Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! Believe it or not, this is one of those truly weird pictures that, from time to time, I wished would come out on DVD. And now finally, as if miracles will never cease, it will very soon.
I’m taking about the bizzaro 1964 independently made feature Black Like Me starring Hollywood veteran supporting actor James Whitmore with Roscoe Lee Brown and Al Freeman Jr. among others. And it’s coming out for the first time, fully remastered, on DVD and VOD on Dec. 11 through Video Services Corp (VSC).
It’s one of those classic “what-the-hell-were-they-thinking?” movies which are like car wrecks complete with mutilated bodies. You want to turn away, but you can’t help yourself to look.
The film was based on the best selling 1961 non-fiction book with crusading liberal journalist John Howard Griffin. Born in Texas, he had seen the pain and excruciating toll of racism and segregation all his life and was affected by it.
So in 1959, through the use of chemicals, skin dyes and, of course, a sun lamp, he darkened his skin and traveled throughout the Deep South, chronicling his painful and degrading experiences posing as a black man. What he saw and encountered, he turned into his book, Black Like Me.
When the film was made a few years later, co-written and directed by Carl Lerner, though it had its defenders, it was mainly considered an embarrassment in its simplistic tone and approach, and the fact that Whitmore, doing his Al Jolson impersonation, is totally unconvincing, posing as a black man.
And you have to accept the fact that everyone in the film, both black and white, totally believe that he’s a black man, when he’s so obviously a white guy in blackface. You keep expecting Whitmore at any moment to start singing “Mammy“.
Though, in fairness, I should add that the real Griffin made up as a black guy wasn’t any more convincing than Whitmore is in the film. That he actually fooled people, makes one wonder…
Read more: Indie Wire