Take a Giant Step (1959)

Produced by Burt Lancaster’s production company (Hecht-Hill-Lancaster), and directed by Philip Leacock, “Take a Giant Step” is a slice of life realism, a sensitive coming-of-age melodrama film about a black teenager.

In addition to the usual problems faced by adolescents at this crucial era, Spencer (Spence) Scott (Johnny Nash), who’s 17, has to face racism in its various manifestations, particularly because he lives in a white middle class neighborhood.

First major crisis occurs when Spence’s history teacher talks about the intellect of black slaves during the American Civil War.  Upset, he raises an objection, but the teacher dismisses the objection.

Angry, he locks himself in the bathroom and smokes a cigar. Upon being discovered, he is suspended from school. Meanwhile, his white friends exclude him from their activities because they want to include girls, and none of the girls’ parents approve of socializing with in a black boy.

The tale, adapted from the play by Louis S. Peterson, is extremely well acted by Johnny Nash in the lead, the very young Ruby Dee as the Scott family’s housekeeper, and Beah Richards as Spence’s mother.

All of these performers would go to a longer, impressive career.  In fact, Nash later became famous as a singer—he sangs the hit song “I Can See Clearly Now.”

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