'John Lewis: Good Trouble': Timely documentary on the civil rights activist and Congressman is a must-watch
The year 2020 is a massive reckoning for the United States and the world. In the aftermath of the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the civil rights movement of the 1960s is as important as ever. Today's Black Lives Matter protests show that the fight is still not over, despite what some may say. Hence, the release of a new documentary on civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis tells us that we have many lessons to learn from the 20th-century movement.
Titled 'John Lewis: Good Trouble', the documentary was directed by Dawn Porter and looks back at 80-year-old John Lewis' activism right from when he was 17, moving back and forth between the past and the present. Lewis faced police beatings as a young man while trying to get Black Americans to the polls in the South — as an elder statesman, he rallies against voter suppression of Blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans and other minorities.
Archival footage shows him as a young man when he organized sit-ins at lunch counters, went on Freedom Rides and marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma with other prominent civil rights activists. These are jarring images that explain why Lewis' fight is far from over. For a man who got arrested 45 times, Lewis considers that he may be arrested in the future as well. "As long as I have breath in my body," he says, "I will do what I can." The title comes from Lewis' statement where he was convinced as a young man to make trouble — good trouble, necessary trouble — to ensure equality in the United States.
We’re reminded that when Lewis was a young man, protesters cried out, "Arrest us if we're wrong, don't beat us," as law enforcement officers abused their power against people fed up with racial injustice. As Americans continue to protest and ask for legislation to ensure the protection of Black people, this look-back on Lewis' life serves as necessary inspiration, and perhaps even caution. Caution that this is not a fight of a few days, a few months, or even a few years and that the country has "miles to go" to achieve Martin Luther King Jr's vision.
However, the documentary does not just build up Lewis as a god-life figure. Porter's documentary also brings out the humanity with which many of us can connect. This especially comes in the parts where Porter also illuminates the less-flattering parts of Lewis' career. In November 1986, he was elected to Congress, after defeating his close friend and fellow activist Julian Bond in the August primaries using questionable strategies. That defeat strained the friendship, but it was also the beginning of an enduring career dedicated to changing the system from within: Lewis is currently serving his 17th term.
'John Lewis: Good Trouble' is also not short of powerful testimonies for Lewis's illustrious life, including from the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Elijah Cummings, Cory Booker, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Beto O’Rourke, and more. It truly shows the impact Lewis has had on the country as a whole. While the documentary seems a little choppy and incomplete, it is nevertheless necessary viewing — one that we would be all the better for.
'John Lewis: Good Trouble' is available on-demand and in virtual theaters from July 3, just in time for the country's 244th Independence Day.