The new James Brown biopic “Get On Up” finally hit theaters Friday, but the film’s lead star and director want people to notice more than just impressive dance moves and stunning vocals.
As important as it was to capture Brown’s iconic stage presence and impact on the music industry, actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays the singer in the biopic, said revealing Brown’s politics was just as vital to the film’s authenticity.
Boseman said that Brown had a surprisingly nonpartisan take on politics throughout this career.
While the soulful crooner gave birth to one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most popular slogans, “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” he also agreed to some performances that outraged the Black community at the time.
Despite the threat of backlash, Brown teamed up with the U.S. government to perform for soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. African-Americans were particularly burdened U.S. participation in the war.
“There were many people that were very anti-war that didn’t want him to do that,” Boseman told U.S. News of Brown’s performance for the soldiers. “At the same time, those same people would love the song I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
According to Boseman, this was a lesson modern-day America could learn.
“It is an important political movie to watch right now with things so polarized in our government,” Boseman said. “[Brown] was willing to go off and make the individual choices that you know would upset each side, based on upon what he felt was right. I just found that fascinating because people don’t do that.”
In spite of how the community felt about the performance, Brown is still remembered for giving the Civil Rights Movement those powerful words.
“In 1968, when there was so much racial tension in the United States in the wake of the Civil Rights Act passing and a lot of African-
Americans asserting their rights, to have that chant, that slogan, which was an essential part of the song, be all over the radio – and not just on stations that have primarily Black audiences but generally pop stations – to hear that coming out of the radio all over the place was an incredible message,” said music historian Richie Unterberger.
U.S. News notes the biopic did not dive into Brown’s support of Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and his notorious friendship with Strom Thurmond, the late U.S Senator from South Carolina who was a well-known segregationist.
The film’s director, Tate Taylor, was impressed by Brown’s refusal to conform or pick a side.
“He didn’t fit into a box… and people kept trying to put the round peg in the square hole and they couldn’t,” Taylor said. “What I love about it, his answer to that – ‘You gotta be this or that’ – his answer was, ‘No, I don’t.”
While he may have never realized it at the time, Brown’s music marked a major power shift in American history, and that’s something moviegoers hope to see come to life in the biopic.
“James Brown’s esteem, especially among the Black community, was so stratospherically high at that point that in a sense it wasn’t just ‘He’s a really popular entertainer now,'” Unterberger added. “It’s like, ‘He’s a major cultural figure.’ He’s not a politician but its almost like he has more power than a political figure.”