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Culture: Film Reviews

The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel

It is 1963 in Detroit. Mattie Moss Clark (Aunjanue Ellis), mother of five daughters, gets an idea for a gospel song in the middle of the night. She rouses her young daughters, gathers them around the piano, and before long they are singing the refrain in perfect harmony. The family, including their father, Elbert (Demore Barnes), belongs to the Church of God in Christ, where he is a deacon.

Mattie, who directs, is convinced she and her daughters have a calling to sing the Gospel to the church. Twinkie (Christina Bell), the eldest daughter, writes the songs and the music, while Karen (Kierra ‘Kiki’ Sheard), Dorinda (Shelea Frazier), Denise (Raven Goodwin), and Jacky (Angela Birchett) are the singers. Their lives reach a certain rhythm, but Elbert is jealous and accuses Mattie of ambition. He becomes violent toward Mattie and Twinkie (who is not his biological child, but who is the only father she’s ever known), and a divorce follows.

Tensions arise when Twinkie, whom Mattie has pulled out of school so she can travel with her and write music, wants to continue her studies. When Twinkie reveals she is pregnant right before a church convention, where their moral virtue must be unassailable at all times, Mattie is angry and heartbroken.

The young women want to popularize their music and reach a secular audience. When the Clark Sisters are nominated for a Grammy and invited to sing on television, Mattie is called before the bishop and church elders, who take away her title as president of the International Music Department of the church. They demand that neither she nor her daughters continue to perform. Mattie, ever strong, replies that she is called to preach to all nations. When they reply that she is to be humble and obedient, she walks out.

The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel premiered to an audience of 2.7 million on Lifetime when it aired in April, an all-time record for the network. The film is directed by Christine Swanson, and the story and teleplay are by Camille Tucker in her first feature film.

The story of these powerful women draws you in. It is easy to identify with the domestic trials and challenges the family faces. While the story may feel like an inspiring soap opera, what makes the film stand out are the amazing vocal performances, especially the gospel performance at the Grammy Awards. The Clark Sisters are an American treasure who made gospel music mainstream. The film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Not yet rated • Domestic violence.

 

Boys State

Boys State

This documentary, which won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year, is both inspiring and deeply troubling. Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss produce and direct with Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim as an executive producer. Together they reveal an annual gathering most of us probably never heard of.

Since 1937, the American Legion has sponsored boys and girls (high school seniors, usually at different times) to gather for a week of leadership training in state government. This documentary, which begins very slowly and crescendos to a fever pitch, takes place in Austin, Texas, and follows the initial selection process for thousands of boys who will learn the process of running for governor and other offices in their state. Ben is ultraconservative and inspired by Ronald Reagan; Steven is the child of parents who immigrated from Mexico. Ben learns that lying is necessary for politicians to succeed, even if he sacrifices his morals to do it. Steven, by contrast, holds on to his principles in a gathering dominated by those who uphold pro-gun rights and anti-abortion views.

The film quotes George Washington, who believed the two-party system would subvert the power of the people. I found the film challenging in that it shows young men growing up to be just like some of those who hold office currently. But it showed signs of character and courage in some of the boys, which offers hope for our contentious public square. I hope they make a film about Girls State next. This film is currently streaming on AppleTV+.

Not yet rated, PG-13 • Lying for personal gain.

 

Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story

Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story

In 1934, a 13-year-old Wyoming boy named Kenny Sailors had to shoot a ball over the head of his 6’5” brother. Standing still, he jumped straight up. Using one hand, he shot the ball in an arc and made the basket. The move was an innovation that has become so stan-dard in the game of basketball that the man who developed it has been all but forgotten.

One of the greatest moments for Sailors was in 1943 at the NCAA championship, played at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where the University of Wyoming beat Georgetown 46–34. Sailors was voted the most outstanding player. Life magazine memorialized his jump shot at this game for generations to come.

After college, military service in World War II, and a brief career in the newly formed NBA, Sailors retired for the sake of his wife’s health and moved to Glennallen, Alaska. There he coached high school basketball (and other sports) for 35 years. He died in 2016.

Basketball greats such as Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and others are trying to make Sailor’s humble life known, a life filled with basketball, God, family, and the US Marines. I loved this documentary—it is guaranteed to inspire. Jump Shot is available at JumpShotMovie.com and will be streaming on various platforms soon.

Not yet rated • No objectionable content.


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