Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2000. Screenplay by Barak Goodman. Cinematography by Buddy Squires. Produced by Daniel Anker, Barak Goodman. Music by Edward Bilous. Production Design by Clive Helfet. Film Editing by Jean Tsien.
Two white women get off a train in segregated 1931 Alabama and tell the authorities that they have been raped by nine black men who were passengers on the voyage. The men are immediately arrested and sent to prison, soon afterwards finding themselves on trial and in grave risk of losing their lives. In walks a left-wing Jewish lawyer from New York to defend them and he starts to find gaping holes in the victims’ testimony, while medical evidence does not support a guilty verdict. What soon becomes apparent is that this case has a lot more to do with white versus black than any interest in justice, bringing to the nation’s attention what were referred to as “legal lynchings”; the fight between the prosecution and the defense, it soon becomes clear, resides more in the realm of post-Civil War residual anger between North and South than any kind of fair fight. The ordeal that these men went through to clear their names makes up the narrative of this dramatic, unhappy documentary. Part of the PBS American Experience series.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Documentary Feature