The incredible journey of Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, as he made a career of being the first black man to play so many important roles (wartime pilot, lawyer, legislator, university chancellor, lieutenant governor, devoted husband and father, rights activist) could easily have become a multi-part mini-series for television.
Director Nicole Brooks—faced with the daunting task of squeezing those Herculean achievements into just 48 minutes—manages to capture the essence of the man, but whets the appetite for the rest of the story behind the proud, confident individual (“And I always win”; “I am good looking”) whose occasional sad eyes reveal as much if not more than the images, words and sounds that swirl around him.
His father taught him service then the scary consequences of adultery; the value of education and its absolute necessity to survive in a largely white man’s world much less thrive in it was his mother’s sage advice. Especially for younger viewers and their anxious parents, it’s perhaps the film’s most important message to understand and then live.
Despite many hurtful racial put downs (notably his law school dean seeing no problem peppering his speech with then-common phrases: “... looking like a nigger in a woodpile”) and illiterate, scrawled hate-mail decades later (so much progress; so much further to go), the ambitious Alexander never shied away from calling his uppers to task, but had the wisdom to couch his criticisms in a many-coloured coat of respect.
The recurring-dream image (three unidentifiable figures wearing black robes—curiously white in Brook’s recreation—marvellously accompanied by Andrew Craig’s equally dreamy scoring) could well be the three major components of the former MP for Hamilton West: courage, honour and determination walking down familiar streets. The handsome face only emerges in “real life,” making its way with strength and courage-of-conviction, even as its cloaked disappointments are not permitted to dampen the oh-so-public persona of this extraordinary human being.
Finally, as much as he longed to be a musician and sing the blues, his shameless vocalizations immediately convince that after standing out and fighting for his maturing country, the right choice was made. JWR