WILLIAM GREAVES – Still A Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class (1968, 90 min.)
Join Black Cinema House and Chicago Film Archives for the second of three outdoor screenings in our annual “Movies Under the Stars” series at the Muffler Shop. Grab a lawn chair and join us at the SW corner of 55th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for a night of illuminating films that begin as the sun goes down. This summer we’re revisiting the tumultuous and transformative year of 1968 through the lens of three gifted visual artists: Gordon Parks, William Greaves and Thomas Reichman.
On Friday 7/28 we’ll be screening William Greaves’ breakthrough documentary Still A Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class. Originally made in collaboration with William Branch and National Educational Television (NET), Still A Brother presents a variety of perspectives on status and the concerns of the emerging African-American middle class at a time of intense racial, social, cultural, and political turmoil. Narrated by legendary civil rights activist, author, actor, poet, director, and playwright Ossie Davis, the film proved to be much more controversial and provocative than NET expected. While the network envisioned a documentary portrait of “good negroes” whose values and socio-economic aspirations mirrored those of middle-class white Americans, Greaves’ film presents a wide range of perspectives and questions the impact of these aspirations on the fight for equal rights and civil liberty in the 1960s. Still A Brother argues that the passive acceptance of white middle-class values by African-Americans amounted to nothing more than what Greaves referred to as “mental enslavement.” Airing on April 29, 1968, less than three weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Still A Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class is a probing and complex look at media coverage and representation, racial and economic disparity, and the various degrees of oppression faced by African-Americans in the United States.
“We had difficulties once Still a Brother was finished because NET had not expected that kind of film. They had expected an Ebony magazine kind of film, but we brought them this documentary that talked about mental revolution and showed increasing militancy in the black experience. People are talking about black is beautiful, the African heritage, militancy, and championing Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael. So when NET executives saw the film they sort of blinked because they didn’t know whether or not they really wanted to put it into the system. They weren’t clear whether or not it would be acceptable. There was a great deal of anxiety because these executives were looking at their mortgages and didn’t know whether they would be tossed out of their jobs. They didn’t tell me that, but it was obvious that they were really under pressure. But I must say that they rose to the occasion, which speaks well of them, and of course the film eventually received an Emmy nomination and a Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival.” -William Greaves