[DOC NYC 2023] SOUTH TO BLACK POWER -- Fascinating Doc About Race Focuses on the Solutions More Than the Problems
Review by Sean Boelman
Sam Pollard is beyond prolific, putting out multiple documentaries in any given year. South to Black Power, which he co-directed with Llewellyn M. Smith, is the latest in his line of documentaries to explore the important issue of race in the United States, and it’s certainly impressive in how it pulls it off.
Based on the book The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, this documentary presents author Charles M. Blow’s vision of the future, where African Americans are able to reclaim the power they rightfully deserve. A powerful call to action, the film blends personal stories with larger societal observations to make an important point about our society.
The film is built around Blow’s proposal of a “reverse Great Migration,” in which the Black people of the United States move back to the land and cultures they left behind in the post-Civil War diaspora, resetting power structures to their advantage. It’s a fascinating approach to one of our society’s most pressing problems, and while it’s not an airtight solution, it’s certainly provocative in all the best ways.
Clocking in at under an hour and thirty minutes, it would be hard to find a more efficient documentary exploring these themes in recent memory. Pollard and Smith structure the film brilliantly in a way that allows it to make its argument without ever feeling like it’s preaching or bashing the audience over their heads.
Part of what makes South to Black Power so effective is that it finds the right balance between anger, practicality, and innovation. In his exploration of this idea, Blow genuinely wants to find a solution. Yes, discussing the solution does require him to identify the problems that he is solving, but it’s primarily solutions-focused, which makes it quite refreshing.
Another interesting thing about Pollard and Smith’s approach to South to Black Power is that instead of falling back on an overabundance of talking head interviews, they take a more conversational approach. Although there are some talking heads of Blow explaining his philosophy, most of the film comprises moderated talks Blow gives or conversations he has on camera with other social scholars.
Other than that, the film is pretty much as one would expect, with some effective use of animated graphics to explain statistics and lots of fly on the wall footage to add to the emotional resonance of the movement. It’s not the most unconventional film, but Pollard and Smith are great arguers — which is exactly what this calls for.
South to Black Power is an extremely effective documentary, and goes to show that overwhelming anger is not the only way to be effectively persuasive. This documentary is fascinating, and clearly accomplishes its goal of being thought-provoking.
South to Black Power is screening at the 2023 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person and online from November 8-26.