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brought to you by: EspreeNet News Service
Published December 12, 2002

Too Black, Too Strong

Director Spike Lee's Jim Brown: All-American, shows that the NFL Hall of Famer has not outlived his legend.

Terry Baker EspreeNet News Service

Syracuse (ENet News) - Every time I experience a Spike Lee film, I have to smile.

As a photographer it's inspiring to see his interpretation of the black experience as a unique, multi-layered human experience, but not reduced to stereotypes. As a sports fan I enjoyed Lee's biopic of the multi-dimensional, NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

Brown the athlete was revered as a physical phenomenon. Those unfamiliar with his athletic exploits will be mesmerized by the gritty game footage of number 32, and his combination of speed and power, as he gallops around or through defenses. Despite being gang tackled on those snow-covered fields, Brown only missed of one game during his pro career.

Lee interviews Brown's peers, opponents, journalists and teammates, all of whom testified and verified the legend. The most interesting interviews featured Brown himself, wearing his familiar kufi, as he described his running secrets, mental preparation for games, as well as his plans to help athletes pool their economic resources.

But whether it was his athletic achievements or his principles as an activist, the best way to describe Brown is simply: Too black, too strong.

When he voluntarily left the NFL at age 29, Brown headed to Tinsel Town full-time and became one of the first black action-hero/sex symbols. Clips from films such as 100 Rifles and Slaughter illustrated not only his raw acting talent, but also his sensual screen presence. Film historian Donald Bogle labels Brown the anti-Poitier of the time.

What didn't go so well for Brown was an attempt to run a film production company (Indigo Films) with the help of his friend, comedian Richard Pryor. Indigo stalled, but not before passing on blockbuster projects such as The Color Purple and Purple Rain. Brown seemed sad, as he discussed how Indigo never reached it's potential as a vehicle to enhance the role of blacks in the decision-making circles of the film industry.

Lee's two-hour made for HBO film doesn't shy away from Brown's more controversial history either, specifically his problems with domestic violence. Brown and those he's accused of violating to tell their sides for each story.

Interestingly Lee also uncovered the rarely discussed family life of Brown, particularly as it relates to his now grown children. On camera Brown expressed remorse for the suffering of his children following his separation from the first Mrs. Brown. Brown admits he wishes he could go back and play a more supportive role when his son Jim Jr. was an amateur athlete and tried to live up to his father's legend or more importantly when another son fell prey to drugs.

Regardless of your opinion of Jim Brown the husband, father, athlete or activist, you have to admit he never let his success breed stagnation. These days Brown continues to use his resources to help counsel gang members with AmerIcan.

Because of this and other community involvement, this self-professed "free" black man continues build upon his legend.

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