Movies to Inspire Your Hibernation

With Black History Month, remember that the Civil Rights movement swept America on television

With only 28 days, February has to hurry.
    Even more so on the Bay Weekly calendar, where our shortest month gets a late start this year. With January packed full of five Thursdays, our first paper of the month comes to you on February 7. So we’re already late for Groundhog’s Day, when Punxsutawney Phil and Chesapeake Chuck pop up to predict spring.
    Not too late for our annual Groundhog’s Movie Guide, however, as hibernating with a good movie is what most everybody, groundhog or human, wants to do this time of year when the deep chill has set in.
    Now Lincoln’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day are just around the corner.
    Seven days in, it’s high time to get Black History Month started.
    The theme was on my mind as I conferred with movie reviewer and guest editor Diana Beechener on our Groundhog’s Movie Guide. We’re featuring inspirational movies this year, and four of the 13 choices are African American centric. We had no quotas. Sullivan’s Travels, Glory, Kinky Boots and Beasts of the Southern Wild are on the list because of what each meant to its reviewer. They’re a diverse lot, which says a lot to me about our increasing comfort as a multi-racial society.
    I’d think some of the credit goes to my unwritten picks for cinematic entertainment, the seven-year NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Streets and the five-year HBO series The Wire. David Simon’s Baltimore-based masterpieces showed us how to appreciate black actors and characters across the spectrum from near hero to dark villain. They inspired me to higher hopes for entertainment television, but I’m still waiting. Treme, alas, leaves me cold.
    Homicide, The Cosby Show, Fat Albert and Roots … Kinky Boots, Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Shaft or Tyler Perry’s Madea — movies and television have opened all sorts of windows into black history and culture. But for inspiration, the place to look is documentary television, and, before television brought breaking news into our homes, movie-house news reels.
    Look we all did. People of my generation saw the Civil Rights Movement enacted live. If we weren’t there, we were virtually there.
    Growing up in St. Louis, I saw my community baseball hero Stan Musial — who died last month at 92 — shake hands with the black integrators of Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron. Society ­wasn’t integrated then, but mindsets began to be.
    By the late 1950s, television was moving into our living rooms — just in time for the great struggles for equal rights for African Americans.
    In 1957, we watched Alabama Gov. Orval Faubus call out the National Guard to keep black students out of ­Little Rock Central High School.
    In 1963, we watched Alabama’s Gov. George Wallace bar the door to black school children and college students. In the months that followed, we saw Birmingham police turn fire hoses and police dogs on equal rights demonstrators. We saw the aftermath of a bombing at a black Birmingham church during services. We watched thwarted marches from Selma to Montgomery and, finally, the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
    We watched Martin Luther King Jr. inspire the March to Washington, calling out I have a dream. We watched him accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Eventually, we saw him assassinated and watched the marches — and the riots — that followed his death.
    Television was still new then, and we were innocent, unused to the power of events witnessed at a distance. We were not there, but our hearts were.
    Being there earned you a badge of honor that you could wear proudly for the rest of your life. But watching made you part of the movement, part of the great swell that reached critical mass in the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s that have been, for half a century, pushing and pulling us toward the society King dreamed of.
    We were inspired. And we can still be. I just watched King’s speech to the March on Washington on YouTube, where we can all hold history in our hands.
    Here and now, 8 Days a Week is full of black history events so there’s plenty to see in person all month long.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com