Lumumba 2000)

Unrated.  Running time:1 hour 55 min.  

Our content rating: Violence 7; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 5


Haitian film director Raoul Peck became interested in the tragic fate of Patrice Lumumba in 1963 when his father sought refuge for the family from the Duvalier dictatorship by moving to the Congo. This was just two years after Lumumba’s murder, and for the next 25 years Peck lived in that troubled country, attending schools in Leopoldville, Brooklyn, NY, France, and then film school in Germany. After making several films and teaching film (he worked with Krzysztof Kieslowski and Agnieszka Holland while teaching in France), he returned to Haiti, where he became Minister of Culture in the government of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth after the restoration of democratic rule. However, turmoil overcame that government also, and he left the country to take up filmmaking again. Lumumba is not his first film about the Congo’s first prime minister—in 1992 he directed and produced the feature-length documentary Lumumba—Death of a Prophet. I bring up these details to show that this docudrama, which has received so little publicity, is of more than a casual interest of this talented filmmaker.

Those of us who have read Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible already know something of our country’s sad complicity in the betrayal and murder of the independent-minded statesman. This film provides far more details, chronicling the events leading up to the Congo’s independence from what was one of the most despotic and cruelest of all the nations that had held Africans in chains, Belgium. Matters moved so fast that one day Lumumba (Eriq Ebouaney) was beaten to within an inch of his life in a dungeon, and the next released, cleaned up, and whisked off to the European conference where the future of the nation was being debated. He emerges as one of the leaders possessed of a vision of a nation uniting all the fractious tribes and standing firm against any post-colonial domination by white powers.

Lumumba runs afoul of the CIA and other agencies by his determination to keep the rich resources of the Katanga province for the Congo, rather than to allow the Belgian and American countries to carry them away. His harsh manner gets in the way at times, making enemies of other powerful Congolese willing to sell out to foreign powers. When they fear that he will accept help from the Russians (both the film and Barbara Kingsolver maintain that Lumumba was bluffing), the CIA buys his overthrow for a million dollars paid to the man whom Lumumba had mentored, Joseph Mobuto (Alex Descas). And thus, arises another of the dictatorial monsters created by the anti-Communist paranoia of the times.

If the film is correct, Africa lost the opportunity of erecting a stable, democratic government when Patrice Lumumba was killed. The film simplifies the many complex issues and happenings during Lumumba’s brief months of power, and it gives us just a hint of his personal life, his loyal and long-suffering wife Pauline played effectively by Mariam Kaba. The film pulls no punches in depicting his brutal murder, so it might not be for everyone. But for those looking for some insight into history and an example of a brave man facing death, this is a film well worth the effort in searching it out.

Reprinted from the Feb. 2002 VP.

Parkland (2013)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 33 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 4; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!

1 Samuel 1:19


JFK’s body guards rush him to an operating room at Parkland Hospital. (c) Millennium Entertainment

With Jackie, the film about Jaqueline Kennedy, drawing so much attention, film lovers might want to watch on video director Peter Landesman’s film, based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi. The title refers to the Dallas hospital in which both President Jack Kennedy and his murderer Lee Harvey Oswald died. Whereas Jackie moves quickly on to Washington DC after the President’s murder, this one stays in Dallas to chronicle the events in the area during the next 3 days involving the less famous people caught up in the turmoil. Indeed, the role of Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) is but a cameo in this film. As in the new film, you will learn a lot that you didn’t know about this widely-publicized tragedy.

Those left behind in Dallas include the staff at Parkland Hospital, where first, the President, and then a few days later, the killer Lee Harvey Oswald, were brought. Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) becomes the calm center of the storm in the operating room where novice Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) is the first of several doctors to try to revive the mortally wounded President.

Earlier, few miles away before the arrival of the Presidential motorcade, businessman Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) comes out of his office with his 8-mm camera to photograph the grand occasion. Peering through the viewfinder, he is horrified to discover that the President has been shot as he is filming, but has the presence of mind to keep filming. Later there will be quite a sequence in which the Feds accompany him to find a lab that can develop the film so they can closely examine the event. Later about every publication in the country so harasses Zapruder that he wishes he had not made the film. He deals with the editor of Life Magazine because of his respect for his straightforwardness.

