John Lewis: Good Trouble: Dawn Porter’s Docu of Civil Rights Leader and Long-Time Congressman

Director Dawn Porter’s John Lewis: Good Trouble is a timely if too conventional and familiar chronicle of Civil Rights leader and long-time Congressman John Lewis.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
The 17-term Congressman John Robert Lewis, who’s now 80, is a civil rights icon, having devoted all of his mature life to major causes–or what he fondly and promptly calls calls “good trouble.”
Our Grade: B- (*** out of *****)

Real politics began with Lewis’ first lunch counter sit-in as a college student in Nashville, Tennessee, in the late 1950s.

Over the past six decades, he has been arrested about 40 times for protesting, with some of these arrests occurring during his 34 years representing Georgia’s fifth Congressional district.

Simple but effective, John Lewis: Good Trouble, combines archival footage with interviews from Lewis’ past and present colleagues.

He is one of the last leaders who’s still around to tell a disturbing tale, which is now more relevant that ever before.

The fascinating story of the well-respected politician is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping between historical events and some more contemporary ones.

The late Congressman Elijah Cummings, to whom the film is dedicated, says that he’s often mistaken for Lewis.

The four freshwomen in Congress known as “The Squad,” representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, testify to how much they respect him as a role model.

Porter includes Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) member representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, who befriends Lewis during the Civil Rights movement long before they embarked on their respective political careers.

There is not much info about Lewis’ personal life, other than mentioning briefly the death of Lewis’ wife, Lillian Miles Lewis, in 2013, but Lewis doesn’t comment on the marriage.

There is also some useful info about his bond with his chief of staff, Michael Collins which is friendly and intimate, father-son like.

In the last scene, Lewis delivers a version of a speech that’s overly familiar by now: “We will create the beloved community. We will get there. I still believe we shall overcome.”

Overall, the docu is significant and inspirational, but too conventional to shed illuminating life into the long and rich life of its heroic subject.  I think the docu may be useful in high schools and colleges as teaching material in American history classes, even if it lacks the quality of a first-rate probing chronicle.

Credits:

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Production Companies: Magnolia, Participant, CNN Films, Agc Studios, Trilogy Films, Color Farm Media, Time Studios, Just Films, Ford Foundation
Director: Dawn Porter
Producers: Dawn Porter, Laura Michalchyshyn, Alexandra Hannibal, Erika Alexander, Ben Arnon
Executive Producers: Amy Entelis, Courtney Sexton, Dori Begley, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Stuart Ford, Rachel Traub, Ian Orefice, Mike Beck
Cinematography: Tony Hardmon, Keith Walker, Stefan Wiesen
Editor:
Jessica Congdon
Original Music: Tamar-Kali

Principal Cast:

John Lewis, Michael Collins, Elijah Cummings, James Clyburn, Bernard LaFayette, Jr.

Running time: 96 minutes