Shot in black and white in 1964, Nothing But a Man is a simple, poignant film that tells the tale of one man’s struggle to break the chains that threaten to bind him to a life of drink, servitude, and irresponsibility.
Set in the segregated South of 1960s America, and written by Jewish filmmakers, director Michael Roemer and cinematographer Robert M. Young–after travelling through the region and immersing themselves in African-American life–this is arguably one of the best movies ever made on how racial prejudice stifles manhood, destroys families, and shatters communities.
With stellar performances from the two main leads, Ivan Dixon (later of Hogan’s Heroes) and jazz singer, Abbey Lincoln, Nothing But a Man should be compulsory viewing in all Sociology lessons and film schools.
Ultimately, though, this is a film most impressive because it’s nothing but a love story set amongst the harsh realities of racism in America. And you don’t see that very often; black characters considered suitable romantic leads for cinematic fiction.
The film has been deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Nothing But a Man1 was reputedly the favourite film of Malcolm X.
- This film is not part of the black independent film movement but rather what Donald Bogle calls “Black Art Films.” Bogle says, “[Appearing] during the first half of the 1960s, a quartet of inexpensively but sensitively made motion pictures offered grimly realistic and cynical looks at black America” (200). Other films of this sub-genre included John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1961), Shirley Clarke‘s The Cool World (1963) and Sam Weston and Larry Peerce’s One Potato, Two Potato (1964). Nothing But a Man, positioned before the effects of the Black Power rebellion, coupled with Killer of Sheep coming after the height of the rebellion, demonstrate how little life in the Black community had changed despite the legitimization of the civil rights movement and the fury wrought by the black power rebellion of the late 1960s. [↩]