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Separate But Equal [VHS]
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
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. However, writer/director George Stevens, Jr. has set us up, because for Kiley's Earl Warren it is a question of justice rather than the law, especially after the former Governor of California visits the battlefield at Gettysburg and discovers his driver had to sleep in the car because no local hotel would accept a black.
For me this is Kiley's film and the most fascinating part of "Separate But Equal" is watching him rally the Court to make its landmark ruling. This is a long, hard, effort for Kiley, who insists that a unanimous ruling is important to make it clear to the nation that there is no longer two sides to this issue. I appreciated that Stevens simply has Kiley read the actual ruling at the film's climax. Again, Stevens using a simple image to bring home the significance of the ruling as the preacher and father who were at the heart of the case we watched in the first part hear the news on the radio, pull over their car, get out and kneel by the side of the road to give thanks.
At 193 minutes this docudrama would consume a week of class, but it could be well worth the effort. Certainly screening it for students would produce some interesting questions and discussions. Final comment: Stevens uses irony throughout "Separate but Equal" (e.g., Marshall and the NAACP lawyers cannot get a cab to take them to the Supreme Court to hear the decision), but there is one delightful use of humor, when a young white lawyer who is helping with the appeal explains to the NAACP lawyers why he is there working with them.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 1999
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. They are sadly disappointed, however, when their case is dismissed on the technicality that the Briggs' live outside the school district. But Dulane's lawyer calls some friends at the NAACP in New York to help out. They send Thurgood Marshall, a highly qualified lawyer. Because Dulane gets an extraordinary amount of signatures on a petition, his case is taken to a three-judge State Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the KKK and other angry groups have threatened the one judge who looked to help Marshall, Dulane, and the rest by burning a cross on the judge's lawn and throwing a rock through his window. They have also set Rev. Dulane's house on fire. The firefighters refused to quench the flames on the grounds that his house was outside their jurisdiction, a sad reminder of the case they had lost. Both he and Harry Briggs Sr. have been fired from their jobs. Sadly, while Marshall fights the case valiantly, he loses. However, several important points are brought up during the case, the most important being that segregation has a corrupt effect on the minds of the black children. A psychologist from the NAACP has been called and has conducted research on the children. The conclusion of this research is that segregation does undoubtedly have a corrupt effect on the children, causing them to feel inferior and ugly in comparison with the white children. Later, this and many other small cases in mostly southern states have led to Brown v. Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall is arguing this case as well. One of the judges from the state supreme court, John W. Davis, takes the side opposing Marshall, against his daughter's wishes. He believes that "separate but equal" is completely constitutional, and that mixing the races would only bring about violence. However, he has a deep respect for Marshall as a lawyer and a person. Both sides present their case to the Supreme Court. Marshall, however, is quite nervous and allows an especially harsh judge to fluster him. He'd give anything for another chance. Fortunately, after many indecisive sessions, the Court decides to hear the case again. It will be reargued on the basis of what the writers of the 14th Amendment meant when they wrote it. Thurgood's wish has been granted, and he and all the others at the NAACP begin researching hard to find any bit of historical information that they can use to argue the case in their favor. A young, white, Texan lawyer named Charles Black comes to help them look. Their search, however, seems fruitless. Finally, with little time before the briefs are to be submitted, a quote from Thaddeus Stevens is found. It was written at the time of the 14th Amendment and says that segregation is constitutionally and morally wrong. The quote goes on the cover of the brief. This time, Thurgood Marshall argues his case beautifully and flawlessly. Chief Justice Vincent, who heard the original case, has died and Chief Justice Warren has taken over. Warren is much more sympathetic to the cause. He writes an opinion in such a way that he hopes all of the judges can agree unanimously. He feels that a unanimous decision is very important. He works hard, and finally manages to convince even the most hard-hearted judge (who has had a heart attack) to agree with the opinion. It declares that "separate education facilities are inherently unequal" and that racial segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because separating children in schools solely on racial grounds "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone." Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP win the case. Although the decision does not bring about total integration of blacks in the schools immediately, it results in efforts by many school systems to remove the imbalance by busing students. And, although Harry Briggs, Jr. never attends an integrated school, he and his community have paved the way for students to come. I am glad that people like Thurgood Marshall, Rev. Dulane, Chief Justice Warren, and the rest worked so hard for students today. I am glad that today's society can look at these brave men and others like them and feel inspired to end all racism and prejudice. Brown v. Board of Education was truly a groundbreaking case, and Separate But Equal definitely did it justice.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 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. And, as the only Governor of California to be simultaneously nominated by both the Democratic and Republican parties, Warren surely would've possessed such a light touch with people. But each Justice is given a very specific legal viewpoint, and I wonder to what degree the Justices actually had those exact sentiments.