The head of the Secret Service detail guarding the President is Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton). He suffers intense feelings of guilt and shame for “losing his man.” Although there have been other presidents murdered, none have been lost since the agency took over the protection of the president in 1902.

James Hosty (Ron Livingston) an FBI agent who was monitoring Lee Harvey Oswald also feels terrible. He had decided the suspect was not a major threat, so he had never arrested him.

Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald is left to cope with the public shame of being related to the murderer. A Dallas police detective says to him, “If I were you, I’d consider changing my name. I’d pray I never needed the help of the Dallas Police Department or the federal government again. I’d pack your things and your wife and those two children of yours, and I’d move as far from here as I could. I’d never come back, even to die. But that’s just me.” Poor Robert also has his hands full dealing with his deranged mother Marquerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver) who rants and raves about Lee. The burial of the killer is both pitiable and moment of grace scene. While the Oswalds are on their way to the cemetery their helpful friend receives a call that the cemetery has refused permission to bur Lee Harvey there. The friend (or is he a funeral director?) says for them to wait a moment, that a friend owes him a favor. In the next scene, permission obviously having been obtained, the tiny group stands by the open grave while a clergyman says a few words. Obviously, obtaining a willing clergyman had been a problem also, the pastor commenting that someone needed to render the family this service. It seems almost like a quiet apology to his community for having any contact with America’s most hated family.

This relatively unknown film deserves a wider audience, and maybe it will if Jackie becomes a hit. As a film in which a group of famous and ordinary people suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” it is superb. Those few days, so close to Thanksgiving Day in 1963, were a chaotic mess in which the goodness of God was challenged, as we see in Jackie. From these two films, detailing so many of the results of that horrific day, we might see the wisdom of the words of the apostle Paul in his glorious 8th chapter of Romans, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (RSV)

Note: A good fictional film dealing with JFK’s murder is Love Field, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a Dallas Jackie Kennedy fan determined to travel to Washington DC to attend the funeral, despite the objections of her boorish husband,

This review with a set of questions will be in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP.


LOVE FIELD  (1992)

Reprinted with a couple of additional notes from the April 1993 VP.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hr. min. 42 min.

Our content ratings: (Scale of 10 = highest; 0 = lowest): Violence 4; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5



This film, written by Don Roos and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, deserves to be ranked with such fine road stories as Trip to Bountiful. It also deserves far better treatment by its alleged distributors than it has received, playing without any fanfare here in Dayton for just one week (only at 10:30 PM at one of the two theaters which booked it!) and then quietly disappearing. Timidly released in just enough places to qualify its star Michelle Pfeiffer for her deserved Best Actress Academy Award nomination, the film apparently was deemed too controversial because of its interracial romance – or maybe because it lacks the vulgar language, steamy sex scenes or adrenalin-pumping violence so dear to the heart of Hollywood moguls.

Lurene Hallet, feeling out of synch with life, works in a Dallas beauty parlor and can find nothing to talk about with her beer-guzzling couch potato husband. Just as so many others worship a movie or rock star, Lurene adores the Kennedys. She keeps a scrap book of pictures and press clippings of them. She dresses and styles her blond hair like Jacqueline’s. She even lost a baby like Jackie. Lurene is in the throng at Love Field on November 22, 1963, to greet the Kennedys; she just misses getting to shake Jackie’s hand. Thus, she is devastated when the President is shot. Watching the telenews as often as she can during the next few hours, she becomes obsessed with the notion of attending the state funeral.

