John Lewis: Good Trouble shows why the Congressman is a hero for consistently fighting, literally and legislatively for civil and voting rights for 60 years. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement upcoming election, this film couldn’t come at a better time.
Despite winning a few battles along the way, Lewis makes it clear in his opening statement that the fight is not over, now evident in the news we see every day. Lewis states, “We’ve come so far and made so much progress, but as a nation and a people, we’re not quite there yet. We have miles to go.”
Documentary Director Dawn Porter shows tender family scenes as well as disturbing riot footage following Lewis from childhood-to-protestor-to- Congressman. This is a detailed history of the Civil Rights movement starting with his ancestors all the way to the present including interviews about Lewis with Cory Booker, Nancy Pelosi, Stacy Abrams, Hillary Clinton, and the late Elijah Cummings.
This mild-mannered man subtly makes it clear when he finds something unjust, he tries to correct it. He saw how the right to vote was being suppressed early on by testing Black Americans at the polls, asking questions no one could answer. Do you know how many bubbles are in a bar of soap? That’s just one example in the film.
Lewis has a fascinating backstory as the son of a sharecropper who saved enough money to buy his own land, but saw his family berated as undeserving to own that land because they were supposed to be slaves. His job at the farm was to take care of the chickens, which he not only fed, but talked and preached to. He still collects little ceramic chickens and keeps them in a beautiful cage in his office, still talking to them. It’s important to him because It reminds him of where came from. Fortunately, hIs family realized that Lewis needed to go to school and made sure he did.
You see Lewis as a young man trying to organize and mobilize to make a difference. He was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to get in “good trouble,” Lewis went door-to-door to help register voters. He wrote to Dr. King about wanting to get involved and received a round trip ticket from his civil rights hero in the mail to come march with him. Lewis marched with Dr. King in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery where disturbing footage shows him being beaten and then hospitalized in what was planned as a peaceful protest. But his civil disobedience to get change didn’t stop there. Lewis proudly admits he has been arrested 40 times, 5 of those while serving in Congress.
He is very soft-spoken, nearly mumbling his words, but you can see the humility and kindness in his eyes as he converses with staff and constituents. There is a palpable, mutual respect and an easy going demeanor in his on-screen persona. There’s really only one time when he appears drastically different. It’s when he and Julian Bond ran against each other for City Council in Atlanta. They’d worked together registering voters and been very close friends for 25 years. You get to see a very icy exchange on TV when Lewis suggested Bond take a drug test which obviously tarnished the contest Lewis won, splitting the Black vs. White vote. They both went on to do well in politics and salvaged the friendship as well. But Lewis is definitely seen through a different lens at that time.
You get to see him as a happy family man with his very independent and smart, late wife, Lillian, and their son. He tells heartwarming stories with a smile, about Lillian and their loving and respectful relationship during their long marriage.
Two very cute passages in the film show very human sides to the man. Seeing him being recognized and greeted with adoration by white and black men and women in an airport shows how much people like and respect him. In addition, Director Porter shows a funny anecdote told by the late Congressman Elijah Cummings often mistaken for John Lewis. He was often stopped by families who mistook him for John Lewis. They would insist on taking photos with him, sure that he was Lewis. Cummings would cordially oblige, without admitting his true identity, not wanting to embarrass them or burst their bubble.
The other very human passage is even more enjoyable to watch. When Lewis started dancing to the Pharrell Williams’ tune “Happy” in the hall by his office, one of his staff put the video up on Tik Tok. He just looks so happy dancing as if no one is watching. It made us smile and, of course, it went viral. If you’re ever feeling down, seek it out.
Director Dawn Porter is meticulous in her biography of John Lewis’ life and career focusing on his driven fight for civil rights and justice for all that hits at just the right moment. At 80, John Lewis may be a little slower and more soft-spoken, but this film shows how he still has the vitality to continue the same fight for equality he fought for as a young man. He’s definitely not afraid to let himself be seen dancing on “Tik Tok,” and always ready to get into “Good Trouble.”
Magnolia Pictures 1 hour 36 minutes PG Documentary On Demand
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