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Picks and Pans Review: Boycott

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HBO (Sat., Feb. 24, 8 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

STARS “1”

It’s 1955, and Rosa Parks (Iris Little-Thomas) is lost in thought on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her mind’s eye sees a beautiful black baby, the face of Jesus and future demonstrators putting their bodies on the line for racial justice. Suddenly the driver is standing over Parks, ordering her to relinquish her seat to a white man and move back to the “colored section.” She responds with a quiet but world-shaking “No.”

With this stirring and evocative scene, director Clark Johnson (best known for his acting in Homicide: Life on the Street) sets the tone for this valuable film on a pivotal event in the civil-rights struggle. Johnson and the production team use any means necessary—straight dramatization, actual and simulated archival footage, even an occasional touch of the surreal—to make the 13-month Montgomery bus boycott compelling and relevant to the contemporary viewer. Jeffrey Wright, far from his flashy role as a drug lord in Shaft, contributes a nuanced portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr.—eloquent, charismatic, dignified beyond his years (he was only 26 when the boycott began), but slightly uncomfortable wearing the mantle of leadership.

Bottom Line: Get on board