Produced, directed by Barak Goodman, Daniel Anker. Screenplay, Goodman.
Narrator: Andre Braugher.
Additional voices: Frances McDormand, Stanley Tucci, Harris Yulin, Jeffrey DeMunn, Daver Morrison.
A shameful chapter of American history gets a detailed re-examination in “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy,” the story of nine black males — ranging in age from 13 to 19 — who were tried, convicted and nearly executed after being accused of raping two white women near Scottsboro, Ala., in 1931. Co-directed by Barak Goodman and Daniel Anker for PBS’ “The American Experience,” docu likely will have a long shelf life in academic and homevid venues.
Utilizing archival material and newly filmed interviews, Goodman and Anker cogently evoke the tenor of the era. Just as Alabama law enforcement officials unquestioningly accept the testimony of two less-than-respectable white women — who claim the defendants raped them aboard a westbound freight train — left-leaning Northerners, including many Communist activists, passionately rally to the defense of the unjustly accused. Filmmakers convincingly argue that the “Scottsboro Boys” lost their first appeal primarily because of a Deep South jury’s reflexive animosity toward defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz, a flamboyant Jewish lawyer from the North. Pic also explains how the case became an international cause celebre, one that eventually sparked support for the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.