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John Lewis: Good Trouble (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Featuring Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Anthony Johnson, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Colin Allred, Rep. Marc Veasey, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Lizzie Fletcher, Stacey Abrams, Michael Collins, Henry Lewis, Rosa Lewis-Tyner, Samuel Lewis, Ethel Lewis-Tyner, Bernard Lafayette Jr., Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., Diane Nash, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Rep. Antonio Delgado, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Eric Holder, Sen. Cory Booker, Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, Brenda Jones, Xernona Clayton, John Miles Lewis, Ruth Berg, Jamila Thompson, Ruth Riley, Rachelle O’Neil, Pres. Bill Clinton, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Lonnie G. Bunch III, and archival footage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pres. Barack Obama, Pres. George W. Bush, Malcolm X, Julian Bond and Thurgood Marshall.

Directed by Dawn Porter.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 96 minutes. Rated PG.

“We have to save our democracy. Sometimes I feel like we’re going to lose it.”

Rep. John Lewis said that to a constituent in the documentary on his fascinating life, John Lewis: Good Trouble. And Lewis has always been a safeguard for us, even in this fraught time in history in which democracy is under attack like almost no time before.

It’s probably a good coincidence – good trouble, if you will – that this film is coming out mere weeks after the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

More than most, Lewis has walked the walk in this kind of world, being beaten nearly to death by overzealous policemen on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama during the famous march to Montgomery, in which Lewis stood beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of protestors who were merely peacefully protesting.

Less than sixty years later, Donald Trump turned the military on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington, just so he could do a photo op with an upside-down (and backwards) bible.

Twelve years after we elected our first black President, and perhaps naively thought we had reached a post-racial world, the racial divide has become deeper than it had been in years. And John Lewis is still fighting the good fight, in congress, and also in his personal life, where he is fighting off the insidious threat of cancer.

John Lewis: Good Trouble is a worthy tribute to the man. An imperfect man trying to do good. A proponent of turning the other cheek in a world which far too often punches first and asks questions later.

Good Trouble bounces back and forth through important periods in Lewis’ life – his childhood, the civil rights movement, his political course, his family life, medical issues from surviving the beating at the hands of police in Selma to his current battle with cancer.

It isn’t always a pretty picture. The nasty campaign – much of it on Lewis’ part – against his longtime civil rights friend Julian Bond which led to Lewis’ first congressional seat is pretty eye-opening stuff. The late Bond is shown discussing it at the time, and while the two remained friends until Bond’s death, it was obvious that Bond was deeply stung by what happened.

However, Lewis has done much more good than he has done bad. He has been an important voice in governance for decades now, and in this particularly volatile moment in history he is needed more than ever.

Last year, soulful Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Mutlu paid tribute to Lewis with the title track of his new EP “Good Trouble.” At the time I asked him why he was drawn to write a song about Lewis.

“His message… is really important,” Mutlu responded. “He’s someone who spent his life in the battle for social justice. Racial justice. Economic justice. From a young age he was a civil rights hero. He’s been in Congress for years and years in Georgia. He has a perspective that is valuable, because in this… day in, day out anger cycle that we’re in, it’s hard to see the long view sometimes. His message is the pursuit for equality, the pursuit for justice. That’s a lifelong push. I thought that was a valuable perspective in this climate.”

It is a valuable perspective. John Lewis: Good Trouble shares that perspective with the world. Hopefully, the world will listen.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: July 3, 2020.

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