Half a century after being first released, Michael Roemer’s independent film, Nothing But A Man, has finally made it onto a British cinema screen. The film is set in a small town in the Deep South in the early 1960s, eight years after the last lynching has taken place.
The black community live as second class citizens, racially abused and degraded. Duffy (Ivan Dixon) arrives in the town while working on the railroad and falls for a school teacher, Josie. Duffy attempts to settle in the town and is subjected to social and institutional racism at every turn.
His response to this treatment defines him as a troublemaker. He does not soften but becomes more desperate as forces turn against him. Fellow workers, rather than standing with him bend to the white bosses in fear for themselves. Anger seeps through every frame of this film; it has a quiet deep rage that leaves you consumed with fury.
The characters are complex and excellently portrayed by the magnificent cast of mainly black actors. Josie is strong and subtle; she defies convention by falling for Duffy and has a confidence and strength that is understated and inspiring.
The degradation of relationships, all the humiliation and desperation can be seen as symptoms of a society ravaged by racism and economic deprivation. The film score is superb and powerful and the music adds an extra dimension to the story. At times the soundtrack is awkwardly joyful, when the storyline is anything but, adding to the sinister menace of the situation.
Duffy does not triumph in his story. He is essentially nothing but a man, fighting alone and losing. There is the suggestion throughout the film that if people fought together they could win, but this is only ever hinted at.
Nothing But A Man, directed by Michael Roemer, is out now on limited release.
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