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American Experience - Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Frances McDormand , Stanley Tucci , Barak Goodman , Daniel Anker  |  NR |  DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Frances McDormand, Stanley Tucci, Andre Braugher, Nesbitt Blaisdell, Sam Catlin
  • Directors: Barak Goodman, Daniel Anker
  • Writers: Barak Goodman, Kay Boyle
  • Producers: Barak Goodman, Daniel Anker, Margaret Drain, Mark Samels, Trina Quagliaroli
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: January 31, 2005
  • Run Time: 84 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000E0OBCO
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,865 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "American Experience - Scottsboro: An American Tragedy" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

In March 1931, two white women stepped off a box car in Paint Rock, Alabama, with a shocking accusation of gang rape, by nine black teenagers on the train. So began the Scottsboro case, one of the 20th century's fieriest legal battles. The youths' trial generated the sharpest regional conflict since the Civil War, led to momentous Supreme Court decisions, and helped give birth to the civil rights movement.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent documentary on an American disgrace! July 23, 2001
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
The Scottsboro incident caught my attention last year when I read a book on the subject. I was absolutely horrified and disgusted by the blatant racism, provincialism, and anti-semitism which grotesquely perverted justice in 1930's Alabama. Therefore, it was with great interest that I watched this documentary. It was exceptionally well done. I especially enjoyed the reading of the trial transcript while the film showed stills of the participants- the description of the cross-examination of Victoria Price, one of the accusers and an outrageous perjurer, by legendary defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz is gripping. Also the interviews with people who were actually present at the trial add alot of color to the film.
However, the documentary really does not go into great detail how the lengthy prison sentences these innocent men served ruined them. Although the film comments that Haywood Patterson, the most famous of the "boys," became a "creature" of the prison system it does not say in what way. The book I read went into detail how Patterson became a "wolf" in prison in order to survive. Patterson was known for assaulting other inmates, and he was greatly feared by the guards. He also became an aggressive prison rapist with his own "gal-boy." (It is ironic that Patterson was sent to prison for a rape he did not commit, and it was prison that actually turned him into a rapist.) Patterson went into prison as a tough but innocent young man, and he emerged as a vicious animal. I felt the film should have shown more of the horrifying consequences of this injustice, and really bring home the reality of the evils of racism and perjury.
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82 of 96 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The More Things Change.... April 1, 2006
In 1995, Susan Smith drowned her own sons and blamed it on a Black man. In the 1990s, about a dozen Black men were on death row in Illinois, and none of them had actually committed the crime. Some may think the oppression of Black men in the American criminal justice system is new or sporadic, but it has a long history. Few outside of African-American studies enthusiasts remember the Scottsboro case. Luckily, this program has been made to remind the masses of injustice in this country. Because character Michael Evans was right in asserting that "Boy is a white, racist term!", I cringed hearing these accused being called "boys." However, each of the accused were between the ages of 13 and 19 when a white woman of questionable morals framed them during the Great Depression.

This tragedy will remind many of the O.J. Simpson case of the last decade: the dynamics were much larger than the individuals involved. Just as Emmett Till's murderers went free, here a Southern court and its players made incorrect decisions just to maintain the status quo and tell Northerners, "Leave us alone!" There are elements of anti-Semitism here as well as racism.

I don't care for André Braugher as an actor, but he did a good job of narrating this work. Actors re-interpreted the court dialogue, but photos were the visuals, instead of modern background actors being recorded. People who love Court TV will love seeing this, besides the serious issues here, this is basically a court drama, a genre that many Americans love.

I continue to applaud the "American Experience" series for including the low points of American history and not just the high points. I also thank them for including people of color, and how we've been wronged.
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46 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American Travesty May 5, 2008
Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the late 19th century; Sacco and Vanzetti, probably the most famous case of all, in the 1920's; the Rosenburgs in the post-World War II 1950's Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. Here we look at the case of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930's. The exposure of the tensions within American society, particularly around the intersection of race and sex, which came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the documentary under review.

In a certain sense this is another one of those liberal do-gooder films that the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is known for. That is indicated in the title of the work-an American tragedy. The underlying premise is that the fate of the Boys, ugly in many aspects by the standards of that time and certainly by today's standards, was now merely a long past singular aberration of the American justice system that eventually got righted. Tell that to the vast black and Hispanic majority of today's victims of that same `justice' system languishing in America's prison's in the overwrought `war on drugs'. Tell that to the kids down in Jena, Louisiana. But that is a story for another time.

What the PBS film does here is highlight the various legal trials and tribulations, over many years, which most of the nine Scottsboro defendants faced including four trials, many appeals and, ultimately for the lone survivor who lived long enough, a pardon. All for crimes that they did not commit and that the state of Alabama knew that they did not commit. For those unfamiliar with the case this chronology is a nice primer on the key aspects of the case.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Scottsboro Boys!
Everyone should see this film. It's amazing what is not covered in traditional history classes that inform today's events. Sad but true.
Published 5 days ago by Tela
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 28 days ago by Beatrice Mayo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by George King
5.0 out of 5 stars Scottsboro: An American Tragedy
to witness the lies and mistreatment of the Scottosboro boys from Ala only open deep wounds that will never heal in me ,what really hurt is how the word of a individual in today's... Read more
Published 4 months ago by lildee
5.0 out of 5 stars Scottsboro is an excellent documentary
Scottsboro is an excellent documentary of little known history that was the precursor to the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Es See
5.0 out of 5 stars Great teaching video
My high school students find it compelling and (thankfully) shocking, and it's a great introduction to reading To Kill A Mockingbird.
Published 4 months ago by Cary Honig
3.0 out of 5 stars valuable
great information and good to put historical context to the black American situation. This country owes it to black America to negotiate a reparations program that will atone for... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Michael Fard
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent classroom resource.
I used the video with our district unit on To Kill a Mockingbird. The video was a wonderful tie-in to the social issues of the era and to Black History month which fell within the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Cecilia Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars Great part of history
This documentary should be included in EVERY African American History video library. It is a great video to show during Black History Month.
Published 8 months ago by Tanisha S Gaylord
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Teaching Tool
Emotionally captivating documentary of an important moment in U.S. history. My high school students (juniors and seniors) were engaged by it. Read more
Published 10 months ago by E. Olesen
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