Category Archives: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

This holiday (signed into holiday law by a reluctant, King-bashing President Ronald Reagan in 1983) is designated to officially honor the civil rights struggle of the postwar years. In terms of movies, it’s also the day to choose whether to watch a recently released, righteously enlightened film on American race relations or an older, illuminatingly bigoted one—either choice may, in fact, impart the same lesson. Consider the following to honor Black History Month as well.

The Defiant Ones (1958)

Director Stanley Kramer was known for years as a heavy-handed, social-issues ideologue, but in retrospect—and considering today’s “serious” films about racism, genocide, environmentalism, and so on—much of Kramer’s oeuvre now seems eloquent, passionate, and affecting. The Defiant Ones is a prime example: escaped convicts Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, chained together, are forced to bond as men despite their individual races as they scramble across the countryside. Hot under the collar and acted at a fever pitch, this movie makes even some Spike Lee films look cheesy and softhearted by comparison.