"Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer" from National Geographic and also streaming on Hulu is one in a slew of TV and streaming documentary programs to be released during the hundredth anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. It's the fourth one I've seen. Expectedly, there's considerable overlap between them, including some of the same interviewees and participants. Once again, there's journalist DeNeen L. Brown, Mayor G. T. Bynum, State Representative Regina Goodwin. All of them are framed similarly by the recent unearthing of a mass grave from a city cemetery. They all tell some variation of the elevator incident that was the excuse for the racist white mob to jealously destroy the richest black neighborhood in the country--the so-called "Black Wall Street"--and slay dozens to hundreds of its residents. Each documentary, however, excels to varying degrees in approaching the tragedy from a different perspective.
The PBS "Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten" did well to compare Tulsa today to that of 1921, including mention of the police killing of Terence Crutcher and white paramilitaries and Blue Lives Matter paraders making a show against Black Lives Matter rallies. "Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street" from CNN was strong from a cinematic perspective of the representation of race, from its title taken from a Greenwood movie theatre, its examination of racist tropes from films such as "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), to its limited animations of the massacre. And the History Channel's "Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre" accomplished the most straightforward history, as the name of the channel and doc would suggest, on the massacre--getting into the details of what exactly happened when and who was involved, including an especially interesting contrast between the city's white and African-American newspapers and how government (from local authorities to the National Guard) participated in the racial violence.
As for this newest documentary, then, it's certainly the scarcest as far as detailing the Tulsa riot, which is fine for me given that I've already seen three other docs on it, as well as HBO's "Watchmen" series. Instead, Tulsa is placed within the larger context of race massacres that occurred throughout the country, particularly the "Red Summer" of 1919. Thus, almost as much time is spent here in Elain, Arkansas, where the Governor himself hunted for African Americans fleeing the white mob and where federal troops participated in the killing of them as well, or in the nation's capital where African Americans rather successfully fought back after police refused to intervene, and in Chicago, which resulted in a report advocating an equality that may to this day seem elusive and on which note this documentary concludes. All of which, however, barely scratches the surface even of just the Red Summer, let alone any one race massacre. A Ken Burns-style series seems more appropriate for so much material.
A slighter criticism, or rather more personal qualm given how much I've studied the film in the past, is that like a couple of the other docs, this one mentions "The Birth of a Nation," which it's right to do, but it misses an opportunity in glossing over it, to connect the racist tropes in that adulterated historicizing of a movie to, as Brown points out, the similar claimed causes of the massacres, such as the obsession with black men supposedly raping white women. How the picture moves from that silent film to phone videos of white women recorded calling the police on black people who are just going about their daily lives is a somewhat interesting point, but also rather undermines the argument I think of the documentary in comparing past to present. Such false reports made to police, after all, have been roundly criticized and mocked as so-called "Karens" and have not in themselves incited race massacres. If anything, I think the photos of a government building being stormed after local officials refused to give in to a lynch mob's demand to disregard justice amid one of the massacres seemed more eerily prescient.
As for D. W. Griffith's racist epic, the CNN doc did better, as did HBO's superhero series and without even explicitly mentioning the film. I've said it before and will again, as have others, that "The Birth of a Nation" is probably the most influential movie ever made, so saying it glorifies the Klan, quoting Woodrow Wilson and leaving it at that to move on to "Karens" is short shrift to the point that it probably would've been better not to mention it. I mean, those things are true, but "Birth" was also largely based on history books written by would-be-president Wilson, the film inspired the rise of the second KKK, and it was also a cause célèbre to organize and protest for the then-nascent NAACP, as well as a point to contest for an early African-American filmmaker like Oscar Micheaux (whom is only mentioned in "Watchmen" and in none of the docs). Not even to get into its profound affect on cinema as art and business, it also directly caused its own riots, and it may not be entirely coincidental that the Red Summer came a few years thereafter, although albeit there are many other factors in the history of black-white race relations stemming back to that original sin of slavery--all of which would, again, require a mini-series to cover, or a history book, perhaps, such as the one written by one of the documentary's interviewees. Nevertheless, this is a decent primer and overview of important and ongoing history.
Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer
Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer
One hundred years after the two-day Tulsa Massacre, one of America's most violent racial conflicts, this documentary explores the role of media during these early 20th century events and today's revived call for justice and anti-racism.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
October 20, 2021 at 10:23 PM