Saturday, June 06, 2015

"Blood Done Sign My Name": a boy's and a teacher's view of a raced-based slaying in North Carolina in 1970, including kangaroo acquittal

Blood Done Sign My Name” (directed by Jeb Stuart) is another story of the latter part of the Civil Rights movement, and it shows how slowly attitudes change. It’s based on the autobiographical book by Timothy Tyson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. That in turn is based on the narrative by a liberal white minister, the author’ father, Vernon, driven out of the church for his support of integration.  I’ve seen plenty of disputes in churches that drive out ministers in my own life.
The film concerns the trial of a white businessman, Larry Teel (Cullen Moss), a white businessman in Oxford, North Carolina, for the murder (by shotgun and beating) of a black man and Vietnam War veteran, as well as the riots that occur after the crime and then after the jury’s staged acquittal.  One result is a boycott of businesses. 
The movie is framed as two stories, that don’t intersect that much.  One is the narrative of a young Tim Tyson (Gattlin Griffith) of his father’s (Vernon Tyson, played by Ricky Schroder) view of the whole tragedy.  The other is that of a high school English teacher, Ben Chavis (Nate Parker) and his students. 
The long (128 minutes) film starts out as if it were going to be a documentary.  There are newsreel scenes from the Vietnam War, as if to emphasize that the nature of the Vietnam era military draft and deferment system made it more likely that black men would wind up as casualties.  I played this own situation to my advantage at that time in life.  It also shows reels of Richard Nixon’s speeches.

The film also depicts the total dependence of that area on tobacco, which today has become a despised crop, ironically given the movement toward legalizing marijuana. The boycotts lead to the closing of a tobacco curing house and business moving out of town. 
The official site is here  (Image).

The film can be rented from Netflix (DVD). The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99.   The book (Broadway) is often taught in humanities programs and has often been on a UNC reading list. The film would make a good complement to Gode Davis's "American Lynching" if that project (discussed here Sept. 25, 006) finally gets completed (the filmmaker passed away in 2010).  

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