Nothing But a Man(1964) – Film Review

The African-American cinema has also intrigued many and has always been the source of adoration by many. Many of these films often feature moving stories about racism, repression, segregation, hopefulness, struggle and a lot of spiritual hope. The road to the mainstream cinema has been difficult for people of color in the United States. The earliest individuals from this demographic to appear on screen often did play the minor, insignificant roles and were less noticeable to the audience. It was the expectation of these Caucasian movie directors that the African Americans not be seen to perform major roles in a movie. Any person of color during the early 20th century was inferior in the eyes of the average White man which would often prompt directors of these works of art to relegate them to the periphery. It is for this reason that I also chose the African American cinema as my category of choice, and in particular, Nothing But a Man(1964) directed by Michael Roemer.

Nothing But a Man(1964) is one militantly tone-deaf creation that directly confronts the Holywood muzak and in particular with regard to race relations during the 1960s. Its script is written by Michael Roemer and Robert M. Young and does a perfect job at eschewing the vast superficial overtures to the elusive political relevance.  The film has a novelistic richness, especially in detail, that is second to none while giving us the moving saga of Duffy(Ivan Dixon) a misfit who is secretly soulful. He would otherwise make something out of the life if it were not for the relentless, unending efforts of “The Man” to trample him and maintain the status quo. For keen observers,  this films illustrates a couple of rough experiences that Duffy has with White folk. Additionally, the film obstinately refuses to give the audience hints as to where the deep Southern racism comes to an end and the beginning of  Duffy’s happy self-regard.

The film is full of numerous occasions of the suffering that Duffy goes through owing to his skin color and his discrimination he faces from a large majority of the White people at his workplace. What is most striking about this film is that it seeks to help Duffy, a young ambitious African American, find himself in a society that sought to convince them that they were lesser human beings. An air of romance also permeates the film in the person of Josie( Abbey Lincoln) who is courting Duffy, increasing its overall appeal. The smiles that she smiles during the first few dates with Duffy go to show that even with their present situation and the wanton discrimination that they experience, they can still take a pause and love each other. Furthermore, smiles have been put to good use in this film, with some occasions depicting happiness and, a genteel alibi for an individual’s sexual desire, masking envy, giving bitter recriminations and verbal sparring. Duffy has also been an expert at employing the use of smiles. Whenever things don’t go according to plan, he resorts to smiling as he knows the other alternative is to break things in a fit of rage.

The film presents a bleak pessimistic outlook that seems to suggest that things will be a whole lot worse for African Americans before they get any better. Duffy makes a difficult decision to finally meet his father( Julius Harris). He comes face to face with a harsh reality that there is a very high possibility that the life of an average African-American seems to be similar to a “like-father-like-son” phenomenon of genetic coding. After meeting his father and coming to this shocking truth, the relatively minute dimensions of self-loathing that he experiences worsens and increases exponentially.Moreover, Nothing But a Man(1964) also earns a political heft when it decides to fully dedicate itself to some specific characters found in the film while following their day to day lives. Roemer presents a subdued style that presents the audience with an elaborate theater that sees Duffy make decisions on his own and finally becoming, irreducibly, a strong man. His choices, whether from his apparent emotional sickness or hopes, are still his own.


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