Shot in black and white in 1964, Nothing But a Man is a simple, poignant film that tells the tale of one man’s struggle to break the chains that threaten to bind him to a life of drink, servitude, and irresponsibility.
Set in the segregated South of 1960s America, and written by Jewish filmmakers, director Michael Roemer and cinematographer Robert M. Young–after travelling through the region and immersing themselves in African-American life–this is arguably one of the best movies ever made on how racial prejudice stifles manhood, destroys families, and shatters communities.
With stellar performances from the two main leads, Ivan Dixon (later of Hogan’s Heroes) and jazz singer, Abbey Lincoln, Nothing But a Man should be compulsory viewing in all Sociology lessons and film schools.
Ultimately, though, this is a film most impressive because it’s nothing but a love story set amongst the harsh realities of racism in America. And you don’t see that very often; black characters considered suitable romantic leads for cinematic fiction.
The film has been deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Nothing But a Man 1)This film is not part of the black independent film movement but rather what Donald Bogle calls “Black Art Films.” Bogle says, “[Appearing] during the first half of the 1960s, a quartet of inexpensively but sensitively made motion pictures offered grimly realistic and cynical looks at black America” (200). Other films of this sub-genre included John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1961), Shirley Clarke‘s The Cool World (1963) and Sam Weston and Larry Peerce’s One Potato, Two Potato (1964). Nothing But a Man, positioned before the effects of the Black Power rebellion, coupled with Killer of Sheep coming after the height of the rebellion, demonstrate how little life in the Black community had changed despite the legitimization of the civil rights movement and the fury wrought by the black power rebellion of the late 1960s. was reputedly the favourite film of Malcolm X.
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|1.||↑||This film is not part of the black independent film movement but rather what Donald Bogle calls “Black Art Films.” Bogle says, “[Appearing] during the first half of the 1960s, a quartet of inexpensively but sensitively made motion pictures offered grimly realistic and cynical looks at black America” (200). Other films of this sub-genre included John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1961), Shirley Clarke‘s The Cool World (1963) and Sam Weston and Larry Peerce’s One Potato, Two Potato (1964). Nothing But a Man, positioned before the effects of the Black Power rebellion, coupled with Killer of Sheep coming after the height of the rebellion, demonstrate how little life in the Black community had changed despite the legitimization of the civil rights movement and the fury wrought by the black power rebellion of the late 1960s.|
The young American white couple a few doors away from me are leaving Ghana today. So I’m told. “Too poor,” they say. “One minute, water no lights. Next minute, lights no water.” They’ve had enough. After five years of working to improve education in this country, where their two children were born, they’re packing their bags and hauling their doll-like offsprings back to the good ole US of A; Colorado, I believe.
I’m relaying this story to you, second-hand; from one of their hired help. For in the two years I’ve lived here, I’ve never actually seen the parents, but their children have fascinated me. Here they are in my yard with their Ghanaian nanny. Lovely, well-mannered kids. Never say a word to me. They just stare. Though, I hear, they’ll point out “Rasta house” to anyone in passing. They speak Twi, too, apparently. But I can never see them without thinking of those ‘Children of the Damned.’ Remember that film, ‘Village of the Damned‘ or the sequel with those scary looking blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids? I know it’s wrong, but that’s what these two remind me of…
They share the same milk-white almost luminous, pale skin tone as the children in that movie – even though it was in black and white, if memory serves me well – combined with the brightest of fine, blonde hair, cherub-like features, and these piercing blue eyes; all of which really sets them apart in this sub-Saharan environment. Yet they seem to have no problems at all walking around all day under a scorching sun that never seems to darken their skin but just bleaches their hair even brighter.
Then a few weeks ago, it hit me like a rock when I met their mother in passing. Imagine a tall, powerfully built, Amazonian woman the colour of wet sand, with thick, kinky auburn hair not too unlike my own, and firm, strong, long arms and legs, and you will get the picture. I’d been looking out for two white parents all this time, but this woman was clearly not white. Being biracial (half Ghanaian and half Norwegian) didn’t make it any easier to imagine how this ‘black woman’ could have given birth to these two ‘white children’, until you met her husband.
This slim, pale, blonde American man with a touch of clever around the eyes and a sense of something fragile in him had clearly passed on a visual stamp from his side of the gene pool. But it was their mother’s physical strength and vitality that had infused these kids with an almost alien-like durability in this white façade that made them totally stand-out. It made them “pop” as folks like to say these days.
Picture Beyoncé painted ‘white-face’ but with that same African body and spirit and energy, and you might get close to what I’m trying to convey. It’s what one of my academic friends used to refer to as “that look” in “people of ‘dubious’ ethnicity.” It’s what had kept me fascinated by these kids all along without really knowing why. I could just sense that there was something else. Something else underneath that had made the surface appearance almost like a mutation. The 25 percent African blood visually muted but very much there in every other respect. Fascinating. And yet it often happens the other way around, but where society only ever sees ‘Black.’
Just goes to prove the myth of racial purity. Am I making sense? I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Baylor International Champions is an organisation based in High Wycombe in the United Kingdom who have teamed up with four media students from Orpington College to produce The TakeOff – a film that includes interviews from young people who relate their feelings about the game of cricket, what brought them to the sport and what inspires them to keep going at it in the face of funding cuts and the sell-off of school playing fields to make way for commercial property developments.