×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Boycott

For all the anger and frustration that drives the story behind the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955, director Clark Johnson and writers Herman Daniel Farrell III and Timothy J. Sexton address matters with a soothing calmness that has the assurance of a tight embrace. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jeffrey Wright is completely in step with their particular bent, playing the civil rights leader with hushed zeal and an inner flame that grows into a fuel burn by telepic's end.

With:
Martin Luther King Jr. - Jeffrey Wright Ralph Abernathy - Terrence Howard Jo Ann Robinson - CCH Pounder Coretta King - Carmen Ejogo E.D. Nixon - Reg E. Cathey Rufus Lewis - Brent Jennings Fred Gray - Shawn Michael Howard Rosa Parks - Iris Little-Thomas Rev. Fields - Walter Franks Bayard Tustin - Erik Todd Dellums Rev. Banyon - Whitman Mayo Bob Phillips - E. Roger Mitchell Mrs. Dunlap - Heather Salmon Emory Jackson - Clark Johnson Daddy King - Mike Hodge

For all the anger and frustration that drives the story behind the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955, director Clark Johnson and writers Herman Daniel Farrell III and Timothy J. Sexton address matters with a soothing calmness that has the assurance of a tight embrace. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jeffrey Wright is completely in step with their particular bent, playing the civil rights leader with hushed zeal and an inner flame that grows into a fuel burn by telepic’s end.

Inspired by Stewart Burns’ book “Daybreak of Freedom,” “Boycott” covers the birth of the civil rights movement from Rosa Parks’ refusal to vacate a “whites only” seat on a city bus on Dec. 1, 1955, until the end of the bus boycott more than a year later. Telepic powerfully captures the spirit of the movement, the uncertainty that arose with every decision to organize and fight an unjust system and, finally, the triumph of a community bound by a singular objective.

“Boycott’s” deepest message is about faith and how this community’s spiritual leaders demonstrated trust in each other as well as their parishioners.

The behind-closed-doors scenes, which draw on the knowledge of consultants Henry Louis Gates Jr., Patricia Sullivan and Burns, are among the most affecting, establishing King as the pensive young man within a group that included Ralph Abernathy (a terrif portrayal by Terrence Howard) and the activist E.D. Nixon (Reg E. Cathey).

The film is artier in its execution than virtually all previous HBO film projects; use of B&W, grainy, home movie-ish footage and hand-held cameras pushes story off the linear track with tangential anecdotes, but it humanizes King and his contemporaries.

The whites in power are uniformly backward thinkers and by presenting them consistently in black-and-white newsreel footage, Johnson assigns them an imperious weight; in color, the white/black confrontations level out the playing field and set up the ripening power of the black citizens.

To present scenes in five different visual styles — feature film, documentary, 1950s stock footage, newsreel and home movie — film utilizes IDI/Stargate’s technique dubbed Digital Intermediate, in which the entire movie is digitally hand-painted. It is the first film to use the process throughout. Pic closes on a “home movie” of King and his wife, Coretta, enjoying time with their young daughter in the early stages of walking; its heartwarming tone is a perfect coda.

Wright’s perf as the 26-year-old minister is a study in careful articulation, his almost constant reflection manifesting itself in strong, assuring words to a public hungry for guidance. We watch as the others slowly give in to King’s magnetic pull.

As Parks, Iris Little-Thomas portrays a determined woman filled with conviction; as King’s wife, Carmen Ejogo limns a loving and beautiful woman whose bonds with her husband are strengthened as she adheres to his convictions.

Johnson, who played the cool cop Meldrick Lewis on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” and has directed episodes of “The West Wing” and “Law & Order: SVU,” among others, displays a masterful hand here, avoiding the lure to do more with the technology of today or the hyperbole of the period. Director of photography David Hennings maintains a steady point of view.

Location filming is consistently strong, with older churches effectively evoking the Old South. Costumes and interior design subtly and effectively delineate levels of education and wealth within black families’ homes.

Popular on Variety

Boycott

HBO; Sat. Feb. 24, 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT

Production: Filmed in Atlanta by Norman Twain Prods. in association with Shelby Stone Prods. for HBO Films. Executive producers, Shelby Stone, Norman Twain; producer, Preston L. Holmes; co-producer, James Bigwood; director, Clark Johnson; writers, Herman Daniel Farrell III, Timothy J. Sexton.

Crew: Camera, David Hennings; editor, Cindy Mollo; music, Stephen James Taylor; production designer, Charles C. Bennett; casting, Jaki Brown-Karman. 2 HOURS.

Cast: Martin Luther King Jr. - Jeffrey Wright Ralph Abernathy - Terrence Howard Jo Ann Robinson - CCH Pounder Coretta King - Carmen Ejogo E.D. Nixon - Reg E. Cathey Rufus Lewis - Brent Jennings Fred Gray - Shawn Michael Howard Rosa Parks - Iris Little-Thomas Rev. Fields - Walter Franks Bayard Tustin - Erik Todd Dellums Rev. Banyon - Whitman Mayo Bob Phillips - E. Roger Mitchell Mrs. Dunlap - Heather Salmon Emory Jackson - Clark Johnson Daddy King - Mike HodgeWith: Jack Martin, Marion Guyot, Mert Hatfield, Danny Nelson, Tom Mowicki, Crystal Garrett, Thomas Byrd.

More TV

  • Hailee SteinfeldTribeca TV Festival 2019 Presents

    Hailee Steinfeld Announces New Single Tied to Apple TV Plus' 'Dickinson'

    Actress, singer and producer Hailee Steinfeld is set to release a new single entitled “Afterlife” on Sept. 19, a track she created for her upcoming Apple TV Plus series,”Dickinson.” “This is a song I’m incredibly proud of, and I feel like after embodying this character, I have a more fearless approach to my writing,” Steinfeld [...]

  • Rachel Bloom

    Rachel Bloom Announces Pregnancy After Emmy Win

    “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star Rachel Bloom made a special announcement after winning her Emmy for best original music and lyrics — she is pregnant. Bloom announced the news backstage on Saturday at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. She joked she had planned to reveal the news on Instagram but that doing it at the Emmys was even [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    TV Review: 'Evil'

    In its pilot installment, CBS’s new drama “Evil” delves into that which may lie beyond the rationally explicable. And the show itself represents something almost supernatural by 2019 standards, too: A well-made hour fueled by chemistry between its leads and a strong idea of itself. On the basis of its debut outing, which screened at [...]

  • Emmy Awards Placeholder

    Creative Arts Emmys: 'Free Solo,' 'Queer Eye' Among Big Winners on Night 1 (Full List)

    “Free Solo,” “Queer Eye,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Saturday Night Live” were among the big winners Saturday after the first night of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles. “Free Solo,” the National Geographic feature documentary that already claimed the Oscar earlier this year, lead the field on the [...]

  • Gary Cole, Christina Anthony, Tika Sumpter,

    'Mixed-ish' Team on Why 'All Stories About "Others" Are Necessary'

    The producers and cast of “Mixed-ish” are not out to tell a singular black and white story — but one that showcases and celebrates all shades in between. “It’s important for me across the board in all of my work to talk about ‘otherness’ and identity and real, grounded characters,” showrunner Karin Gist told Variety [...]

  • Shane Gillis

    Comedians Condemn Shane Gillis Over Slurs

    “Saturday Night Live” showrunner Lorne Michaels has yet to comment on the racist and homophobic remarks made by newly hired cast member Shane Gillis, but comedians and actors are expressing their condemnation on social media, some even asking that he be fired from the show.  Footage of Gillis’s podcast, “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,” was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content