UCLA Festival of Preservation Tour 2020
Screening Dates
  • March 12, 2020 6:30

A corker … Few American movies have this kind of reach … I’ve seen no more clear-eyed account of union organizing on film.”

D.E., Village Voice

The first feature-length work from African-American filmmaker (and actor) Bill Duke dramatizes a little-known episode of U.S. labour and race-relations history. In WWI-era Chicago, Black and White workers in the city’s stockyards attempted to overcome racial antagonisms and organize an interracial union. Duke’s drama, penned by African-American playwright Leslie Lee from an original story by producer Elsa Rassbach, takes the perspective of Frank Custer (Damien Leake), a young sharecropper from Mississippi who joins the historical Great Migration of southern Blacks to America’s industrial north in search of a better life. Frank sympathizes with the unionizing efforts, but bridging the gap between class solidarity and racial division proves difficult. The social tensions of the time would ultimately explode in the notorious Chicago race riot of 1919. Duke’s acclaimed film premiered on PBS’s American Playhouse before finding life on the festival circuit. With Alfre Woodard.

As compelling dramatically as its historical analysis is fascinating … Surprising that a film from the U.S. can be so frank and explicit in its exposure of the class struggle.”

James Leahy, Sight & Sound

Preserved as part of the Sundance Institute Collection.