I've been renting movies I've seen before to see how I feel about them now. Boycott, the 2001 HBO film about the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, is still near the top of my list for favorite films this century. The film stays close to the truth of the matter and is filled with excellent performances, starting at the top of the cast with my original adopted actor Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Terrence Howard as his close friend, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
There are many people involved in the production of Boycott who would return to HBO to appear in the fantastic series The Wire. Most notable of these people is Clark Johnson, the director of Boycott and best known in front of the camera as Gus Haynes of the Baltimore Sun. He also has a cameo role here.
Boycott makes clear how important women were to the success of the protest, and best known of these women is Rosa Parks, wonderfully underplayed by Iris Little-Thomas.
The role of Coretta King is played by British actress Carmen Egojo, who like most Brits playing Yank nowadays shows absolutely no trace of an accent. She and Wright have a lovely scene at the beginning of the movie when he is trying to write a sermon and she puts on a record of Nat King Cole singing Walking My Baby Back Home, and the young couple dance very tenderly together.
In real life, Wright and Egojo are married and have a child.
CCH Pounder may be better known than the actresses previously mentioned, but she plays the less known but pivotal character Jo Ann Robinson. The bus boycott started on the day of Rosa Parks' trial and Jo Ann Robinson was the major impetus for this start, before there was any organization called the Montgomery Improvement Association or Dr. King had been drafted to be its leader.
Reg E. Cathey, another actor who would also be in The Wire, plays the role of E.D. Nixon, who was both a labor organizer and a member of the N.A.A.C.P. before getting involved with the boycott.
Brent Jennings, who is so good as Ron Washington ("Wash") in the current movie Moneyball, plays Rufus Lewis. It is remarkable to me with as much star power as this film has at how my eye would always see Jennings in a scene and wonder what he would do next.
But for scene stealing, Boycott's great late addition to the cast is Erik Todd Dellums as the "outside agitator" Bayard Rustin. He comes to Montgomery and is treated by all assembled as something of a pop star, but his main interest is to make sure the boycott remains a non-violent movement. He does not stay long; by this time, Rustin was already an ex-Communist and had been arrested on a morals charge because of his homosexuality, so his association can only be brief and informal. Still, he has a wonderful scene with Coretta, who remembers well a speech Rustin gave at Antioch College. Dellums plays the scene with a very understandable and cosmopolitan flirtatiousness, excited and flattered regardless of his orientation that a lovely young woman pays him a well-deserved compliment.
Dellums also goes on to be in the cast of The Wire as the coroner.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am not an impartial arbiter of a movie like Boycott. Some of my favorite movies are "based on a true story" films. From HBO, I liked Boycott, Conspiracy and Band of Brothers. On the big screen, there's David Fincher's Zodiac and The Social Network and Clint Eastwood's Changeling and of course, Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy. I even have a soft spot for a good "based on a true story" sports movie like Moneyball or Secretariat.
In conclusion, if you haven't seen Boycott, put in on your rental list. If you have seen it, you might enjoy watching it again. I know I did.