negamco and me
i may destroy you

african-american directors series: 4 little girls (spike lee, 1997)

Spike Lee has made his name as a top director of fiction films, but he has also made some strong documentaries (I am partial to the two-part series on Katrina and New Orleans). 4 Little Girls was his first full-blown documentary feature, immediately establishing his excellence in this genre.

Lee put the film together for just a million dollars. The key behind-the-camera collaborators were cinematographer Ellen Kuras and editor Sam Pollard. Lee interviewed family, friends, and lawyers ... his small crew helped make the family and friends comfortable. He also intersperses archival material to give context to the events of 1963, when racists bombed a church, killing four young black girls. This material serves to remind the viewer of just how volatile America was at the time (of course, it feels very timely now, as well). Lee gathers an impressive list of people to comment on the times, including Andrew Young, George Wallace, Ossie Davis, Walter Cronkite, Jesse Jackson, and Coretta Scott King. The result is a movie that works as history, while also making an emotional appeal to the audience. Lee obviously has a point of view, but he lets it emerge naturally from the stories of the families.

Lee and Kuras rely a lot on close-ups ... the speakers become real to us. And 4 Little Girls is tight, with no wasted space. It grips you, it forces you to think, and there is no rest during the film's running time.

(Similar to the Film Fatales series, I have begun a Letterboxd list, "Black Directors Matter", that includes movies directed by African-Americans. I've also added a category to blog posts, "African-American Directors".)

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