Freedom Riders Film Analysis

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The filmmaker Stanley Nelson has a stunning accomplishment in “Freedom Riders,” a documentary that chronicles a crucial, devastating episode of the civil rights movement, an episode whose gruesome visuals impinged on the perception of American liberty around the world. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the freedom rides, the film (to be shown Monday on PBS) is a story of ennobled youth and noxious hatred, of decided courage and inexplicable brutality. In May 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality sought to challenge the segregation of interstate travel on public transport and sent forth activists, both black and white, and many of them students, on a bus journey through the South, where they were received with violence that law enforcers…show more content…
He speaks to the cameras now with an oddly casual air and no obvious sense of contrition. He says that he was afraid of Connor. He was also a political opportunist who had won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1958 with the support of the Ku Klux Klan. His opponent, George Wallace, had lost with the support of the N.A.A.C.P. (Wallace’s segregationist politics flourished as a result of this defeat.) “Freedom Riders” implicitly and ably conveys the powerlessness of positive law in the face of a toxic cultural emotionalism. By the time the freedom riders had begun their efforts, the Supreme Court had twice handed down decisions — first in 1946, in Morgan v. Virginia, and 14 years later in Boynton v. Virginia — declaring segregation on buses and trains traveling between states a violation of interstate commerce laws. But Jim Crow traditions meant an ugly disregard for what was already…show more content…
That September the Interstate Commerce Commission delivered its order to end segregation on buses and in railway stations, and the civil rights movement had an enormous triumph. Now so too does this genre of documentary film. It is easy to imagine “Freedom Riders,” attaining the status of “Eyes on the Prize,” the multipart film on the history of the civil rights movement that has been an essential component of American history classes for years. “Freedom Riders” should have an equally long life. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Freedom Riders On PBS stations on Monday night (check local listings). Written and directed by Stanley Nelson; based in part on the book “Freedom Riders” by Raymond Arsenault; Mr. Nelson and Laurens Grant, producers; Lewis Erskine and Aljernon Tunsil, editors; Lewanne Jones, archival producer; Stacey Holman, associate producer; Robert Shepard, director of photography; Tom Phillips, composer; Rena Kosersky, music supervisor. For American Experience: Sharon Grimberg, senior producer; Mark Samels, executive producer. A version of this review appears in print on May 16, 2011, on page C3 of the New York edition with the headline: Voices From the Buses on the Road to Civil Rights. Order Reprints| Today 's Paper|Subscribe Continue reading the main
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