ROSEWOOD is the kind of movie that makes me ashamed
to be white. That might be too strong a statement, but a movie like
this does remind me that, yes, we honkies have traditionally done a
lot of wrong to minority races. ROSEWOOD is based on the true
story of the massacre of scores of blacks in a Florida town in 1922,
told by director John Singleton in the same guilt-inducing but fair
way that made his last film, HIGHER LEARNING, so powerful.
At 142 minutes, ROSEWOOD seems to be Singleton's
MALCOLM X, a detailed, large budget period piece that documents
an important (and, in this case, embarrassing) part of black history
with clear cut characters, real emotion and a lack of sermonizing.
It's a hard movie to film and market because this kind of movie is
uncomfortable for both black and white viewers, but in two
characters, on both sides of the racial spectrum, Singleton
On the white side, there's John Wright (Jon Voight), a
Rosewood store owner. He's one of the few white residents in the
black-owned town but gets along with everyone, kind of like Sal in
DO THE RIGHT THING. Wright is the only white man who tries to
stop the lynch mob's attacks on the black residents once the episode
begins. It starts with a rich white woman claiming she was beaten by
a black man to cover up her affair with violent Robert "T-1000"
Patrick. This is just what the white folks want to hear; they booze up,
grab their shotguns and mobilize to dispense justice, which seems
like an inhuman game more than anything else.
On the black side, we have Mr. Mann (Ving Rhames), the
stranger-comes-to-town archetype. He's a drifter and WWI veteran
who wanders into town the day before the fun begins and is embraced
by the townfolk. ROSEWOOD is based on life, but Mann isn't. His
character is to serve as the superhuman leader of his people and,
although it diminishes the power of the "true" images, it makes the
movie more audience-friendly to have someone to root for. I can only
imagine how many audiences burst into spontaneous applause at the
end of his hanging scene.
The other black characters seem more human than Mann.
There's Sylvester (Don Cheadle), the piano instructor who refuses to
leave town when the white sheriff (Michael Rooker) warns him of the
approaching redneck mob, and instead stays to fight. His mom is
played by Esther Rolle of "Good Times," although her times in
ROSEWOOD seem anything but. As the maid of the white woman
who starts the mess, she knows it was Patrick who beat her, but also
knows she will be lynched if she says anything.
The cast does a good job -- it's one thing to play a
sympathetic character, but it takes a lot more work to portray a truly
ignorant, racist character everyone will hate. I have to hand it to the
bearded guy in the lynch mob because, by the end of the movie, I
really hated him. If I see him on the street, I will beat him. _That's_
And, as always, Ving Rhames is the man. Entertainment
Weekly's review of ROSEWOOD was negative because of Rhames,
saying his character goes against the riviting drama of the narrative
by providing an unrealistic action hero. That's probably right, but I've
never thought anything but "Ving's the man" when I've seen him in a
movie. I think he adds a lot to the movie, but what I could have done
without are the last two or three scenes, which add sentimental anti-
climax after everything is said and done. If there's anything
ROSEWOOD doesn't need, it's anti-climax.
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks