The art of Black working-class life
volume 38
issue 1
February 2017

After last year’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, it’s refreshing to see two fine films about African American working people.

Loving’s true story shows a brave couple persevering with their 9-year Supreme Court case that finally struck down laws against inter-racial marriage in 1967. Fences, by playwright August Wilson, delves into the strengths and tensions of a Black family in 1950s Pittsburgh.

In Loving, Mildred Loving is the determined one, because she knows if their case wins, it will help many. Her white husband Richard is an unassuming bricklayer who has the good sense to follow her lead. It’s no accident that their challenge to Jim Crow grew out of their impoverished Virginia community. Segregation was the law, but it didn’t hold much sway in practice.

Fences is multi-dimensional and pulls no punches. Husband Troy challenges racism on the job. But the brutality of his early life leads him to meanness toward his sons, and he’s unfaithful to his wife Rose. She stands up for herself, but sacrifices much to keep the family intact. Mutual respect is there, but the brutality of racism damages lives.

No glossy tales of heroism here. Just truthful, good art. Will the Oscars notice?

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