Over the objections of her husband she slips away from home and boards a Washington-bound Greyhound bus. She befriends a shy little black girl and her father, her kindness drawing disapproving stares from both white and black passengers. Calling himself Paul Johnson, the man is aware of this disapproval and tries to draw back. But Lurene is so naive that she senses nothing amiss. Along the way, she misjudges the scars on the little girl’s back and calls the FBI in the belief that the man is abducting her. Thus, is set into motion a chain of events that could have tragic results. However, as the three share a series of difficulties while trying to elude the police, Lurene grows in maturity, discovering that she can take charge of her life. Not everyone will agree with her decision concerning her failed marriage, but her concern for others and her struggle to find meaning in her life make us care very much about her and applaud her efforts to achieve a long-denied sense of self-worth and dignity.

Good scenes: Lurene learning from the black mechanic that her supposition that blacks must have loved Kennedy because he “did so much for your people” is an illusion. In the shed an angry Paul telling Lurene, “We are not the same!”, that there is world of difference in being a frustrated white housewife and a black person in 1963 America. And then, as her warmth melts some of his bitterness, realizing that they do indeed have many things in common, including a growing sense of love.



KING (1978)

Not rated (TV film). Running time: 271 min.

Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 3.5

 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.



Veteran TV writer/director Abby Mann, a firm friend of Dr. King, made this film as a miniseries for NBC Television in 1978 to commemorate the 10th year of Dr. King’s assassination. Although there is a shorter bio film available (Boycott, also well produced), this version is suggested because of its stellar cast and interesting minor cast members—and most of all, because it covers so many details of Dr. King’s short but meaningful life. In addition, you can find copies of it for sale at bargain prices at

As mentioned above, the film gives a fairly full account of the turbulent life of the activist pastor from his courting of Coretta Scott, when he was a nattily dressed theological student and she an aspiring concert singer, through their early days at Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. In response to the protest over the arrest of Rosa Parks the new pastor was almost pushed into leadership of the boycott for the very reason that he was so new and thus had not made any enemies thus far.

The film depicts King as very much human, from his cocky student days when he thought of himself as a ladies man, through his reluctance to assume leadership, and once saddled with it, his fear for his family’s safety. At one point, his anxieties led him to purchase a gun despite his pacifist beliefs. The iconic moments are there, including, of course, his “I Have a Dream” speech and, much earlier in Montgomery, his calming the angry crowd of blacks who had flocked to his damaged house after the bomb blast. Equally important, we see King from a prophetic perspective denouncing the Vietnam War, which caused so many of his white supporters to denounce him. Even some of his closest colleagues accused him of harming the Civil Rights Movement by turning President Johnson into an enemy. Even a more staunch enemy was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: the incident of the tapes of King’s alleged extra-marital affairs is dealt with, though not in much detail.

Veteran cast members include Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Ossie Davis as, respectively, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King, Sr. Also there is Howard E. Rollins, Jr. as Andrew Young and Dick Anthony Williams as Malcolm X. In the category of “interesting cast members” are singer Tony Bennett, also a good friend of the Kings, who plays himself, as does former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. In addition, members of King’s own family appear briefly—Daughters Yolanda as Rosa Parks and Bernice King as a student; also sons Dexter and MLK III and niece Bernice King. In the resignation scene the singer who begins the hymn “Blest be the Tie That Binds” is Martin’s older sister Christine King Farms.

The picture of Dr. King that emerges from the film is a great, but flawed, Warrior for Peace, who readily acknowledged his indebtedness to Gandhi. His interaction with the Kennedys is well portrayed, especially in the sequence of the Freedom Riders, when lives hung in the balance due to the murderous rage of the segregationist mobs surrounding the church where he and they had sought refuge.  Now over four and a half decades since his untimely murder, his life and his eloquent words still challenge us to take up the torch of freedom.

Abby Mann’s film does have its inaccuracies: The wrong date is given for Dr. King’s sermon at Riverside Church denouncing the Vietnam War (it was on April 4, 1967), and it shows him meeting with Malcolm X—a year after the latter’s murder. Despite these and other flaws, it provides some dramatic scenes that capture the spirit of King, perhaps introducing him to those born since his death on a more personal level than any textbook or rebroadcast of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Note: This will be one of the more than 3 dozen films (with many discussion questions) that will be included in my book  for peacemakers Blessed Are the Filmmakers that ReadtheSpiritcom will publish later this year.