Nixon waving, astronauts moonwalking, Woodstock Nation: It’s never a good sign when a period piece begins with numbingly familiar newsreel shots, and Blood Done Sign My Name doesn’t fail to disappoint; its docudrama of a 1970 racist murder in Oxford, North Carolina is just as formulaic and unimaginative as the opening title clips foretell. Filming a nonfiction chronicle by Tim Tyson, adapter-director Jeb Stuart makes a series of unfortunate choices in structure and tone, beginning with his focus on a white integrationist Methodist minister (Ricky Schroder, giving virtue only two dimensions) and his family for nearly the entire hour’s run-up to the killing of a black Vietnam vet. The pace would be more suited to a miniseries than a theatrical feature if it the screenplay weren’t so somnambulantly lacking in insight. When the trial of a middle-aged shopkeeper and his sons for the crime begins, schoolteacher and future NAACP director Ben Chavis leads his students into the courtroom to observe, and later on a march to the capital to protest, an all-white jury’s verdict, but Nate Parker’s performance lacks any hint of the charisma or dynamism Chavis must have possessed. Occasionally one of the actors breaks through Stuart’s stilted 1970s TV-style flatness (principally Afemo Omilami as the civil-rights battlefield “stoker” Golden Frinks), but the filmmaker only seems engaged by the horrific murder scene and a lovingly staged warehouse explosion, the latter more in line with Stuart’s résumé as a co-writer of The Fugitive and the original Die Hard. Blood Done quotes Frederick Douglass’s maxim that power concedes nothing without a demand, but the post-King era of American racial tension demands better from dramatists than lugubrious historical pageants like this.
- Jeb Stuart
- Jeb Stuart
- Nate Parker, Ricky Schroder, Gattlin Griffith, Afemo Omilami, Nick Searcy, Michael Rooker, Milauna Jemai, Darrin Dewitt Henson, A.C. Sanford
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