Documentarian Stanley Nelson (“The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords”) offers another illuminating and accessible African-American history lesson with “Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind.” Skillfully entwining archival material with talking-heads interviews, pic supplements and expands conventional wisdom about the controversial black activist who’s probably best remembered as a proselytizer for an unsuccessful “back to Africa” movement. Slated for a Feb. 12 airing on PBS, well-crafted docu likely will rerun frequently in academic and nonprofit venues.
Nelson has fashioned a meticulously balanced portrait, indicating the Jamaican-born Garvey accelerated his own downfall through egocentric excesses, ill-informed business decisions and an iron-willed refusal to accept criticism. (It didn’t help that J. Edgar Hoover targeted Garvey for intense investigation, leading to a 1922 conviction on dubious mail-fraud charges.) At the same time, however, pic also underscores Garvey’s invaluable influence as one of the first and most important black leaders of the 20th century. Historians and aged ex-associates persuasively attest to Garvey’s oratorical gifts, and detail his trailblazing efforts to instill hope, pride and entrepreneurial ambitions in hundreds of thousands of African-Americans.