Monday, February 7, 2011

Soundtrack for a Revolution (2009)

Group 2 Responses (400 word minimum). Focus on themes, or specific scene shots, or some other aspect of the film or its social, cultural, musical context. Due by the end of Tuesday.

Group 1 comments (200 word minimum): Supply a thoughtful comment that expands upon one (or several) of Group 1 responses.


  1. First off I want to say that I really enjoyed this documentary. It made me look at the Civil Rights Movement like I never have before. As a child I learned about the Civil Rights Movement plenty of times since February is black history month, but it was always talked about and taught pretty much the same way every year. This documentary talked about it in a way I was never taught before. I got to learn about the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes and the stories and the songs of the African Americans who lived through it and fought to have equal rights in America. My favorite and most memorable quote in the documentary was, "Policemen can't stop you from singing which meant we could keep our souls." This quote is what I believe sets the tone for the whole documentary.
    Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and Rosa Parks were the two people who really got the Civil Rights Movement started. They were the first ones to say to their fellow African Americans that they did not have to live this way; that the injustices that were being done to all African Americans no longer had to be tolerated. They could stand together and make a change for what is right. The movement began with boycotting the city buses. After standing strong together during the boycott, the Supreme Court ordered bus segregation as unconstitutional. "Everybody Wants Freedom" and the success of the bus boycott proved that their peaceful protests could make a real difference.
    One of the most influential songs throughout the Civil Rights Movement was “We Shall Overcome.” This song was inspiring for the people of this movement. They sang this song and so many others so they could use their spirituality through singing. The songs of the movement brought them together for the cause and made them strong and united; helped them through the darkest parts. They believed in their hearts that some day they shall overcome all the hate and injustice. They believed that some day they would have true freedom and they would not have to live in fear or as outcasts in their society. The defining moment for the Civil Rights Movement was the march on Washington. Everyone came to the nation’s capitol to hear Martin L. King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln memorial. Thousands upon thousands came to hear King’s speech, blacks and whites together.
    Alabama and Mississippi were the two most dangerous states for African Americans during the mid-1960s. These two states were the roughest because there was zero protection for blacks because it was “the law” who did the harm to blacks, and to any whites who tried to help them. Sheriff Jim Clark and Governor Walus were known for their very deep hatred of African Americans. They either turned a blind eye to any beatings or murders of African Americans or they were a part of it. The sheriff of Mississippi turned a white man and two black men, which he had arrested together one night, over to the Klu Klux Klan knowing that they would brutally kill them. That was the most shocking and unbelievable thing to me. I had no idea that things that inhumane happened, and that someone could be that cold and heartless to an innocent person just because of their skin color and for that reason alone.
    In the end, after sticking with using peaceful, non-violent means of protest they were able to make a change and got their freedom by wiping out segregation all over America. President Johnson affirmed blacks. He said, “Their cause is our cause, and we shall overcome.”

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. We shall overcome, such a strong and unwavering statement.. This also happens to be the one of the few songs I was familiar with. I really enjoyed this documentary and the fresh look on the civil rights movement. I rarely heard anything about song in all the teaching and films ive been shown in school and after freshly educated I wonder why? The songs that suppressed blacks sang enabled them to sing what they dare not say in public. I can only marvel at the will of the suppressed peoples in some of the film clips I saw, I don’t know if id be able to clinch my fists and just sing while I was being treated so disrespectfully. I have to say the power of song is so strong and it is so evident in this movie.

    Overall I thought the way the film was edited and produced was extremely well when covering such a harsh and sometimes overwhelming topic. I think the way the directors were able to intertwine the interviews with real and very shocking film clips from the civil right era and in some cases match up the film with the story that was being told. Another idea from the directors that I thought was really interesting was the ability to take the songs that shaped a nation and have them preformed by musicians (John Legend, Joss Stone, The Roots, Wyclef John, etc..) who are in fact shaping their own musical landscape. I would have liked to hear more of the original cuts of the songs but I cant complain, that may have been very hard to acquire or maybe just wasn’t in the taste of the directors.

