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Blood Done Sign My Name
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Blood Done Sign My Name

Starring Rick Schroder, Michael Rooker, Lela Rochon,
Screenplay by Jeb Stuart
Based on a book by Tim Tyson
Directed by Jeb Stuart

IN SHORT: nnn. [Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of violence, thematic material involving racism, and for language. 128 minutes]

Tells the true story of the the 1970 murder of Henry Marrow in a rural North Carolina town by Robert Teel and his sons, the aftermath of the murder and the eventual acquittal of the Teels by an all white jury, in spite of multiple eye witnesses to the murder.

karten:  "In 1954 the United States Supreme Court declared racial segregation in the public schools unconstitutional.  In 1964, President Johnson, who had more influence with the Congress than the current chief executive, got a major civil rights act passed far reaching and had tremendous long-term impacts on the whole country. It prohibited discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment, invalidating the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. It became illegal to compel segregation of the races in schools, housing, or hiring.

You wouldn’t know this by watching Jeb Stuart’s riveting film, one based on a real case in Oxford, North Carolina.  In the 1970s, several years after the outlawing of Jim Crow, segregation was alive and well in the southern county embracing Oxford.  The whites with few exceptions were content to leave things this way, not at all minding that while the county was 40% black, the police force had only one African-American,  the fire department had none, and the big stores hired blacks only if they held mops and brooms in their hands.  That situation would change, but not before one black man, a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran, was murdered by three whites, a deed that would inspire full-scale rioting, vandalism, and ultimately a 50-mile, peaceful march of over a thousand folks from Oxford to the state capital of Raleigh.

All this action is captured well by writer-director Jeb Stuart, who know how to fade away from a scene just as things were becoming tense and throw us into another that would be equally nerve-wracking.  The tale is told in Hallmark Hall of Fame fashion, but in this case that’s not a bad thing, as “Blood Done Sign My Name” recalls equally old-fashioned stories on similar themes like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” and by a stretch even “Gentleman’s Agreement.”  

A white Methodist preacher may have been the catalyst, the guy who stirs things up, but from there some charismatic black civil rights leaders took over.  Ben Chavis (Nate Parker), (ultimately to become the head of the NAACP) a public school teacher with a strong leadership background, returns to his home town of Oxford, North Carolina, where he takes on the mission of instructing an all-black class while on the side he revives a soul-food restaurant.  At the same time, Vernon Tyson, a liberal, white preacher, takes over responsibilities for the town church, which has an all-white congregation.  When a young Vietnam veteran is murdered--punched, kicked and gunned down by a white man who overreacts to a comment allegedly made to his wife—the stage is set for high-level drama.

Among the visceral scenes that director Stuart exposes for us is one of a Klan rally’s burning of a giant cross; a huge march of black citizens led by a self-described stoker (Afemo Omilami), a magnetic speaker who in one point delivers a humorous monologue to a pair of state troopers and whose job is to light a fire under the butts of oppressed citizenry; a town council meeting that finds two white members leaving before a vote that would restore a basketball court for the black youth thereby preventing a quorum from discussing business; and a riot of young people with Molotov cocktails who smash large glass store windows and blow up a warehouse.

This is a fairly high-budget picture which is not only acted quite well but whose mechanics never creak. The plot moves forward nicely as photographer Steven Mason shifts emphasis from whites to black and back again, keeping the suspense at a high pitch.  Gattlin Griffith does a turn as Tim Tyson, the preacher’s 10-year-old boy, who is taken by his dad to a cross-burning and who is affected enough by the injustices he sees to write a book called “Blood Done Sign My Name.”

Not Yet Rated.   128  minutes.  © 2010 by Harvey Karten  Member: NY Film Critics Online

A drama based on the true story in which a black Vietnam-era veteran is allegedly murdered by a local white businessman who is later exonerated. The plot focuses on the role of a local high school teacher and the civil unrest that followed the acquittal.


On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Blood Done Sign My Name, he would have paid . . .



amazon com link Click to buy films by Jeb Stuart
Click to buy films starring Rick Schroder
Click to buy films starring Teri Hatcher
Click to buy books by Tim Tyson

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