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doc talk | peter Keough

Doc Talk: From an injustice in Georgia to a plea for bees

James Fair Jr. is the subject “Fair Game.”
James Fair Jr. is the subject “Fair Game: Surviving a 1960 Georgia Lynching.”

Blakely, Ga., located in a county notorious for its lynchings, was not a safe place for a young black man in 1960. James Fair Jr., from Bayonne, N.J., was visiting the town and was arrested hours after his arrival, charged with the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl. The victim was also African-American; if she had been white, says one of those interviewed in Clennon L. King’s infuriating and suspenseful documentary “Fair Game: Surviving a 1960 Georgia Lynching,” Fair would probably have been lynched on the spot.

Instead he received the legal equivalent of a lynching. A confession was beaten out of him and he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. It happened so fast that the story of the arrest appeared on page one of the local paper and the story of the trial and sentencing appeared on page two.

But help came from unlikely places. Though cut off from friends and family he was allowed a visit from a missionary; she told him to write his mother’s phone number in her Bible and then contacted her. His mother was desperate to raise money for legal expenses. The host of a popular radio show started a campaign for contributions. When local judges and politicians tried to carry out the sentence before an appeal could be organized, a New Jersey congressman confronted the state governor and gained some time.

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Despite these reprieves, Fair’s fate remained in doubt, and the twists and turns of his story keep you guessing. What’s never in doubt is the ugly racism that still persists nearly 60 years later.

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“Fair Game: Surviving a 1960 Georgia Lynching” is being screened on July 16 at 6 p.m. at Northeastern Crossing at Northeastern University and on Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts. The director will at both screenings and participate in a question-and-answer session.

Go to  www.mfa.org/programs/film.  

Borderline case

Hatred and fear of immigrants is nothing new. More than a century ago, as the country entered World War I, citizens of Bisbee, Ariz., turned against their German neighbors. Ostensibly this was because they were suspected of subversive activity on behalf of their native land. But probably the real reason was because they were involved in a strike against local copper mines, which were owned by the wealthiest and most powerful members of the community.

On July 12, 1917, an army of vigilantes led by local sheriffs and representatives of the mine dragged more than a thousand strikers from their homes, forced them into cattle cars, and transported them to the middle of a desert in New Mexico. Many were never heard from again.

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Robert Greene tells this story in his moving and inventive documentary “Bisbee ’17” (2018) . Visiting present-day Bisbee, which is now inhabited by descendants of those involved in the 1917 incident and a culturally and racially diverse population of newcomers, he helps put on an elaborate re-creation of the incident on its 100th anniversary. Among those participating are the granddaughter of a resident who put his own union-affiliated brother on the train, and a gay Mexican youth whose mother had been deported when he was a child. Greene not only brings to light this little-known injustice but also shows how art has the power to achieve reconciliation and raise awareness in our own fractious times.

“Bisbee ’17” can be seen on July 15 at 10 p.m. on the PBS series “POV” and on pov.org.

Go to www.pbs.org/pov/bisbee17.

Good ‘Times’

One of the all-time great political documentaries, Robert Epstein’s Oscar-winning “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) tells the rousing and tragic story of the first openly gay elected official in California. After three attempts Harvey Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in 1977. Among his accomplishments during his brief tenure was the passage of a landmark bill banning sexual discrimination in public services and employment. Pragmatic as well as visionary, he also helped pass the popular “pooper scooper bill” requiring dog owners to pick up after their pets.

In 1978, after only 11 months in office, Milk was gunned down along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a homophobic fellow supervisor. Nearly 50,000 mourners marched to express their grief at his death. 

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Since then numerous LGBTQ candidates have been elected to local and national offices and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has become first the openly gay candidate running for president. Milk helped make all this possible and was a martyr for the cause of equal rights.

“The Times of Harvey Milk” is available on the Criterion Channel.

Go to www.criterionchannel.com/the-times-of-harvey-milk.

Buzz kill

According to a recent story in The Washington Post, last winter saw the highest loss of honeybees ever recorded in the United States. Markus Imhoof’s 2012 “More Than Honey” investigated this “colony collapse disorder” when it was first becoming a source of concern. As Imhoof points out, one third of the world’s food supply is dependent on pollination by bees.

In his search for answers Imhoof journeys from a huge factory-like bee colony in California to a refuge for an untainted strain of bees in Australia. He visits a latter-day hippie in Arizona who wants to interbreed his stock with African killer bees and a Swiss apiarist who drives off incursions from other hives to maintain the “racial purity” of his own colony.

For a glimpse at a possible future, Imhoof goes to a region in northern China, where unwise agricultural policies imposed decades ago have virtually exterminated all the bees. Now armies of human workers must pollinate crops by hand.

With its stunning shots of bees at work and in flight, “More Than Honey” provides a close-up look at this irreplaceable species as it warns of the catastrophic consequences of its potential extinction.

“More Than Honey” can be seen on Filmatique starting on July 19.

Go to filmatique.uscreen.io.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.