  4. In response to Kaitlyn G:

    You would be amazed to the information left out of the history books and history classes. Even this documentary only touches lightly to the extent of all the people involved in the movement or the organization of it. The month of February is just not long enough to discuss all the history. Their history should be in the books and in the class at all times.

    I completely agree. This film is truly amazing. Sometimes seeing things visually gives a better perspective on the violence these people endured. Especially being someone who grew up in Mississippi, the violence and racism is out of control even today. One can read these horrible stories but seeing the faces and the violent energy behind these acts of hate and fear is truly life changing.

    I also agree with the music being amazing as well. The music seemed to be truly the inspiration that motivated all. I love that quote as well. They could not take their song. Music was their voice, their anthem and their power. Not to mention, the music is deeply moving and amazing in itself. Sometimes I forget just how powerful music is and then I watch films like this one.

  5. Response to Kaitlyn G…
    I agree; the documentary definitely put some much needed emotion into the Civil Rights movement. For me, it took the bland pages of the history books and added some spice to bring out the full flavor of the times. “We Shall Overcome” is such a versatile, universal statement and equally as appropriate of a defining song for the movement that forever changed the face of America. I think the purpose of having modern artists perform the songs of the movement was to call our attention to how much distance our society has come; and at the same time how much has not changed at all. In this day and age, our society has such a reactionary approach to struggles and injustices. If we feel wronged we sue. If we feel threatened, we bear arms and fight. If we see something we want, we go get it. All truly noble causes though the means in which we achieve our rights are violent, scandalous, and corrupt. The spiritual hymns of the documentary really called my attention to the almost Zen-like philosophy that the freedom fighters lived by. They achieved so much with so little reaction. Through the action of inaction; they persevered through the thick of this countries darkest hour. I couldn’t imagine the amount of willpower, dedication, and courage it must have taken them to not react with violence and fear against their abusers. It was their faith that carried the movement; a faith that was exemplified through their songs. It couldn’t have been said better, “they can throw us in jail, but they cannot take away our songs”.

  6. In response…

    I also enjoyed this film and I thought it was a creative approach for a civil rights documentary. Growing up in a southern black family and church I had heard many of the songs in this film but never really knew where they came from or thought much about their meaning. “Wade In the Water” and “ Hold On” are songs that me granny used to sing all the time so it was cool to see in the movie. I think that the best part about this film was how they had current Artists sing some of the old hymns/protest songs. There was a different artist doing a live performance after each chapter in the movie as well as people talking about the particular song and where it came from. Using current artists like the Roots, Wycleff and Joss Stone is a great way to relate anything historical to this generation. On that note: I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit I had never even heard of the Freedom Riders. I’m sure my granny is rolling in her f*****g grave.

  7. Only 1 person from group 2 did the homework?? REALLY PEOPLE?!?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I also agree with kaitlyn. Not only because she’s the only blog but the way that the songs of the revolution were able to unite and empower the people of that generation. The hatetred and turmoil that the African Americans had to endure in my eyes was crazy and heartbreaking. Just the amount of hatetred and pure evil that the white Americans were able to produce was appalling. Peaceful protest. Hardcore approach? I think so, I mean the bullying and injustice that the black people had to put up with would make me want to fight back, eye for an eye but they were able to stand strong and unite through music. Songs of freedom.
    The best way I can describe Dr. King’s approach to the movement was smart leadership, killing with kindness, so to speak. Although there were others that did believe in rights through power like the panthers they were not talked about in this film. This film was about music. Protest songs that gave a feeling of hope, togeatherness. Songs that let them concentrate on their goal not on how scared they were when going into these situations that could certainly get them injured or even killed. This film opened my eyes about the civil rights movement more than I knew. We shall overcome.

  11. In response to Kaitlyn G.

    I agree... Many don't know deep details of the brutality that occurred. Most are taught the same things every year and that is not anywhere near reality. I am sure most did not know about the factor that the children had on the whole thing. It really took children being executed for somebody to stop it all ???
    Also, the fact that a peaceful/non violent approach was taken shows how strong the people were. Me knowing myself as well as I do, striking back would have been my first instinct! They were spit on, had lit cigarettes thrown on them, as well as the obvious and endless beatings they took... I like how it was said "we sang to let people know we have been through so much that this will only make us stronger".
    Modified songs from Angie Stone, Mary Mary, Richie Havens, The Roots, & John Legend gave us a feel of just how much music drove the people to continue their fight for equality.

  12. Soundtrack for a revolution was a great film that really touched my heart. This documentary put a face on the revolution. I have heard my mother singing “We Shall Overcome” again and again; sometimes bring tears to her eyes, but I’ve never really understood why this song held so much power until this film. I really enjoyed the fact that anyone that’s interviewed was a soldier in the fight for peace. I have noticed In many history documentaries, so called "experts" break down and explain what you just viewed; Which I particular dislike this trait. I feel is waste time and insults the viewer’s intelligence. This film did a great job to stay away from that model, I felt all of the personal accounts were valid and supported the main theme of the film. I thought the songs of the revolution had two main goals, first to unify the protesters. They used song as a battle cry of unity. They knew anyone singing with them black or white had the same fate at that time. Secondly, being in a situation when you know people are trying to hurt you and not reacting is not possible. The music gave them a peaceful way to express how they felt. If I put myself in their shoes I may not be here today. The will power that these people show is tremendous. My favorite part of the film is when they overlap the images of Dr. King and Obama at the Lincoln memorial. I was in mall during that same image it made me fill like I was a part of the revolution.

  13. Soundtrack for a Revolution is an almost linear journey alongside the movement for civil rights. It’s almost a history of what happened as much as a look into the impact of music both on those hoping for a change and those hoping to join in. But it’s more, the carefully selected images show us a generation in turmoil, and a side of a movement that has often been taught to me as being almost sterile but in fact, through these images, are nothing short of a revolution. It is both, at once, terrifying, and terrifyingly inspiration. A people suppressed rose up and broke off their chains, such a powerful event, coalesced by song and held together by something larger than even the largest figures of the movement. This documentary shows this eloquently.

    The song, the song, the mighty song. Such emphasis on the power of music is emphasized heavily. And through this emphasis I gained an insight on this movement I had never before had. I knew of the songs before, I had heard them quoted, watched history in other settings, felt their impact. But for whatever reason I had never fully appreciated or understood that the songs that were being used were in fact an almost hidden language. They were a germ of inspiration shared amongst the mass, so that no matter where an individual was, they could be a part of this thing going on and could learn the insider language and say hey, I’m with you. No better example of this language’s usage can be shown than when President Johnson said, “This cause must be our cause too. And we shall overcome.” That last part being the words of a song that Doctor King himself had quoted, and was now being echoed back. It was a hidden language, and a powerful message being shared.

    The documentary ends with the last speech of Doctor King, and the eerie impression of foreknowledge of the events ahead. It goes into the brutal death and discusses the atrocious details of how the great man died and shows us the fierce impact it has had on those in his movement. Tears flow and the old man sings his song. It’s like time travel, we’re taken back into the raw exposed nerve sense of what it must have felt like to have lost such an influential figure, to have such a man who was the embodiment of a whole idea, a whole dream, ripped so savagely from us. The documentary was powerful in how it showed us just enough and evoked so many feelings. The documentary made all of this about more than the rising up of one man, and more than how so many people knew common songs, it shows us this was a revolution, a radical shifting in the minds and lives of many.

  14. If you wish to learn more about these type of histories I would advise you to check out the work of Howard Zinn. In particular A People's History of the United States (a book, that is also available online )

    Also we have the documentary The People Speak (based on the book) available in BCTC library -- ask for it at the circulation desk ... it is on reserve under my HUM 120 course (you can check it out for two days)

    Zinn's book "Artists in a Time of War" is also available in our library and it directly addresses the power of music in resistance movements.

    If you want a handy resource how learning about Radical Histories like that documentary. Here is my website where I post information and resources:


    Michael Benton