photo: Nothing But A Man
Nothing But a Man is a simple portrayal of the daily experiences of its protagonist Duff Anderson, a black railroad worker. Living a drifting life, Duff finds companionship in Josie, a captivating schoolteacher, who awakens him into rethinking his aspirations. Existing with loose familial ties, including a strained relationship with his alcoholic father and a young son he refuses to emotionally acknowledge, his desire to plant roots inspires him to seek stability in the form of domestic life with a new found love.
Yet with marriages come even greater struggles, as Duff tries to uphold his integrity and earn respect in a racist society. One of the most powerful moments depicts Duff’s refusal to laugh at a white superior’s joke. We witness a relentless man, unwilling to compromise his dignity and strength of character in light of the growing turbulence of 1960s Alabama. Working with emotional portraits, the film easily establishes empathy and the neutral delivery creates a cinematic piece sensitive to the inner workings of its characters. The authenticity of the characters, in their visual appearances and the nature of their discourse, allows the audience to fully grasp the situations that surround and consume them. Still, the deliberate ease of pace, whilst commendable, borders on the mundane, with segments struggling to maintain the viewer’s attention.
The film intends to use limited means to depict the conditions of a constrained civil rights era. Nonetheless, although the film allows one to dwell on its historic backdrop, both on and off screen, the fact that it is heralded for its pivotal role in introducing black cinema means little when taken as a neo realistic cinematic piece. The essence of the storyline and the finished product leaves an overly bare and lengthy film. Even with the genuinely portrayed scenes, structures and story lines, this film could do more to maintain the hold it initially captures. See it to observe its grace, knowing that its undemanding depiction offers a raw film that never fully blossoms.