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Separate But Equal (1991)

 PG |  DVD
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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This title will be released on May 6, 2014.
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Product Details

  • Format: Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Paramount
  • DVD Release Date: May 6, 2014
  • Run Time: 191 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,208 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

Based on the ground-breaking Brown vs. the Board of Education case in 1954, SEPARATE BUT EQUAL follows a young Thurgood Marshall (Sidney Poitier), the lawyer who argued the racially-charged lawsuit before the Supreme Court. When the black students of Clarendon County, South Carolina are denied their request for a single school bus, a bitter and courageous battle for justice and equality begins.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate docudrama on Brown v. Board of Education December 9, 2002
Format:VHS Tape
"Separate But Equal" puts three names about the credits: Sidney Portier as Thurgood Marshall, Burt Lancaster as John W. Davis, and Richard Kiley as Earl Warren. This is significant because it helps to personify the three sides in the monumental Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. Marshall headed the NAACP lawyers who challenged the legal doctrine that legitimized segregation in the South. Davis represented the interests of the states, not out of a sense of bigotry but out of legal principle; after all, it was the Supreme Court that had established the separate but equal doctrine. This becomes a key part of the dilemma that Chief Justice Warren faced because the law was obviously legal--it just also happened to be wrong.
This excellent 1991 docudrama was aired in two parts. The first part looks at the segregated school system in Claredon County, South Carolina, one of the four cases that comprised the ruling, and the harm of segregation is captured in a memorable sequence in which young black children always pick the white doll rather than the black doll to describe who is smarter, better, etc. The second part of the film deals with the lengthy process by which the high court deliberated the case, doing a better job of capturing the process than any drama I have ever seen.
Portier provides Marshall with all the dignity appropriate to the role, and it is a treat to see the actor play a lawyer arguing before the high court. Lancaster, in his final role, performs a key function: he is earnest and likeable, which means that in the context of this story our opposition has to be to his position and not to him personally. In other words, this is a legal matter that has to be determined on the point of law and not on our feelings about bigots and racism.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining and Educational Film December 5, 1999
By Rachel
Format:VHS Tape
In 1896, the Supreme Court decided, in Plessy V. Ferguson, that racial segregation was legal as long as equal facilities were provided for both races. It was not until the late 1940s that the Court began to insist on equality of treatment. The first case to tackle the constitutionality of the "separate but equal" doctrine was the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1954. The movie, Separate But Equal, addresses the Brown case. It is a wonderfully done, educational, and entertaining film. The movie is entitled Separate But Equal because that is the issue being addressed throughout the film. The movie is extremely historically accurate, but also gives the viewer insights into the emotions that the key players went through. Harry Briggs, Jr. is a black child in a school in Clarendon County, South Carolina. His teacher and minister, Rev. Dulane, notices that he is falling asleep during class. When he investigates the cause of this tiredness, he realizes that Harry has to walk many miles to and from school every day. When Dulane sees that white children who live far away from their schools are provided with buses while black children are not, he decides to protest. Rev. Dulane first approaches Superintendent Springer, the superintendent of their district. He asks solely for a single, old bus (adding that they will provide the gas) and a little bit of money for the school. The superintendent denies him these meager requests, saying that whites pay more taxes and are therefore entitled to better facilities. Dulane is infuriated. What happened to "separate but equal?" Rev. Dulane hires a lawyer. Together, they approach Harry Briggs, Sr. and ask if he would like to push the case. Briggs agrees. Read more ›
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential viewing, despite some historical inaccuracies December 23, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
Made-for-TV dramas have a certain duality about them. On the one hand, they have a heightened sense of melodrama, because, after all, they have to get you to tune back in after the commercial break. On the other hand, they tend to have more time to tell a story, and so can get at details a 2-hour movie might miss.
Such is the case here. SEPARATE BUT EQUAL does personalize the issues surrounding the Brown vs. Board of Education fight in an engaging way, while also managing to sort through the gamut of relevant legal opinions. I think that in general, the film does a remarkable job in this regard, and would be an excellent place to begin one's appreciation for the legal issues surrounding the case.
Still, in its effort to give us drama, it invites questions about certain aspects of the personal history on display.
One of the most obvious problems is also something I would hesitate to change: Sidney Poitier's performance. Thurgood Marshall in interviews sounds NOTHING like Poitier. Forget that Poitier is too old to play a man in his thirties. Poitier, and perhaps the screenwriter, simply fails to capture the colloquial essence of the man. Even so, it's too mesmerizing a performance to simply dismiss.
In its conveyance of the Supreme Court Justices, however, SEPARATE BUT EQUAL falters over more than mere accent. Much of the last hour of the movie is the story of the deliberation of the Supreme Court Justices, and I found myself wanting documentation to support the scenes displayed. Clearly, a unanimous decision of the court after a two-year deliberation would've required the kind of diplomacy that Earl Warren is shown pursuing here.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Movie
I missed it when it was released. I'm pleased to have found a copy. However, I was surprised that it came on two VHS cassets.
Published 4 months ago by Merritt A. Robertson
5.0 out of 5 stars important
this is one of the best pieces I ever saw about racial theme. Poitier is one of the fine actors of América and he is perfect in this role. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Romeu França
5.0 out of 5 stars Five star all the way
I've been teaching advanced (AP) Government and dual credit Political Science 101 classes for 22 years. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Richard C. Vaughan
5.0 out of 5 stars Leave no stone unturned
When we all breathe the same breath of life in the same space and [time],then there
shouldn't be a big or small question as to why all children can not have the same... Read more
Published 13 months ago by E T Radius
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Message
What a rich and meaningful message to those who think their rights just automatically happened. America was so blind for so long.
Published on August 5, 2010 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Seperate But Equal
Separate But Equal

This should be required viewing for all introductory Political Science, Government or US history students. Read more
Published on December 15, 2008 by S. Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great teaching tool
I use this in my classroom high school classroom. It shows the need and history for the civil rights legislation, but also gives tremendous insight into the workings of the Supreme... Read more
Published on November 25, 2008 by EMW
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL (1991-PG) is one of my favorite movies. Nominated for seven Emmy Awards. It is about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Case. Read more
Published on October 20, 2007 by Loves To Read
5.0 out of 5 stars Seperate But Equal
Originally a TV movie aired in two parts, this Emmy-winning film should be required viewing for kids age 12 and up. Read more
Published on July 17, 2007 by John Farr
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't be better
I bought this movie several years ago in the the VHS format, and now would like to have it on DVD. However, the price is too steep for me as of now. Read more
Published on June 16, 2007 by Sudsie Dann
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