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Unforgivable Blackness-Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

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Product Overview

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson tells the story of the first African American boxer to win the most coveted title in all of sports and his struggle, in and out of the ring, to live his life as a free man.

This riveting two-part documentary follows Jack Johnson's remarkable journey from his humble beginnings in Galveston, Texas, as the son of former slaves, to his entry into the brutal world of professional boxing, where, in turn-of-the-century Jim Crow America, the heavyweight champion was an exclusively "white title." Despite the odds, Johnson was able to batter his way up through the professional ranks, and in 1908 he became the first African-American to earn the title Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Johnson's victory set in motion a worldwide search for a Great White Hope to restore the title to the white race. And when no one could be found to beat the champion in the ring, his own government tried to destroy him in the courts, using his relationships with white women as an excuse to prosecute him. Determined to live his life regardless of the confines imposed by his color, Jack Johnson emerges as a central figure in America's ongoing struggle to deal with the question of race.


Studio PBS
SKU 201994624
UPC 841887050623
UPC 14 00841887050623
Format DVD
Release Date 1/11/2005
Aspect Ratio
Anamorphic Widescreen  1.85:1
Name Burns,Ken
Link Search Link
Cast & Crew
Buddy Squires - Cinematographer
Erik Ewers - Editor
Geoffrey C. Ward - Writer
Jack Johnson - Featuring
James Earl Jones - Featuring
Keith David - Narrated By
Ken Burns - Director
Muhammad Ali - Featuring
Paul Barnes - Editor
Paul Barnes, et. al. - Producer
Stephen McCarthy - Cinematographer
Wynton Marsalis - Original Music By
Nominee (2006) Image Award, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, Outstanding TV News, Talk or Information (Series or Special)
Winner (2005) Emmy, David Schaye, et. al., Outstanding Nonfiction Special,Emmy, Keith David, Outstanding Voice-Over Performance,Emmy, Geoffrey C. Ward, Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming
Nominee (2005) Emmy, Ken Burns, Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming,Emmy, Sean Huff, et. al., Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera)
ReviewSource The Onion A.V. Club
Review Unforgivable Blackness is symmetrically halved, with one segment documenting Johnson's rise, and the other his fall. Not surprisingly, the rise is exponentially more fun - Burns vividly recreates a nighttime world of flashy clothes, comical mustaches, dens of iniquity, pasty-faced opponents with hopeful nicknames, and vaudeville houses where Johnson picked up extra cash...Johnson was a magnificent physical specimen who loved the camera, and it loved him right back; Burns makes terrific use of silent footage of Johnson's fights. The government's persecution of Johnson, the damage racism inflicted on his life and career, and his tumultuous romantic history all give Unforgivable Blackness a distinctly tragic air, but the film ends on an upbeat note. All Johnson ever wanted to do was to live as a free man, and that's something he accomplished, even while behind bars.
Reviewer Nathan Rabin
ReviewRating 7
ReviewSource Slant Magazine
Review One frequently wishes Burns's lackadaisical film would, like Johnson's custom-made sports cars, kick into high gear during the film's more somber second half. Still, the director's reportorial thoroughness illustrates how, having bested every contender in the land, Johnson was undone by the federal government's underhanded attempts to destroy him for dating fair-skinned women...Johnson was eventually disgraced and ruined, forced by the federal government to flee the country that had made him a star, but Burns's stirring film is ultimately a tragedy about the nation, not the man. For despite an unfitting, ignominious end, Unforgivable Blackness also proves that, no matter what punches were thrown at him, no one ever wiped that triumphant smile off of Jack Johnson's face.
Reviewer Nick Schager
ReviewRating 8
Product Attributes
Actor Burns,Ken
Music Format DVD
Video Format DVD
Adam Nayman, Eye Weekly ...its hefty duration will be -- like its creator's approach to historical portraiture -- wholly uncompromised.
Jordan Burke, DVD Journal ...distinctive not merely because of [Burns'] unique, formalist style, but also because of his singular focus upon American history.
Todd McCarthy, Variety ...Burns has hit on a great subject...irresistibly engrossing...a jewel in the crown of PBS...

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