|Summary:||A shameful chapter in American history is powerfully dramatized in Rosewood, but moviegoers in 1997 may not have been ready for the African American equivalent of Schindler's List. And while the massacre that occurred in the nearly all-black town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1922 cannot compare in scale to the Nazi holocaust, it potently illustrates the same issues of racism and inherited intolerance that percolate at every level of human existence. An estimated 40 to 150 blacks were killed in Rosewood by an all-white lynch mob from the neighboring town of Sumner, where a white woman falsely claimed she'd been assaulted by a black man. The resulting mayhem ignited a tinderbox of resentment toward the flourishing citizens of Rosewood, and those few who survived were so traumatized that they remained silent until the truth was revealed by an investigative journalist in 1982.
The film is blessed with richly authentic production design, lush cinematography, and a subtly effective John Williams score, and director John Singleton and screenwriter Gregory Poirier embellish the truth of Rosewood with a fictional hero named Mann (Ving Rhames), who arrives to buy a five-acre plot coveted by Rosewood's white grocer (John Voight). The emerging trust between these two characters--and the fate of an extended family led by a defiant father (Don Cheadle)--gives shape to the movie's devastating depiction of racism and the courage of those who opposed the lynch mob's brutality. Singleton and Poirier fall prey to some bad dialogue and a broadly unbalanced depiction of bloodthirsty hayseeds, but the film's passion is maintained by its superb cast and the timeless echoes of history. --Jeff Shannon