Friends,


At our recent Sarah Lawrence NR film screenings and the following reunion/meeting, I noted that many NR people knew very little about Finally Got the News, it's history, and most had never seen the film. In addition, most people knew little about the Detroit NR group and its relation to the film.
In an effort to share information, I am including two documents.
Please see attached Cineaste review from 1971, by Dan Georgakas.
Also see letter below from an old friend in the Detroit auto plants.
You will note in reviewing the body of work produced by NR that NR covered the peace movement, student movement, Yippies, Anarchists, women's issues, Panthers, Young Lords, community issues, films on Vietnam and Cuba, but what is missing are the working class struggles, both white and black. Acknowledging FGTN as a NR product, as part of NR history, would begin to fill that gap.


Rene

 

 

 

My longtime friend and colleague Rene Lichtman has asked me to comment on Finally Got the News, and I do so with great pleasure.

Writing in Cineaste (probably volume V, no 4), Dan Georgakas noted that "Finally Got the News has become a classic before its time." Subsequent years have only confirmed his point. The film is a classic in at least three ways.

First, it is a classic because of its subject matter, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, which, like the Black Panthers, exemplified the heyday of African American revolutionary activism in the late-1960s. Because the League largely confined its political activity to Detroit, it never received the attention that the Panthers did. But its effect on Detroit, indeed the entire auto industry, was immense. I can testify to these effects from my own experience. One of the League's main aims was to address the racism of the union that represented autoworkers, the U.A.W., which officially stood for United Autoworkers, but which the League, with characteristic incisiveness, said stood for U. Aint White. At the time the League arose in numerous Detroit auto plants in the late 1960s, the vast majority of UAW officials were white even though blacks constituted an increasingly large number of the plants' assembly line workers. By the time I was a union steward in a large Detroit assembly plant in 1972, the situation had changed dramatically. Of the ten stewards who represented assembly line workers, I was the only one who was white. So rapid an opening up of the union hierarchy as well as of the ranks of management to African Americans would simply not have happened in the absence of the League.

But the League was concerned with more than eliminating the racism that permeated so many aspects of Detroit's industrial and civic life. Like the Panthers, the League viewed itself as a revolutionary organization and contributed to a late-1960s political climate in which, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, revolution was in the air. However, unlike the Panthers who frequently stressed the revolutionary potential of the "brothers on the block," the League emphasized the potential power of the working class. Among the smorgasbord of revolutionary, would-be revolutionary, and/or self-proclaimed revolutionary organizations that dotted the political landscape in the late-1960s, none, as far as I can tell, had the kind of roots among blue-collar workers that the League had. That the League failed to achieve its revolutionary goals is no more reason for minimizing its experience than than there is reason to minimize the experience of the Panthers, who, of course, also failed to achieve their goals.

The film is also a classic because of what it says about the filmmakers themselves. As well as any film made during that time, the film reflects the world view--warts and all-- of those who aspired to be revolutionaries: how they thought about capitalism, racism, and imperialism; and the way they tried to weave that world view into the choice of people who they interviewed, the issues they covered, and the footage they shot. I say "warts and all" because some of the downsides of this world view are also evident from the film. Most notable, perhaps, is the footage dealing with black women that appears virtually as an afterthought, an indication of the tardiness (to put it mildly) of much of the late-1960s (male-dominated) revolutionary left in understanding how the struggle against patriarchy and sexism was an integral part of the struggle against all that plagued, and continues to plague, the world.

Finally, the film is a classic cinematographically. Perhaps, I should be a bit cautious and say it's probably a classic cinematographically because unlike politics and history about which I can claim some professional expertise, I am an amateur when it comes to matters of art, film, and cinematography. But I can tell you this. As someone who has been inside dozens of factories either as employee or visitor and who has watched many films dealing with working class life, I know of no movie that even comes close to portraying work on an assembly line as effectively as Finally Got the News does. The roll of the assembly line in the body-in-white department (where pieces of sheet metal get welded together to make the car's body), the ubiquitous sparks from the welding guns, and the economy of movement of one of the men maneuvering his gun are simultaneously realistic, poetic, and lyrical. I frequently show Finally Got the News to my students. The film typically triggers a wide-ranging and fruitful discussion. Needless to say, reactions to the film's and League's politics vary greatly. But I can't ever remember a student saying that s/he didn't learn a lot from the movie about work--both its dignified and exploitive aspects-- in a 1960s automobile factory.

I will stop here. A copy of Georgakas's review is attached as a .pdf file. You can read more about the League in Georgakas and Surkin's book Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, which was reprinted by South End Press in 1998. The cover of the book features a photo taken from Finally Got the News.

Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any additional assistance.

With best wishes,

Steve Smith

Stephen Samuel Smith
Professor, Department of Political Science
Co-chair, African American Studies Committee
Winthrop University
Rock Hill, SC 29733
USA
803.323.4661 (voice)
803.323.2568 (fax)
smiths@winthrop.edu
www.winthrop.edu/plsc/StephenSamuelSmith.htm


 

 

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