The Deacons of Change
As a war veteran Marcus (Forest Whitaker) deserved respect but working at the paper mill in Bogalusa, LA respect is the last thing he gets as he is an African American and all African Americans are poorly treated even those who like Marcus tow the line to try to live in peace. When Marcus comes to the defence of his daughter it is he who ends up at the wrong end of police brutality causing him to have enough of the racism and injustice which fills the lives of the African Americans who live in the town. With encouragement from activist Michael Deane (Jonathan Silverman) he organises the Deacons of Defense and Justice, a group who set about protecting the African American community living in the town. Reverend 'Rev' Gregory (Ossie Davis) knows that the formation of this group will mean violence and feels he must do his best to dissolve the tensions.
"Deacons for Defense" is actually a hard movie to review because it is hard to explain it without giving the whole story away but in not giving the whole story away it is hard to explain why it is so good. So before I go on I am going to say that if you can just go ahead and watch "Deacons for Defense" and experience this powerful story and well crafted movie for yourself.
Now part of "Deacons for Defense" is to highlight the attitudes of the time and we see things such as at the mill a promotion becomes available but it is made very clear that it is a promotion only open to the white workers. It is one of many scenes of blatant racism which is shockingly open with some low life characters not even attempting to hide their racist tendencies and not intimidated when they are out numbered. But we also see the attitude of Marcus who is submissive to the culture, going along with the intimidation and jibes in order to keep the peace to the point the only time he is angered is when his daughter wants to join the NAACP movement. What this also means is that we see how in a perverse way he becomes the go to man for the white community whenever an African American steps out of line.
We also see other aspects of racism such as the police attacking and kicking out the young white lawyers who are part of the NAACP but all of this leads to Marcus finally having enough and finding some dignity to stand up for himself, his family and his community. At which point we see him and other middle aged men organise the Deacons of Defense and Justice who are there to protect the rights and lives of the African American community which of course leads to Bogalusa becoming a tense place as the racist white population try to quell the uprising before it takes a grip and putting everyone back in their place, as they see it.
All of the above and there is more is incredibly powerful, making you angry, proud and going through a whole series of emotions as we get a very gripping account of how things were. And "Deacons for Defense" which is directed by Bill Duke starts with a message that it is based on historical fact and I don't doubt it for a minute as whilst the drama is hard hitting there isn't anything sensationalist about it. It is all incredibly well controlled with a style which makes it stand out from most TV movies but not so much that the style, the use of black & white footage becomes obtrusive.
What also helps make "Deacons for Defense" stand out from the crowd is the calibre of the cast with Forest Whitaker giving us a fantastic interpretation of a man who for too long bowed down to the racism only for him to come back after a beating with pride, dignity and rage. It is so authentic that you forget you are watching an actor and begin to feel like you are with a real person, none more so during some uncomfortable scenes of police brutality which knock you for six as you see batons crunch down on people. But alongside Whitaker you have Ossie Davis who is just as convincing and powerful as the Minister who knows change is needed but also knows that violence will be coming, he brings both a sense of power to the role but also a sense of conflict. And as for Jonathan Sliverman, you will be surprised and pleased by his performance.
What this all boils down to is that "Deacons for Defense" is extremely powerful and extremely riveting as it brings to screen the drama, the emotion and the situation in Bogalusa when a group of middle-aged African Americans decided to make a stand against the racism which dominated their lives.