‘South to Black Power’ Review: A Great Migration in Reverse

‘South to Black Power’ Review: A Great Migration in Reverse

The documentary “South to Black Power” — directed by Sam Pollard and Llewellyn M. Smith — employs many of the gestures a newspaper opinion piece might. Which is apt, since Charles M. Blow, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, is the film’s searching guide — but also, at times, its expounding subject.

Based on his 2021 book, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto,” the film revisits Blow’s argument that the only way for Black Americans “to lift the burden of white supremacy” is head to the South. With this “Great Migration in reverse,” they can build a majority and take hold of the political levers of those states and their legislatures.

During the 2020 presidential election, Georgia, where Blow now resides, offered tantalizing evidence of the kind of might he envisions. In this documentary, which is filmed in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, Blow visits Mississippi, Alabama, the Carolinas (with a warm stopover at his childhood home in Gibsland, La.).

He bolsters his thesis but also stress tests it with people who have never left, who have left and returned, or, like the author Jemar Tisby, who have put down new roots with uplift in mind.

In a nice bit of journalistic even-handedness, several of Blow’s interviewees are not entirely convinced by his thesis, or they believe there are other paths to political gains. For example, the community strategist Asiaha Butler shares why she decided to stay in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, despite the gun violence and the tug of family in the South. Her story of how seeing a young girl playing alone in a vacant lot and throwing bottles into the street cinched it — she had to remain — is as moving as it is authentic. And her reasons are as committed to empowering Black Americans where they are as Blow’s call for mass migration.

South to Black Power
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. Watch on Max.

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