“We’ve come so far and we’ve made so much progress, but as a nation and a people, we are not quite there yet. We have miles to go.” Words spoken by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia in the sober opening of Dawn Porter’s JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE from CNN Films and Magnolia Pictures. As a co-founder and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, a speaker alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963, and a member of Congress since 1987, John Lewis knows something about progress. He has dedicated his life to it, and in fact this film is as much a history of the voting rights struggle of the last 50 years as it is about his life, so intertwined are the two subjects.
Though much of the documentary was filmed in 2018, and continuously flashes back to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, it has little to say about today’s conflicts; nevertheless, it is the film we need in our current moment. As Julie Hinds of the Detroit Free Press writes, the documentary “provides the superhero inspiration you’ve been missing” as COVID-19 continues to stall the Summer blockbuster season. For your Fourth of July weekend, JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE is now playing in our Virtual Movie Palace.
The son of sharecroppers, Lewis grew up in the small town of Troy, Alabama, where he lived on a farm picking cotton. Using interviews with him and his siblings, Porter paints a picture of his life and the path that was laid before him as a boy who practiced preaching to a congregation of his family’s chickens at a young age. But from there, the documentary draws little on his personal life and rather focuses on his lifetime crusade to give his constituents and people of color equal voting opportunities.
Though his fight began with the formation of SNCC, the film ties his true initiation into the Civil Rights Movement to his relationship with Dr. King. Dr. King in many ways served as a mentor for Lewis, who was just 25 when the two marched together in Selma. Flashbacks to Dr. King serve a heavy weight of emotion for the film, as Lewis looks back on the mentors he lost in the fight, also including Malcom X and Bobby Kennedy.
Lewis himself almost lost his life on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he and his fellow marchers were beaten back by Alabama State Troopers. Lewis suffered a concussion in the incident and today cannot recall how he made it out of the conflict alive. At a rally in Texas, however, Lewis remembers his history of being arrested 40 times in the 1960s, and 5 times since he’s been in Congress.
But as much as Porter lifts Lewis up as a Civil Rights icon, much like last week’s feature ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, she also provides inspiration and hope that his fight will continue in a new generation. Featured in the documentary are many young members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who look up to Lewis and speak of his influence with the same admiration that Lewis speaks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It should be noted that the film also includes veteran politicians and colleagues of the Civil Rights movement such as the late Elijah Cummings, along with Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, as well as participation from across the aisle with the inclusion of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
They can all recall Lewis’ role as a leader, role model, and fighter even in recent years, citing his 26-hour sit-in at the Capitol to demand gun control legislation after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. And the film gets its title as we hear Lewis continue to spread an idea that he’s advocated for his entire career: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something. Do something. Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” And he leaves us with the assurance that, “As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can.”
You can find and be inspired by John Lewis in our Virtual Movie Palace this weekend. And as always I’ll leave you with further movie recommendations for your holiday weekend: Ava DuVernay’s 13th is available on Netflix, and you can still purchase I Am Not Your Negro, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, and Whose Streets? In our Virtual Movie Palace as a bundle for just $15, which you will be able to own and share with others. And though it’s not currently streaming anywhere for free, Ava DuVerney’s Selma is an incredible depiction of the events that took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in which Lewis is played by Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk). Enjoy your holiday weekend!