Lucas Till stars as civil rights volunteer Bob Zellner in “Son of the South.”
Unsung Hero Gets Moment in Spotlight
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s consisted of so many heroes and heroines that an endless amount of movies could make for some good content.
While titans like Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Selma”) and Malcolm X (“Malcolm X”) deservedly received epic biopics, some unsung heroes deserve some Hollywood attention too.
While “Son of the South” comes across more like a television movie for a network like Lifetime than a feature film, the movie does a decent job of showing what some White civil rights leaders endured when they broke from their families and bigoted past to make a difference battling Jim Crow.
Many of the White civil rights workers that participated in the freedom rides and Freedom Summer came from northern states to make a difference amongst their “less sophisticated” brethren of the South.
However, Bob Zellner (Lucas Till, “Walk the Line”) epitomized the South of the 1950s and 1960s, with a grandfather and father serving in the Ku Klux Klan to prove it.
However, after his father, a Methodist minister, had a racial epiphany of sorts, he raised his son differently than his racist father raised him.
Bob’s dad tried his best to raise his son to not see color in a country in which color means everything.
Although Bob’s minister father taught his son to not see color, a lack of racism did not actually equal a commitment to racial equality.
While studying at Huntington College, Bob has to write a thesis paper on race relations in America.
However, Bob’s professor forbids him and his classmates from interviewing any African-Americans on the subject matter because she knows what type of consequences and repercussions they might suffer if it appears to the locals that they are stirring up trouble in the area of equal rights.
Nevertheless, five years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott and while wounds remain raw amongst some of the White citizens of Montgomery, Ala., Bob and some of his classmates visit Reverend Ralph Abernathy (Cedric the Entertainer) and civil rights icon Rosa Parks to get information from them about their thoughts on the racial climate in America in 1961.
The classmates even visit Abernathy’s all African-American church on a random Sunday to hear the civil rights leader speak from his own pulpit.
As a result of the presence of several White males at an all African-American church, the police surround the church and Parks has to escort the college students out the back door as Abernathy creates a distraction with local reporters at the front of the church.
Unfortunately, the students cannot escape from the wrath of the White citizens as word spreads of their growing “friendship” with African-American civil rights leaders.
The dean of the college threatens to expel Bob and his classmates.
The Ku Klux Klan, including Bob’s own grandfather, marches onto the campus in protest of the school’s nigger lovers.
But despite the terror produced by the Klan’s presence, the movement does not stop with freedom rides coming through Bob’s Alabama hometown and other towns throughout the South.
And although the Klan and thoughts of expulsion scare some of Bob’s classmates straight, his resolve to keep pushing despite the hatred coming his way impresses people in the movement like Parks.
Many in the Civil Rights Movement, or on the periphery, encourage Bob to get involved because as a White male from the South, he could prove invaluable in persuading some of his fellow White Southerners to assist in the journey to freedom.
Although Bob knows that the movement has righteousness on its side, locals do not move him into action until he witnesses the brutal beating of freedom riders from his own community.
Much to the chagrin of his fiancé, Bob passes on graduate school scholarships to Ivy League universities in order to do volunteer work as a field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
While his activity with SNCC gets Bob praise in 2021, the year 1961 presented a totally different reality for the White civil rights worker from the great state of Alabama.
First and foremost, “Son of the South” has its endearing moments.
Unfortunately, the movie pales in comparison when put in competition with other similar films over the past few decades.
Furthermore, the movie also includes a gaffe as real footage of John Lewis is used, even though actor Dexter Darden portrays Lewis in the film.
But the relationships and friendships depicted in “Son of the South” really resonate.
Bob’s budding friendship with Joanne (Lex Scott Davis, “SuperFly”) is both charming and dangerous at the same time.
Furthermore, Bob gaining the respect of fellow SNCC volunteer Reggie (Shamier Anderson) gives “Son of the South” a much-needed laugh late in the film.
Initially, Reggie thinks the Feds have used Bob to infiltrate SNCC.
Additionally, “Son of the South” has some interesting casting.
In “Son of the South,” comedian/actor Cedric the Entertainer gets to portray his fraternity brother Abernathy in the film.
Both men belong to Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
While Cedric has done a good job in past dramatic roles like “Cadillac Records,” his performance in “Son of the South” does not measure up to his performance in “Cadillac Records.”
But “Son of the South” is not just about performances per se.
“Son of the South” is an opportunity to pay homage to a civil rights volunteer who might not have gotten the shine that others received during the 1960s.
It took more than just the leaders with their names in bright lights to make the Civil Rights Movement a success.
The movement took many unsung heroes who sacrificed all of their privilege to make a difference in the lives of others.
“Son of the South” is now available on video on demand.