John Singleton’s Rosewood by Susan Shacter

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 59 Spring 1997
Issue 59 059  Spring 1997
​Ving Rhames in John Singleton's Rosewood

Ving Rhames in John Singleton’s Rosewood. Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

It’s pretty exciting when a filmmaker’s work takes a giant leap—way beyond anything he’s done before—and just blows you away with its strength, horror, and sorrowful beauty. Rosewood, the powerful new movie directed by John Singleton (Boyz n the HoodPoetic Justice, and Higher Learning), is based on the true story of the destruction of the genteel and prosperous all-black town of Rosewood, Florida. Its inhabitants were burned out of their homes in January 1923 by their poor white neighbors from the nearby town of Sumner.

A wildly promiscuous Sumner woman, beaten to a pulp by one of her boyfriends and fearing her husband’s wrath, cried out, “It was a Negro!” It was this woman’s lie that became the excuse for the resentful white men of Sumner to vent their rage. Jealous and angry that the black community dared to have more than they did, owning lovely homes rather than Sumner’s shantytown shacks, and having better jobs and educations, the Sumner men fell to raping, shooting, and lynching a group of people they had known all of their lives. The Rosewood massacre is an American nightmare, brought on by a terrible economic situation, combined with state-sanctioned racism and the intense need of Sumner’s residents to blame someone, anyone else, for their poverty. The massacre was kept a shameful secret until 1983, when it was uncovered by 60 Minutes. In 1994, a bill was passed in Florida offering reparations to the surviving Rosewood families.

The acting in this film is stupendous, with a moving performance by Esther Rolle and a starmaking one by Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), unexpectedly cast as the romantic lead who’s practically a SUPER-hero. Also terrific are Jon Voight, Don Cheadle (Devil in a Blue Dress), and Bruce Magill as the very worst kind of redneck. John Singleton has made a great movie—smart, thrilling, uncomfortable, and, ultimately, heartbreaking.

Kevin Jerome Everson by Jordan Cronk
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Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran’s Decade of Fire by Roya Marsh
Robert Foster Clearing Rubble Bronx NYC

Decade of Fire is a remarkable tale of the Bronx’s rise from ash, standing to set the record straight about the fires that ravaged the borough in the late ’60s and ’70s.

James Little by LeRonn P. Brooks
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“The reward is getting through the tough stuff. And that’s what’s perplexing about the art thing. When I was going to school there were kids that could draw their asses off. There were kids that were better draftsman than me, for certain. But no one was more determined than me.”

Susan E. Cahan’s Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power by Terence Trouillot
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A 1971 photograph by Jan van Raay shows artist Cliff Joseph leading a group of artist-activists—members of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC)—in the dead of winter protesting the Whitney Museum’s controversial exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America (months before its opening on April 7, 1971).

Originally published in

BOMB 59, Spring 1997

Featuring interviews with Tim Roth, Amy Hempel, Emmylou Harris, Matthew Ritchie, Wallace Shawn, Christian Wolff, Gilles Peress, Kendall Thomas, and George Walker.

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Issue 59 059  Spring 1997