Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman—in theaters August 10—brings to the screen a remarkable page from American history in which one man made the seemingly impossible happen. In the 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department, infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white colleague (played by Adam Driver). In addition to exposing the violent agenda of this notorious hate group, Stallworth brilliantly discredits their claim to racial purity by becoming the first black member. BlacKkKlansman won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival for being, according to Time Magazine, “the Movie We Need Now.”
This Fourth of July, we’re saluting a new brand of American heroes: real people from all walks of life, from a gay politician to a children’s TV host, who saw the need for change and acted on it.
Fred Rogers | Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor demonstrates that not all heroes are action figures—some are gentle, mild-mannered men wearing cardigans. With the launch of his TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the mid-sixties, Fred Rogers ignited a revolution in kindness and civility, extending a hand of friendship to children everywhere. In making this film, Morgan quickly recognized Mister Rogers’ unique super power: “for the millions of kids who grew up watching him like I did, our relationship with him was unlike any other cultural figure.” He showed us "what it means to be a person, how to be a neighbor, and how we should treat each other." In our crazy times, as The Observer exclaims, “Man, we sure could use his help right now.”
Get tickets to see Won't You Be My Neighbor? in theaters now.
Richard and Mildred Loving | Loving
All Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) really wanted was to live their lives and raise their family in peace. But when the state of Virginia arrested them for having a mixed-race marriage, they refused to stand down. Jeff Nichols, who immortalized their story in Loving, explains that “before it's a story about racial equality or marriage equality—which it is—it's a love story.” Their love went on to make history when their case, Loving v. Virginia, won in the Supreme Court and invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Changing the system “doesn’t necessarily require a noble rhetoric-spouting hero,” explains Slate. “Two ordinary people can do it with true love, a lot of patience, and if at all possible a really good team of lawyers.”
Jesse Owens | Race
Stephan James brings to life the remarkable journey Jesse Owens took from promising athlete at Ohio State University to winner four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Stephen Hopkins’ Race. More than just a tale of athletic prowess, Race demonstrates how Owens’ victories provided a flesh-and-blood rebuke to Nazi claims of racial superiority. Celebrated as a hero on the international stage, Owens returned home to being treat less than that. But like a true hero and athlete, he never gave up. The film provides in The Wrap's words “a keen exploration of how to make a political statement without saying a word, and how best to stay true to one’s self while making necessary compromises and calculations.”
Ron Woodroof | Dallas Buyers Club
At the start of Jean-Marc Vallée’s real-life drama Dallas Buyers Club, the womanizing, rodeo-riding, hard-living Ron Woodroof—in an Academy Award®-winning performance by Matthew McConaughey—doesn’t act much like a hero. But after testing positive for HIV in 1985, Woodroof refused to take his diagnosis laying down. His determination to live pushed him to create a network to distribute essential, if unapproved, medicine, mostly to the very people he used to deride. For The Inquirer, Woodroof is “an improbable hero…on a journey of self-discovery, learning to embrace humanity in all its shapes and sizes, colors and proclivities."
Petey Greene | Talk to Me
In Kasi Lemmons’ Talk to Me, Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene (Don Cheadle) goes from being an ex-convict with little hope to a top-rated DJ whose call-it-like-it-is style would change the nature of radio. To his fans in the Washington, D.C. area, many who were African American, Greene gave voice to their daily struggles. “Petey had courage and not just a grandiose courage like a hero in a tough situation, but also a day-to-day courage,” explains Lemmons. In 1968 after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Greene also was the voice of reason by heroically talking down a city close to riot. “It is his finest moment, an historic one,” exclaims Roger Ebert.