booker's interview for a 2012 audience, for Raymond's
still living guilt-ridden 90-year-old father Frank,
unfairly blaming himself for Booker's later troubles,
and for Booker's sensitive writer granddaughter Yvette
Johnson, curious to know more about her courageous
grandfather. We learn that soon after Booker was let
go at the restaurant because of white pressure that he
worked full-time at his own black restaurant. We also
learn he was beaten by a racist white policeman, who
was never charged with a crime. Later Booker had his
restaurant damaged and burned by racists (in a town
where all the authority positions were held by those
in the KKK, a black couldn't expect justice), and in
1973 he was killed by an unruly black man in
his restaurant he gave the boot to and who returned to
shoot him, someone Yvette believes might have been
used by the white racists.
the tragic results, which were expected by the
realistic Booker, he believed the time had come for
him to be an activist and stop shuffling and talk
honestly about how he's treated by his white
It's a heart-felt movie that gives you a good idea of how backward a state is Mississippi and how far it has changed today, and lets you imagine how far it still has to go to achieve better race relations and equality. This documentary tells of a cross-section of Mississippi whites who really have no defense for defending a flawed segregation system that is indefensible, and of the many blacks who still haven't got their act together and value education as much as volunteer Head-Start bus driver Booker did as a way to achieve a better life.
REVIEWED ON 12/6/2012 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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