Also, I think the film doesn't accurately portray Earl Warren and Marshall's reaction to him. From the moment Warren is appointed Chief Justice, the NAACP is seen as preferring "the devil you know" in Chief Justice Vinson, to "the devil you don't" in Warren. The basis for this trepidation is a briefly shown newspaper clipping tying Warren to the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The movie then has Marshall saying something to the effect of, "It doesn't matter who's sitting on the bench. We have to get back to work." The matter is then dropped and never revisited. Later, we get a few moving scenes in which Warren goes on a trip with his African-American driver. Along the way, his driver, though a WW II veteran, is subjected to segregation, much to Warren's dismay. He therefore returns to Washington with a new-found fire in his belly and proceeds to craft a 9-0 victory. It's good drama, of course, but it's dubiously accurate.
The actual historical record suggests that Warren was, during peacetime, already pretty fair-minded before getting to Washington. Yet during World War II, as a sitting state Attorney General, he was responsible for advising FDR to violate the 14th Amendment and strip Japanese-Americans of their rights without due process. More ominously, he drew up a specific plan of deportation which, as Attorney General and later Governor, he was responsible for implementing. But neither of these halves of his public service really sees the light of day in this movie. Instead, he's portrayed as being a vaguely negative force that gets converted to the cause.
Also, Marshall's reaction to Warren's appointment was actually much more positive than the movie would have you believe. Far from preferring the "devil you know", they were ecstatic to be rid of Vinson. Marshall didn't want to argue the case before Vinson at all, because he thought the former Chief Justice was just "mean". The film slightly gives the impression that it was Marshall's first trip to the Supreme Court, but in fact Marshall and Vinson had crossed swords before, and Marshall knew there was little he could do to sway Vinson. Indeed the movie misses a bit of actual, historical drama by not exploring the relationship between Vinson and Marshall more. When Marshall decided to bring the case to the Supreme Court, over the objections of other NAACP members, he was actually taking a much bigger risk than he let on in the movie, because Vinson was so cranky he often didn't let counsel answer with more than a simple "yes" or "no"--hardly the kind of communication that can persuade a person from their view.
Also, this notion that Marshall didn't care who was on the bench is rubbish. He was on a train to California immediately after Warren's appointment to the high court. He went on a mission to try to get any information he could about the Governor. After discovering that Warren had a long streak of civil libertarianism in him, Marshall began to believe for the first time that they would win the case. It's clear from Marshall's own voice that far from casting a pall on the NAACP team, Warren's appointment was seen at the time as a positive boon. This, sadly, is not reflected in the screenplay.
Laying these details aside, however, the overall effect of SEPARATE BUT EQUAL is powerful. The legal arguments are summarized in a comprehensible way, and the drama, if not historically accurate in each scene, still manages to evoke the feeling of the era. This is a film you'll want to not just rent but own. There's so much information to digest, a single viewing just won't do.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2000
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
Separate But Equal is a riveting portrayal of the struggle for desegration of the public schools. While some liberties are taken to enhance the story for television, it is still of reasonable historical accuracy. Sidney Poitier and Burt Lancaster turn in solid performances as opposing counsel. However, the real star of this video is the far lesser known Richard Kiley who turns in an excellent portrayal of Chief Justice Earl Warren. As a result, the stronger half of the story turns out to be the second part which provides a fascinating look at Warren's struggle to guide the court through the bitterly divisive issue of whether segregation in the public schools was unconstitutional. The intellectual battles among such strong willed men as Justices Douglas, Frankfurter, and Reed and the difficulties of the latter two to come to a resolution of the issue is masterfully portrayed. All in all, this is clearly one of the best historically based presentations I have seen in recent years.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2005
Format: VHS Tape
This past week, my class and I watched the movie Separate But Equal starring Sidney Poitier. When we first began the movie, after the first couple of minutes, many of us were nodding, but towards the middle, the action and drama started increasing. This movie was mainly centered around the 14th Amendment and its importance to minorities. This amendment states that all men are created equal and therefore should be treated equally. In this movie, you will see how one amendment brought about a big argument over the fact that there is no such thing as separate but equal schools. The NAACP was fighting for desegregation and was not going to rest until they won.

In the movie, there were very influential people like Thurgood Marshall and many significant Supreme Court Justices. When you watch the movie, make sure you pay attention to them and their views. Even though some parts of the movie were a bit dragging, it still had a lot of valuable information in it. From watching this movie, you will learn a lot about our governmental system and be able to tell how events like these influenced our government today. It was a very enlightening movie, and I believe that all students should take the time to see it at least once. Believe me when I say that you won't regret the time you put into watching this very influential movie.

By: Ariana Tinker
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2003
Format: DVD
This is one of the best films made for TV. It tells the story of the groundbreaking Supreme Court case that put Thurgood Marshall in the minds of most educated Americans.
However, this is a terrible DVD. The colors are dark. There is no sharpness to the film at all. In effect, it is worse than what you saw when it originally came out. As usual, Artisan does not take advantage of the DVD technology. I tried to contact them, but their website has no email address. This DVD is cheaply made, which is a shame. This a film classic, much more deserving than the shabby treatment Artisan has given it. This ranks right up there with the horrible DVD that Artisan made of "The Quiet Man." Please Artisan, either give us good copies of these great films, or quit ruining them.
FIVE STARS FOR THE FILM, 1 STAR FOR ARTISAN
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
In my 19 years of teaching political science and law, this is the best video I have ever shown in class -- it rivets my students to their seats for all 3 hours! I never thought it possible that a film about the 1950s, set in the backcountry of South Carolina and the backroom chambers of the Supreme Court, could be so compelling, even inspiring. The acting and direction are of course top-notch, given the talent involved, but it's the edgy editing that keeps you 'turning the page.' An absolute must-see for, well, all Americans!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2005
Format: VHS Tape
My overall view of this movie, "Separate But Equal", is that it is very informative and interesting. I would recommend this movie to everyone because I feel that everyone should know a little bit about how our government got the way it is today. This movie shows how determine the black people were to make a change, especially in this case, in the segregated schools. The case that took place in this movie, which cause the "separate but equal" to die. This victorious case was the turning point of our government or should I say our "Constitution." And this was the a start for a beginning future for upcoming blacks. In the end, the good outweighed the bad, schools were to be desegregated. Again, I would recommend this movie, "Separate But Equal," to everyone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
The question of racism has rocked many parts of the world as one race holds itself above the other. This well acted movie is based on a real life situation in America under the epoch of Separate But Equal. After the American Civil War, it was felt that the Negro population, hugely disadvantaged by years of servitude, needed to develop at its own pace. Certainly that was Abe Lincoln's view. This was not premised on the feeling that the Negroes were an inferior race as asserted by hate groups. Rather as view was held that mixing the races at that stage would not only spark social upheavals but also make advancement difficult for the Negro considering their less than ideal conditions. Honestly this was certainly not an unreasonable strategy.
Unfortunately, in reality, the maxim of Separate But Equal was generally used to further marginalize the Negro population. One area where this was true was in the field of education. Education facilities for the Negros were generally substandard. As such Negros were never accorded equal educational facilities resulting in Negros lagging behind in education, unfortunately, further entrenching feelings that they were an inferior race. Naturally this led to deep feelings of resentment and frustration on the part of the Negros. The philosophy of Separate but Equal was challenged by the Negros in the now famous Placey /Ferguson case of the 1890s. The Separate but Equal ideology was upheld in the Supreme Court and therefore became a strong legal precedent making it difficult for Negros to put up a case for a seggregated society. It is noteworthy that the Separate But Equal idea was subsequently upheld eight times by the Supreme Court.
During the early 1950s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sponsored a series of court cases aimed at ending the concept of Separate But Equal. In the case at hand, the Legal Defence Fund of the NAACP led by Thurgood Marshall, boldly took legal action against the local Education Board initially for equal facilities and eventually to desegregate. Mr Marshall's persoality played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of the Negro history. He is portayed in the film as a listener, very articulate, patient, a family persons very close to his wife, a team builder, a master strategist and problem solver. He manages to wield the required number of signatures to warrant the NAACP to argue a case on their behalf. This is done at an enormous cost in terms of resources, time and risk of life. The local supporters lose their jobs in the process.
What is interesting in this drama is that it is not necessarily a case of Blacks against Whites, rather evil versus righteousness. To assume this is to undermine the integrity of all that did their part to support Mr Marshall and his team. Every support no matter how small still contributed to the eventual success. Care must also be taken not to attribute evil to everyone who supported the Separate but equal idea. Like any new social revolution, it takes time to settle assimilate a new concept even if you are not within the offending group. There were some white people who would do their best in the circumstances and never regarded Negros as an inferior race. The evidence for this is the fact that Judge Waring (obviously white) uses his judicial influence to allow the bigger issue of desegregation (rather than equal facilities) to be argued in the court case rather than the unequal facilities' issue. Again the Legal Defence Fund increasingly attracts highly trained white people, especially during the appeal phase to make the case for seggregation stronger.
This is in no way an attempt to lighten the excesses of the right wing hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Hate group are inherently evil. They are outsiders even within their own goup.
After losing the argument in the District Court, Mr Marshall takes the matter to the Supreme Court. History took matters in its own hands when Chief Justice Vinson dies not long after the case starts. Chief Justice Vinson was most reluctant to overturn the Placey Ferguson legal precedent and instructed the parties to find out what the framers of the ideology had intended to achieve. Vinson's main weakness was his inability to provide leadership in a sharply divided court. It is fair to say that had Vinson lived to the end of the case, the Negro history would have taken a very different shape. Mr Marshall faces some stiff opposition to advance the case, the reources are simply not there and yet soldiered on. Relying very much on group dynamics and the support of the core team and not least his wife, Mr Marshall puts up a commendable argument before the flamboyant justices at the Supreme Court case. The amount of disquiet within the Jusitices is however notable.
His opposition John W Davis, no doubt a very accomplished lawyer suffers from over confidence syndrom. He relies exclusively on the technical issues revolving around the case. He fails to factor in the reality of social transformation and feelings within men's heart. He is not a listener. He totally ignores and plays down advice from his daughter not to defend the case. He argues that his willingness to defend was based on the strong feeling that the subject matter was for the state courts and not the federal courts. The daughter is very concerned about his father being associated with parties entrenching racisms. [John W Davis
later acknowledges after the Supreme Court ruling, rather too late, that deseggragation was probably the best thing for America.
The Legal Defence Fund is now very fortunate that the pragmatic Chief Justice Earl Warren comes on the scene and is in the Chair. As a politician and one who is familiar with race relations, Earl Warren is not keen to give the Separate But Equal Concept a chance. He totally ignore precence laid by the Placey Fergusion's case. See how his commitment to listen build a team an take responsibility of the ultimate decision. He looks at the whole issue from a moral angle and lobies with his colleagues for a unanimous decision. Stanley Reed is the most reluctant but eventually joins the majority due to the diplomatic skills of Mr Warren. By the way Chief Justice's was a first generation Nowergian American and his egalitarian slant is difficult to disguise. He ruled that Segregated facilities were ineherently unequal. Again it is noteworthy that the nine Justices on the Supreme Court are all white. This is further evidence that it was really never a case of white against blacks, rather right vs wrong.
The play is extremely well performed. All in all it added to the ever revolving cosmopolitan America. America is what it is today because of the diversity of its society. Do you resent other cultures or reces. You are only feeling what is natural. Accept that it is wrong and learn to accept that other races may have some thing you can learn from. Look at the Japanese and Chinese. They are culturally bvery different. No one would doubt their lead in consumer technology. Look at the Nordic Countries. Their preoccupation with egalitarianism and human rights is unfathomable. Look nat the Dutch and the Scottish. They are always inventing things. Look at the quality of German products.
This film has helped me appreciate the moral basis of equality in multi racial society in America and beyond. I pray that you will find it equally thrilling and moving.
Apart from appreciating the court room drama, the play is very educative in areas of team dynamics, stress management, leadership in the home and the profession, leadership in the society, the importance of meetings and discussions, social psychology, religion etc. It is a versatile act and experiment that can be used to draw lessons relating to human behaviour and change management.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
I was forced to watch this video in my government class. It isn't something I would rent on a Friday night, but the educational content was great. I didn't sleep through the movie at all. This is a story anyone who didn't live through the civil rights movement should experience.
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