Thursday, 28 June 2007
4 LITTLE GIRLS
4 Little Girls (1997) dir. Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s first documentary is a score. A nominee for best documentary in 1997, it ultimately lost to an equally noble holocaust film – “The Long Way Home”. Both are worthy, though it’s a shame Lee didn’t claim his first much deserved trophy.
“Four Little Girls” recounts the heinous hate crime which caused the death of four black adolescent girls from a church bombing in Birmingham Alabama in 1963. Birmingham was the ‘heart’ segregated America. Racial hatred was ingrained in social society and the Ku Klux was at the height of its influence. The tragic event ignited the civil rights movement on a national level.
Lee effectively tells the story in a straight-forward manner - talking heads and archival footage. Lee keeps himself out of the film, except for his offscreen voice which occasionally creeps into the soundtrack. We get to meet the families of the lost girls. They are working class, god-fearing citizens of Birmingham, who speak about the event as if it were yesterday. Civil Rights leader Rev Fred Shuttlesworth is the most courageous. Before the bombing he was a leader in the Birmingham community lobbying for equal rights. The footage of Shuttlesworth being savagely beaten in broad daylight on the street is horrific and yet inspiring.
The details supplied by the family members of that fateful Sunday morning visualize the horror of the tragedy – the girls’ cherished Sunday-best clothes, Carole’s mother’s girl scout badges which she still keeps, and Denise’s father’s description of her daughter’s hunger after smelling the fried onions from near a local restaurant on her way to the church.
Lee gives the white politicians and the lawyers of the time a chance to say their peace as well. Former Governor George Wallace makes a complete ass out of himself when he proclaims not be a racist citing that his best friend is black. He then proceeds to grab his aide, hiding off camera to bring him into the frame. The scared and frightful look on the aide’s face is priceless. But the real monster of the story is “Dynamite Bob” – a man who is responsible for more racist hate crimes than any man in the state. For 30 years he has been terrorizing black citizen with a series of brutal bombings. After over 10 years of on and off again investigation he is finally to court. The utter contempt on his smirking face should have put him away for good.
In the final moments of the film Lee brings in nationwide leaders and celebrities to comment on the effect of the tragedy. Bill Cosby, Walter Cronkite and Jesse add some relevant comments, though the inclusion of Green Bay Packer, Reggie White is a head-turner. Huh?
I’ve yet to see “When the Levee Breaks”, Lee’s two-part doc about the Katrina disaster, but if “4 Little Girls” is any indication, he will preserve the legacy of the victims of that disaster with equal reverence. Enjoy.
Buy it here: 4 Little Girls