Film review from the 2018 Atlanta Film Festival
Maynard Jackson is a legend in the city of Atlanta, GA. He was the first African-American to be elected to a major southern city, and that was in 1973. Maynard was destined to be a public servant. His grandfather was legendary civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs. Maynard’s mother graduated, along with her five sisters, from the historically black female Spelman College. When Maynard was fifteen, his father, a Baptist preacher, died and John Wesley Dobbs stepped in to raise and influence Maynard. He graduated from historically black college for men. Morehouse College, at age eighteen. He got his law degree from North Carolina Central University in 1964. Maynard worked as an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board until, at age 30, he decided to run for the US Senate as a Democrat. While he lost the election, he did win in Atlanta, which got him noticed by the local government officials. The next year he won Vice Mayor, but feuded with the mayor, Sam Massell, and decided to run for Mayor.
Maynard Jackson was elected in 1973, soundly defeating Massell, who was seen as voters as part of the ‘Good Ole Boys’ network of government. Maynard served three terms (1974-1982, 1990-1994). As he pushed for vast and highly impacting public work projects, including greatly expanding the Atlanta Airport, which in the 2000s became the world’s busiest airport. He also pushed for increased minority business involvement with public projects and reformed the Atlanta Police Department making sure more black police officers were hired. Under his helm, Atlanta became an important and powerful piece in the economy of the South. Maynard was instrumental in getting Atlanta the 1996 Olympics and after leaving the mayor’s office became a well-known speaker on civil rights.
Director Samuel D. Pollard brings us this documentary using home movies, TV news reports, and interviews with a vast collection of Maynard Jackson’s colleagues and family. The film follows Maynard’s path to becoming Mayor of Atlanta: from his civil rights roots with his grandfather, get his undergraduate degree at age 18, his foray into law, his historic run for the US Senate and then his reign as a very powerful mayor.
The film touches on how Maynard guided the city of Atlanta through some tough times both economically and socially. A portion of the film looks at how the city was shaken to its core when young boys begin disappearing from the streets of Atlanta. What became known as the Atlanta Child Murders gripped a city, and the film effectively uses news footage and interviews to show just how impactful the murders were. Maynard also had to weather a scandal in the police department and a murder rate that was one of the highest in the nation.
Maynard became a celebrity in the city, and he used it to his full political advantage. There is hilarious footage of some sort of charity event where the portly Maynard (the man had trouble controlling his appetite and had severe weight problems) took on Muhammad Ali in a boxing match.
The film interviews some famous politicians and civil rights leaders to give insight into Maynard’s life. Activist Al Sharpton, attorney Vernon Jordan, President Bill Clinton, civil rights authority Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, who followed Jackson as Mayor, are just some of the people interviewed.
It’s the family of Maynard Jackson that gives us the best understanding of how Maynard thought and worked. Jacksons son Maynard III, whose life was a rocky path trying to live in the shadow of a powerful man. Maynard’s daughters, who come off as smart and strong women who loved their father. The best information comes from Maynard’s first wife, Burnella “Bunnie” Hayes, who had a hard time dealing with a man who always wanted to be in the spotlight. And his second wife, Valerie Richardson, a devoted wife who was with Maynard until the end.
Maynard gives us a good look into the life of an essential time in Atlanta’s history. The production values of Maynard are top notch, but I came away thinking that maybe its reliance on so many interviews makes the film feel a little generic. All in all, Maynard is an intriguing look at a man who made history, and to this day still impacts the city of Atlanta. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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