Movie REviews REviews by scripture reviews by alphabet
About the CRitic links
                                    Overcoming Prejudice
“The Great Debaters”:  Denzel Washington directs this (mostly true) story of the Wiley College (of Marshall , Texas ) debate team in 1935.  The Jim Crow South is painfully portrayed, as racial prejudice is universal among ignorant whites, including harassment, beatings, and random lynch mobs.  In the face of such blatant bigotry, we have a black college professor, Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington), and a black pastor, James Farmer Sr. (Forest Whitaker), dignified intellectuals encouraging their charges to rise above the hatred.  Tolson’s prize pupils include Farmer’s underage son, James Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), Henry (Nate Parker), and Samantha (Jurnee Smollett), who combine to win every debate that year, including one with Harvard (well, actually, it was with USC), while their beloved professor Tolson was also busy organizing a sharecroppers union, with strong-arm resistance from the redneck local sheriff.  A sterling cast makes for a lively presentation, and we all want to root for those winsome kids with both courage and brains.
“Away From Her”:  This time, the prejudice is against those afflicted by Alzheimer’s Disease.  Sarah Polley has adapted the short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain,” to tell the sad tale of Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie), who sinks further and further into the oblivion of Alzheimer’s.  She recognizes early on that she’s “losing it,” and insists that her doting husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) put her in a local nursing home, where they don’t allow him to see her for the first month.  During that time, she’s forgotten all about him, and has developed a caring relationship with another Alzheimer’s patient, Aubrey, which later kind of throws together Grant and Aubrey’s wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis).  Slow-moving, but effective “education” for public awareness of a curious affliction which seems to be increasing its devastating toll on a largely-unaware public, which only hopes it doesn’t happen to them.  Best exchange: “The bible says “it’s never too late to become what you might have been.” “That doesn’t sound biblical to me.”
“La Mome” (“La Vie En Rose”) A Belgian biography about the remarkable life of French singer Edith Piaf (1915-1963), known as “The Little Sparrow.”  Marion Cotillard is quite dramatic in her portrayal of Piaf’s drug and alcohol struggles, and the series of disasters that was her personal life.  But her singing probably won’t stop traffic, which is exactly what “The Little Sparrow” had to do to claw to the top.  Her mother was an alcoholic street singer, her father a circus performer (contortionist), and her grandmother the madam at the local bordello, and she spent time growing up with all three.  Edith soon began her own career as a street singer, was “discovered” by a club owner and later tutored by a “real” voice coach, which then brought her street-wise career to the attention of the international mainstream.  She seemed to spend her whole life fighting the prejudice that she received as a wretched street urchin, and seemed to make personal decisions that would return her to her down-and-out roots, aging her very quickly.  Her story is told in vignettes, in alternating sequences of flashback, so those who expect a linear narrative will be quite frustrated with the screenplay.
Questions for Discussion:
1)      How have you encountered prejudice in your own life?
2)      Who in your life has done the best at “rising above circumstances”?
3)      Who in your life has thrown away the most talent?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas