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'John Lewis: Good Trouble' highlights the civil rights icon's remarkable life

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) returned to the bridge in Selma, Alabama where he marched for civil rights 55 years ago.

Posted: Aug 28, 2020 3:00 AM
Updated: Aug 28, 2020 3:00 AM

"John Lewis: Good Trouble" derives its title from a favorite saying of the civil-rights icon and longtime congressman, but "Being John Lewis" -- and witnessing the effect he has on those who meet him -- might be equally apt. A fitting if slightly disjointed tribute, the CNN Films documentary is somehow both timely and timeless in honoring a man who has spent his entire adult life in the public arena.

"When you see something that is not right ... say something! Do something!" Lewis is shown saying, time and again, in speeches and appearances, counseling his audiences on the periodic need for "good trouble, necessary trouble."

For Lewis, shown in his early 20s as a Freedom Rider, at the March on Washington and walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, that has included enduring beatings by police and dozens of arrests, some of which, he adds wryly, came during his time in Congress.

"The reason why he's effective as a leader is because he's lived it," says the late Elijah Cummings, one of several congressional colleagues -- including Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Cory Booker -- who provide perspective and anecdotes, along with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Much is made, amusingly, of the awe that Lewis inspires among people, recognizing that encountering the 80-year-old legislator is essentially a direct link to some of US history's signature events. An aide quips that walking through an airport with him takes far longer than the actual number of steps required.

Because Lewis became an activist at an early age, his biography is given relatively short shrift. The most salient personal details -- provided in part by Lewis' siblings -- surround his courtship and marriage to his wife, Lillian, who died in 2012.

Directed by Dawn Porter ("Bobby Kennedy for President"), the film's strongest asset is inevitably the extensive access enjoyed to Lewis himself, who speaks eloquently about the nation's long road to justice and equality ("We're not quite there yet"), his emotional response to Barack Obama's election and his commitment to fight for what he believes ("As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can").

In terms of drawbacks, the film hopscotches around a bit too much, jumping back and forth in time -- a byproduct, perhaps, of the volume of ground there is to cover, a trait also evident in Hulu's recent four-part Hillary Clinton biography, "Hillary."

The filmmakers are also there to observe election night in 2018, capturing the exultation when the Democrats took back the House. That victory aside, the erosion of the Voting Rights Act that Lewis fought to enact in the 1960s is presented as a call to action and a focal point of the work yet to be done.

Beyond previously unseen material, the most intriguing interlude highlights Lewis' 1986 campaign for his Georgia congressional seat, against longtime friend and fellow civil-rights activist Julian Bond. The bare-knuckles nature of that contest temporarily frayed their relationship -- they're shown conducting an awkward interview after the race -- displaying a tougher side to Lewis that offers some balance to his saintly image.

Mostly, though, "Good Trouble" appears content to bask in Lewis' larger-than-life persona, which includes a grandfatherly elder-statesman status that allows him to refer to 47-year-old Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and presidential candidate, as "this kid."

Lewis -- who is battling pancreatic cancer -- was not much more than a kid when he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and has seemingly lived three lives since then. That's why despite the documentary's uneven aspects, his legacy is ample motivation for any student of history to see "Good Trouble" as a good investment.

"John Lewis: Good Trouble" will be available in select theaters and on demand beginning July 3.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 156868

Reported Deaths: 3851
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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