John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A courteous tribute to John Lewis

Documentary film “John Lewis: Good Trouble” is a courteous tribute to US congressman John Lewis, who sadly died shortly after the documentary was released in US three months ago. Although he faced lots of obstacles even during his later years, this legendary figure kept fighting as he always did before, and the documentary did a fairly good job of presenting his exceptional life and career with enough respect and admiration.

The documentary alternates between Lewis’ long past of social/political activities and his continued fight for depending the civil rights of American people during the late 2010s. While he was admired a lot for his considerable contribution to the civil rights moments in the 1960s, he was never content with his present respectable position at all, and he became quite busy especially when what he and his fellow civil rights activists achieved after lots of efforts and sacrifices during that time was subsequently threatened by those despicable right-wing politicians and judges willing to strangle democracy for more power and benefit for themselves.

Occasionally looking directly at the archival photographs from his past during his interviews for the documentary, Lewis willingly tells us about his early years. As his close family members attest to us later, he was a smart little boy eager to reach outside his hometown Troy, Alabama, and there is an amusing episode on how he tried really hard for getting the attention of a pack of chickens in his small family farm.

Thanks to his family’s strong support, Lewis could concentrate on his education, and then he got himself associated with Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 1950s. When he was ready for college education, Lewis initially considered going to Troy University, and he sought for some help from King shortly after being denied admission to Troy University, but, after being warned about the possibility of putting his family in serious danger, he eventually decided to go to a small, historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee instead.

Around the time when he graduated from his college, Lewis became more interested in participating in the ongoing civil rights movement led by King, and the documentary shows us a bit of how Lewis and other activists readied themselves for whatever they would endure for their political belief. Of course, their training turned out to be nothing compared to the real racism they would face in the world outside, and several following archival footage clips show us how people could be quite ugly and hateful as driven by racist hate and contempt during that turbulent era.

One of the key moments in Lewis’ civil rights activist career was that historical moment on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7th, 1965. When he and other participants of the Selma to Montgomery marches tried to cross the bridge, they were savagely suppressed by the state troopers waiting for them at the other end of the bridge, and Lewis was seriously injured in his head at that time. As this incident was reported to the whole country, King could get lots of moral support from more Americans out there, and the marches led to not only the big increase of voter registration among African American citizens but also the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As subsequently entering the 1970s, Lewis continued his civil rights activist career as before, and then he came into politics as running for the 5th congressional district in Georgia in Atlanta in 1976. Although he lost at that time, he decided to try again 10 years later, and that was the beginning of his distinguished political career in Washington D.C., though, as briefly shown to us at one point in the documentary, it was not very pretty when he resorted to a mean tactic as competing against State Representative Julian Bond, a local African American politician who had been considerably close to Lewis before the election and was understandably offended when Lewis went for the jugular on TV.

During next several decades, Lewis had been a staunch defender and improver of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and we see some of the outcomes from his diligent efforts. When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 virtually lost its legal power due to a controversial decision from the US Supreme Court in 2013, he certainly felt quite disappointed and devastated, but he did not succumb to despair and resignation at all, and he was ready to fight more even after that shocking and infuriating outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election (Thankfully, the documentary stays away from the current US president while indirectly recognizing the virulent negative social influences from that loathsome prick and his political party).

And he continued to be an inspiring figure in his political party. A number of prominent interviewees in the documentary ranging from Cory Booker and late Elijah Cummings (I am glad to learn from the documentary that I was not the only one often mistaking him for Lewis) to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are all in the awe of Lewis’ life and career, and one of the uplifting moments in the documentary comes from a part showing his tireless support and promotion of several younger politicians in his political party.

Overall, “John Lewis: Good Trouble”, which is directed by Dawn Porter, may not delve that deep into its remarkable subject, and it is still an engaging documentary on the whole, and now it feels more poignant because of Lewis’ recent departure. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a US Supreme Court justice who was another shining beacon of American democracy before her death in last month, he did fight hard and well for his country and people to the end, and I sincerely hope his legacy will remain intact and alive regardless of what will happen to the American society during next several years.

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