Neflix Update No. 76: “The Long Walk Home”

February 22, 2013

Rosa Parks 1I am in the process of reviewing a new book about the Emacipation Proclamation. 

The book is heavily illustrated, and some of the pictures are photographs of people who were held in slavery in this country. I often pause over pictures like that, studying the faces. The faces remind me of the painful fact that epochs such as American slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust were about the injustice and pain inflicted on individual men, women, and children.

The 1990 film The Long Walk Home makes that point with a sharp impact. The story, originally written by John Cork when he was a student at the University of Southern California, is set in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott of 1955-1956. That was the seminal protest against racial discrimination on the city’s transit system, sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to surrender her seat to a white man. The stand taken by Rosa Parks inspired a boycott of the bus system by black citizens of Montgomery and eventually led to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme court that the racially discriminatory laws in Montgomery were unconstitutional and must be vacated.

 The cast of The Long Walk Home includes Whoopie Goldberg as Odessa Carter, a maid employed by Miriam Thompson, played by Sissy Spacek.



Miriam Thompson is affected by the boycott, because Odessa won’t ride the bus, and the long walk, besides being grueling, makes her late for work each morning. Miriam’s partial solution to that is to pick up Odessa two mornings a week, a decision that Miriam’s husband, Norman (Dwight Schultz), goaded by his redneck brother, Tunker (Dylan Baker), vehemently objects to. The growing tension in the Thompson family over this issue, and her observation of Odessa’s ordeal, lead Miriam to re-examine her own values and her place in the roiling civil rights issue in the city.

This is a good movie in many respects, including Whoopi Goldberg’s understated performance as a woman who solemnly decides that she has had enough of being patronized, de-humanized, and humiliated. It’s important that she is portrayed in the midst of her own family, her husband and children. Shifting the point of view to this setting reminds us that racial discrimination didn’t do violence to some abstract principle; it did violence to regular people who were trying to live as human beings and citizens.


2 Responses to “Neflix Update No. 76: “The Long Walk Home””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    …racial discrimination didn’t do violence to some abstract principle; it did violence to regular people who were trying to live as human beings and citizens.

    That’s it, exactly. Sometimes I feel that’s what we’re losing in so many heated arguments today. They’ve turned into right/wrong, tit/tat, liberal/conservative screeds, instead of being focused on the people whom the policies affect.

    I think of a woman I know from Central America who works on one side of our lake and lives on the other. She bicycles to work, over a huge bridge. At the bridge, she has to stop and walk her bike. I see her from time to time, on her way home from work as a maid at a marina. If I’m working in her marina, we’ll sometimes chat. She’s kind, and dignified. Some people think she’s really “illegal”. Some are sure she’s “legal”. Your point’s the important one. She’s human.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I spent two years teaching at a community college in Paterson, which is the urbanist of urban places. Everyone should have that opportunity to interact every day with immigrants and US-born minorities and see that so many of them have all the same joys, sorrows, and challenges that we have.

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