Behold Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s Kneel-Down on the House Floor … and Jess Lee Brooks in the Immortal 1941 Movie ‘Sullivan’s Travels’

Published September 27th, 2017, Uncategorized

by Irvin Muchnick

 

On the question of how much longer we will have to endure a cosmic asshole in the White House, no individual citizen has control. Forces of history are in play. If Trump’s authoritarian project prevails, enabled by minority rule, then the answer could even be beyond January 20, 2025.

The only thing individual citizens can control is the power of human dignity.

For a topical display of this quality, I urge readers to take a few moments to watch Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, representing a district in Houston, speak and take a knee on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday as she addresses the ugly, menacing, racial culture war that Trump is stoking. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKhpYlLCRx4.

After being moved to tears by the eloquence of the congresswoman’s oratory and body language, my thoughts turned to the greatest scene in the greatest movie of one of America’s master filmmakers, Preston Sturges. The movie is Sullivan’s Travels (1941), starring Joel McCrea as a rich, privileged director of comedy movies who heads off on the road, disguised as a hobo, to capture a gritty and serious drama. (The title of the intended piece, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, would be echoed by the Coen brothers in 2000.)

At what he thought would be the end of his slumming journey, an accident of circumstance and mistaken identity gets the McCrea character arrested, convicted of felonious assault, and thrown into a prison chain gang.

The emotional staple of Sullivan’s Travels involves a bit of racial role reversal. An African-American church has invited the prisoners as guests for entertainment — a screening of Walt Disney cartoons. The minister, played by Jess Lee Brooks (without listing in the closing credits), asks the congregation to make room for the visitors and not to condescend to them, and as the all-white inmates trudge into the church in chains, breaks out into “Let My People Go.”

Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0CRAavN4EI.