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Unforgivable Blackness - The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
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Really, it is about time somebody did a documentary on Johnson. If he isn't the best heavyweight ever, there are only maybe two others that one could put ahead of him. Only Ali can rival him for mastery of the science of boxing, yet Johnson is comparatively obscure these days.
In many ways, this documentary spends relatively little time on the actual sport of boxing itself, which will be an annoyance to boxing enthusiasts. Personally, I would have enjoyed a more detailed discussion of just how great Johnson's defensive skills and the fact that he was rarely a slugger in the ring (Stanley Ketchel notwithstanding), but this might have been boring to a mainstream audience. Mostly, Burns returns to familiar territory --- race relations in an earlier era --- only with a dynamic personal & rebellious twist in the person of Johnson, who was utterly unconcerned with his critics, be they black or white, and who felt no compulsion to work for the betterment of anyone other than himself.
Even though I was relatively familiar with the government's persecution of Johnson via the Mann Act, it was still amazing to see just how many resources the government was willing to expend in order to bring one black boxer under its control. Laissez faire obviously is in the eye of the beholder.Read more ›
I couldn't help noticing that Johnson appeared to be the prototype for the modern American athlete. All the brashness, bravado, conceit and over-indulgence that we associate with the "headliners" of today...all this began with Johnson. He seemed to revel in flouting society's conventions. When you think of the arrogance of Ali, the controversy of Jim Brown, the bravado of Namath...Jack Johnson was all this before they were. At the same time, however, I can't help but remember Charles Barkley saying "I am not a role model." Jack Johnson wasn't either, as much as Black America wanted him to be. In the end, he was too loud, too defiant, too controversial. He was too much, really, for the times. But I came away from this program thinking exactly what he wanted his epitaph to be: Jack Johnson WAS a man. No doubt about that.
Which makes Jack Johnson's bravery remarkable. He refused to be a "complacent negro." When Tommy Burns, then-heavyweight champion, refused to give him a fight, Johnson chased him around the world and forced him to accept his challenge for the world title. Johnson knocked Burns out in 1908, then beat Jim Jeffries, "the Great White Hope," in Reno, NV in 1910. White America, by and large, did not approve. Prosecutors later railroaded him on a false count of transporting women over state lines.
Quite a story, huh? Ken Burns thinks so, and he empties his tool box here, pulling out breathtaking cinematography, top-of-the-shelf voiceovers, and superb period photographs. The director gets a big assist from the wealth of film with Johnson. The speedy jabs and sly charisma fly out of the flickering black and white frames, making Johnson one of Burns' more dynamic protagonists.
That's important, because this is pretty grim stuff. The slurs thrown at Johnson made me shiver, as did the casual assumption that blacks like Johnson were beasts. The boxer, to his credit, refused to bow to any of it.
That's a shining example for the rest of us. It's a problem for "Unforgivable Blackness."
Race is Burns' chief concern, and his documentaries show an admirable frankness in tackling the issue.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Never learned about him in History class.. This is a Great Ken Burns Production..Published 6 months ago by Mel Reynolds
Great DVD. As great as Jack Johnson was as a boxer, he in some way had some serious self-hatred about his own skin color. I mean never dating or marrying a sister? Come Jack..Published 7 months ago by SunLion