Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Bobby Seale

Five Films About Race in America


With Martin Luther King Day upon us its only timely to consider our country’s notoriously turbulent history on racial issues and the bitter divisions that remain today. It’s a difficult topic one that many movie directors prefer to side step altogether and even fewer can do it justice.  Here are five examples of films that successfully tackled race head on.

Malcolm X (1992) Spike Lee produced, directed, and co-wrote the screenplay and Denzel Washington starred in the title role, in this epic biopic about the famous African American activist. The film follows Malcolm’s troubled childhood raised by his mentally ill mother after his father’s murder, his conversion to the Nation of Islam while in prison, and his career as an incendiary activist which ended in his assassination.  He would however, become an inspiration to millions; including Nelson Mandela. Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to do With It?) plays Malcolm’s wife Betty Shabazz, Al Freeman Jr. (Finian’s Rainbow, Roots; The Next Generation) Malcolm’s tutor and teacher Elijah Muhammed, and Delroy Lindo (Get Shorty, The Cider House Rules) is a gangster known as West Indian Archie. Denzel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, and the movie’s garnered a fresh rating of over 90% at Rotten Tomatoes.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011) This award winning documentary directed by Goran Olsson chronicles the evolution of the Black Power movement through the late sixties to mid seventies as seen by Swedish Journalists and film-makers. Featuring found footage over thirty years old including appearances by Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Lewis Farrakhan, Ingrid Dahlberg and more.  Additional voiceovers and commentaries were provided by Erykah Badu and Amir Questlove who helped provide the musical score. Among the topics covered are the Black Panther Party, War on Drugs, and the anti-war movement.

Hidden Figures (2016)  Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) directed and co-wrote the screenplay adapted by the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterley telling the too long unknown story of black, women, mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Taraji Henson (Empire, Person of Interest, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is revelatory as the brilliant Katherine Goble Johnson. Octavia Spencer (The Help, Fruitvale Station) commands the screen as hyper competent Dorothy Vaughn and singer Janella Monae shines as sassy, ambitious Mary Jackson. They make a truly unforgettable trio on screen together and the cast is rounded out with memorable turns by Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and Mahershala Ali. The movie was a critical (over 90% fresh rating) and commercial success. Indeed it was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee that year.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) Directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this Academy Award-nominated documentary is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House.  Baldwin died before he completing his memoir of his memories of such personal friends of his as Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr., but Jackson and Peck give him a voice beyond the grave to create a biography  the Wall Street Journal called ‘enthralling…a evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era.’

Moonlight (2016) Barry Jenkins wrote and directed this ground breaking picture based on Tarell McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. (Jenkins wisely abbreviated the title.) Presenting three stages, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in the life of Chiron, the neglected son of drug addicted Paula, as he navigates his sexuality and identity. It’s pivotal theme is black male identity and how that intersects with sexual identity. The film was universally acclaimed with a 98% fresh rating, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and McCraney, and Best Picture. It was the first film with an all black cast AND first LGBT film to win Best Picture.

Top photo from Bigstock: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, as seen on April 16, 2016. This memorial is the first African American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall.

Jeff McCarthy in Kunstler – Vibrant


“My function is not to represent the darlings of society, but to represent the damned.” Willliam Kunstler

William Kunstler (1919-1995) was a radically liberal lawyer with politically unpopular clients. Once a Westchester “parlor liberal,” he began by helping a local black family in a housing discrimination case, got involved with the ACLU, and found himself in Jackson, Mississippi representing 400 Freedom Riders. It was here, blatant bigotry and injustice lit a fire under the practitioner.

“In the 1960s, there were two major causes, the Vietnam War and the 1968 election.” When the Berrigan brothers protested against the former, Kunstler acted as defense. When demonstration leaders were arrested at Chicago’s Democratic Convention, Kunstler was called to the front. It was his representation (with Leonard Weinglass) of the infamous Chicago Seven that brought the advocate to national prominence. There were initially eight, but having vociferously demanded to represent himself, Bobby Seale was literally gagged and shackled in court. Kunstler, finding it “impossible to continue with a black man in chains,” saw to it The Black Panther’s trial was separate.

The Catonsville Nine, Black Panther Party, the Weather Underground Organization, Attica Prison rioters, and the American Indian Movement kept him in public view. Less favorable publicity dogged clients including, in part, the daughter of Malcom X-accused of plotting an assassination, the head of the Egyptian-based terrorist group responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and members of The Gambino crime family. The play doesn’t address these.


It’s 1995. William Kunstler (Jeff McCarthy) has been invited to speak to law students at an unnamed college. We hear protesters outside. A dummy has been hung in effigy. The guest’s ambivalent student handler, Kerry (Nambi E. Kelley), anxiously tries to get rid of it. She needn’t worry. Kunstler has a sense of stoic humor about the world’s reactions to his unswerving principles. Acknowledging awareness of objections while advising attendees to read the incendiary flyers and make up their own minds, he starts with several lawyer jokes: “What do you call a lawyer gone bad? A senator.”

Playwright Jeffrey Sweet’s portrait of Kunstler is as entertaining as it is riveting. The civil rights crusader was whip smart, passionate, caustic, and very much a showman, avowedly in the service of clients. His reputation for handling the press, shouting matches and humor in court is ably depicted by monologue that reflects these characteristics. Various cases/trials are related in the first person with illuminating details and personal observations. All are comprehensible. If you lived through these times, recognition is swift. If unfamiliar, situations are chronicled in such a way it’s difficult to imagine being unaffected.


This Kunstler rants, sings, quotes, enacts, and conscripts Kerry into playing the Chicago judge “who looked like Elmer Fudd” in excerpts of court transcript. His legal approach indicates “I don’t believe in putting process above people” might have been the defender’s motto. Kelly’s presence is unnecessary, though she offers another voice and later foil/questioning reaction.

Jeff McCarthy lopes down the aisle, white mane in permanent flight. Inhabiting Kunstler like second skin, the actor delivers tirades as credibly as ba-dump-dump jokes.  He addresses the audience with focus and provocation, visibly thinks, and occasionally (purposefully) loses track swept up in recollection. McCarthy is all over the stage without a false move. We attend, laugh, and cringe.


Nambi E. Kelley does a yeoman like job showing curious passivity when listening to the controversial presentation. She fares better when playing the judge.

Director Meagen Fay gives us a living breathing man, humanity and idiosyncrasies intact. Stage business is subtle, pacing is pitch perfect.

I found the use of Original Music & Sound Design by Will Severin intrusive and distracting except for outside protestors.

A documentary about Kunstler by his children entitled William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, had a screening as part of the Documentary Competition of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp
Opening: Kunstler’s image of Roy Cohn

Jeff McCarthy in Kunstler
Written by Jeffrey Sweet
Directed by Meagen Fay
59East 59 Theaters
58 East 59th Street
Through March 12, 2017


February 28 – Ronald L. Kuby, Esq., former intern and informal partner in William Kunstler’s Firm. 

March 2 – Elizabeth McAlister Berrigan, wife of the late Philip Berrigan. She and the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip were incarcerated for their actions of peaceful protest against the Vietnam War at Catonsville and Harrisburg. 

March 7 – Sarah and Emily Kunstler, daughters of William Kunstler and co-founders of Off Center Media, a production company that produces documentaries exposing injustice in the criminal justice system. 

March 9 – Vincent Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights.