Blood Done Sign My Name Glosses Civil Rights History


Based on Duke professor Timothy Tyson’s titular memoir/recounting of the murder of an African-American Vietnam vet by three white men in Oxford, North Carolina, in 1970, Blood Done Sign My Name is an earnest, if inert, civil rights docudrama clearly shot on the cheap (many of the wigs appear to have been borrowed from the Black Dynamite set). The film opens with 10-year-old Tyson’s preacher dad, Vernon (Rick Schroder, pleasingly paternal), trying to integrate his lily-white parish. Across town, Ben Chavis (Nate Parker) returns to the Tar Heel state to teach high school English, impressing the kids when he says he knew Stokely Carmichael. The parallel stories are dutiful, dull recapitulations of the call to righteous leadership: Chavis (who would preside over the NAACP and organize the Million Man March in the ’90s) leads roughly 1,000 men, women, and children from Oxford to Raleigh to protest the sham trial of the three cold-blooded killers. Director and fellow North Carolinian Jeb Stuart, who also adapted Tyson’s book (other writing credits: Die Hard, Another 48 Hrs.), tries to address thornier issues of violent versus nonviolent protest, but too often, the film props up caricatures and constructs in its superficial gloss on history.

Archive Highlights