Roy Smith 2000
Distributed by Distributed by Filmakers Library, Inc. , 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4983
Produced by Written, Produced & Directed by Jerry Kuhlman, Toko Mas Productions
Directed by Director n/a
VHS, color, 88 min.
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers
Date Entered: 11/09/2018
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University
Roy Smith was hit over the head, beaten, attacked by dogs, hung upside down in his own home, and threatened with castration. This gruesome litany of abuses spills from this soft spoken man in the horrifying introduction to this extraordinary documentary. This is a story about the power of violence to injure the human spirit, and the power of that spirit to “be bold, stand out, and speak about what’s evil, so that others might be free from it too.”
As a young child growing up in Mississippi, Smith witnessed Klan violence; he saw black men lynched and burned to death. Permanently scarred by the horror, he fled Mississippi as a youngster and rode the rails as a hobo kid. And, although he later returned home and resumed his schooling, he dropped out in the seventh grade, an illiterate. In the 1970s, after years of wandering, Smith ended up as a cowboy and miner living on a hillside claim in rural Gilpin County, Colorado.
Hardworking and unassuming, Smith became the target of vicious, racially motivated assaults that made him feel “sort of like a branch of a human being, but not really a human being, because these things didn’t happen to human beings.” When he filed complaints with the local sheriff’s department, not only did the department fail to investigate thoroughly, it referred to Smith in its files as “Nigger Roy” and accused him of “confabulation.” In essence the sheriff’s department not only condoned the violence, but also fostered a climate in which the attacks could escalate without fear of punishment. After suffering years of abuse Smith sued the county for violation of his civil rights and was awarded a substantial judgment. The presiding judge in Smith’s civil rights suit characterized as the events as the “most appalling and reprehensible record” he had ever seen.
An unlikely hero, Smith is both a model of eloquence and forbearance. No individual was ever prosecuted for the abuses perpetrated against Roy Smith. Although he could have brought suit against his individual persecutors, he chose not to do so, because as he said, he knew personally what it was like to lose his home. In an inspiring closing scene, Smith holds Federal Supplement volume 949 and reads the Colorado court’s decision in his case, a decision he believes will permit the defendants to “move forward and get out from under this here weight that’s holding them down….” Writer/director Kuhlman has woven together a gripping story using filmed depositions, news reports, interviews and archival footage; the music by “Cactus” Jack Chivvis with vocals by Smith himself is a superb backdrop to the story.
This remarkable documentary is appropriate for high school and above and is a very highly recommended addition to college and university video collections and has special relevance for African American Studies, American Studies, Sociology, Psychology, and Criminal Justice programs.