I was honored, back in 2013, to be invited to screen and comment on an early cut of Grace Lee’s film about Grace Lee Boggs, American Revolutionary: the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. Here’s what I wrote:
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is a documentary about the long and rich life of an extraordinary American revolutionary. And for that we should be thankful, since we simply don’t have many cinematic examples of ordinary flesh-and-blood people who have struggled to locate themselves within, radically challenge, and creatively make history. All the while maintaining her humanity.
But this film is much, much more. It is both a document of people’s struggles over the course of the twentieth century—especially civil rights and black power, during the rise and fall of Detroit—and an invitation to engage in new conversations about the kind of American revolution needed today. Because, as Grace Lee Boggs says, “It’s obvious by looking at it, what was doesn’t work.”
American Revolutionary is also quite wonderful filmmaking—beautifully filmed and edited, with a lively, engaging score. And the filmmaker herself, Grace Lee, makes the life of a venerable and tough woman relevant to younger generations of potential activists and revolutionaries: first, by showing how Boggs found ways of rethinking and reinventing what her life, including her involvement in the people’s transformation of Detroit, might look like; and, second, by documenting Lee’s own struggles to make sense of and to connect with Boggs “the icon” and her confident and uncompromising spirit of revolutionary thinking and engagement.
Lee’s film represents an alternative, then, to the main kinds of messages being delivered to young people today, of either insipid inspirational self-improvement or the cynical “to the victors belong the spoils.” Instead, she provides us the opportunity to imagine a different kind of life and world—one in which ideas matter, giants do in fact fall, and people (including Boggs herself) evolve.