There is a power in cinema that sometimes even shocks me now, despite the many thousands of films I have seen over the years. It shouldn’t surprise me though, cinema has been educating me and shocking my view of the world for a good many years now.
I was a pretty naive teenager when it came to world events. To be honest if a news story wasn’t about the footy scores on the weekend or what films James Cameron or Steven Spielberg were about to release, then the chances were that I wouldn’t have watched it. That view of the world changed for me at high school when a certain history teacher decided that the way to teach his students about some of the world’s most horrific events was through cinema.
I still remember the day that he showed us Mississippi Burning. I remember seeing the cover and thinking “oh cool he is going to show us a Gene Hackman movie”, then I remember the film starting and me sitting in absolute shock and awe as I got my first piece of education on racism in the USA.
That same power and lesson resonates with director Barry Alexander Brown’s new film Son of the South. To be honest, despite the fact that I am much more educated on American history these days, I had never ever heard of Bob Zellner and his courageous story.
Zellner, played here by Lucas Till was a young white Southerner college student who in 1961 decided to write a college paper about the Civil Rights Movement. The response to his paper though was the threat of expulsion and much to the shock of his Klansman grandfather, he soon needs to make a decision about what side of the Civil Rights Movement he wants to be on.
For Zellner, these events change his whole life’s focus and purpose. He suddenly goes from the dream life that he and his girlfriend, Carol Ann (Lucy Hale), have picked out for themselves, to suddenly having meetings with the likes of Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lanier), and soon he realises that if he wants to really change the way the community around him think, then he may have to start making some sacrifices of his own.
I found that there is a true power with Son of the South. In fact, in a lot of ways I found that Son of the South had more of an impact on me than films like Judas and the Black Messiah. It has that power due to a great script, also written by Brown, which allows the film to preach without having a sermon. The key to films like these working is to let actions speak louder than words and Brown allows that to happen here with truly memorable scenes of black rights activists being confronted and beaten for simply riding a bus into town.
Brown also stretches that mantra to the performances of his cast and there are often times in Son of the South when a look by Lucas Till as his character witnesses the behaviour of those around him says more than a page of dialogue could. There are so many moments and scenes in this film that will stay with me for years and the only thing I can say is that this is one of the most important films that you are likely to see this year.
With Son of the South, Barry Alexander Brown also announces himself as a director who is ready to have a big impact on Hollywood. Brown already has two Oscar nominations to his name; one for his editing work on BlacKkKlansman and a second for his documentary The War at Home, and to be honest he should have a third just for this film. As a director and screenwriter, Brown is obviously a storyteller who has a knack of telling that story on-screen in a way that only a select few filmmakers can, and I honestly can’t wait to see what film he tackles next.
Son of the South is one of the surprise films of 2021. It has an engaging and powerful story enhanced by a director who is at the top of his game and a young actor who produces one of the best performances of his career to date.