Monday, December 12, 2022

REVIEW: Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power


In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by then President of the United States Lyndon Johnson. Seen as a landmark legislation within the prevailing civil rights movement, it was the culmination of the effort of many groups advocating for equal access and representation at the polls. This federal law was hardly initiated at the national level, however, as it was borne out of the struggles in local communities like that in Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir's new documentary "Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power".

"Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power" zooms in on the eponymous Alabama county, as a starting point for a larger effort to ensure the voting rights of Black people. With a Black population of 80% yet 0 registered voters, it stood as a clear indication of the systemic inequality and injustice. Under threat of unemployment, discrimination and even death, Black citizens of Lowndes County were effectively disenfranchised. Through archival footage and interviews with those who lived through these dark times, "Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power" proceeds with an engaging examination of the pivotal actions taken to overhaul this unjust situation and chart a new course for Black power.

Indeed, the notion of "power" is at the forefront of the film, as it delves into the lack of power for Black people within various spheres of society such as education, employment, legal protection, voting rights. And furthermore, it explores the contentious meaning of Black power, through its revelations of the origins of the Black panther iconography and the subsequent party it spawned. Specifically, the film provides compelling insight into how the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee rose to national prominence under a Black panther symbol before a later branching off of the comparatively militant Black panther party.

They always say you need to know where you come from to know where you're going. And viewers can certainly draw a throughline from the film's depiction of racist terror and anti-Black power rhetoric to the modern day Black Lives Matter movement. As such the excellent archival footage feels like it could've been shot today, despite the monochrome hue. And with the engaging and honest commentary (crucially including the White perspectives as well) accentuating the seamless editing, the storytelling is captivating.

In showing the rocky journey from sharecropping to holding elected office, "Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power" is a testament to the resilience of a people. But in its closing moments, it's also a sobering reminder of how history repeats itself in the ways that American society oppresses its Black citizens. We've come a long way from "Bloody Lowndes," but there's still some distance yet on the road to Black power.

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