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Al Sharpton bows with Spike to finish off Tribeca

NEW YORK – On the eve of June 16, the Tribeca Festival closed with the Rev. Al Sharpton documentary “Loudmouth” in a premiere that reunited Sharpton and Spike Lee on stage – two towering New York figures, both maligned for their careers as well as advocating for racial justice.

The event, held Saturday at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, celebrated Sharpton with the kind of large-screen portrait that was commonplace for an older generation of civil rights activists but had eluded the 67-year-old activist until Loudmouth. “Loudmouth” contextualizes Sharpton’s legacy as an extension of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. John Lewis and others, while chronicling his unique longevity despite many naysayers.

“Do your best,” Sharpton said in a post-film Q&A. “I am still here.”

Lee, a longtime friend who cast Sharpton for a small role in 1992’s Malcolm X, hailed Sharpton for “being there from the start and fighting the good fight.”

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“Everyone gets hit, but you got up and you keep walking,” said Lee, who was onstage alongside Sharpton and John Legend, the film’s executive producer. “And you still do that today.”

Loudmouth, to be distributed by Tribeca, was introduced by Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro. On today’s airwaves and at the January 6 hearings in Washington, he made a clear distinction between Sharpton and other “loudmouths.”

“How interesting that the Committee and the Rev are on the same page and exposing the lies and liars that threaten our democracy,” De Niro said. “They want to take away our right to vote and deny us social justice. Tonight, as Washington deals with the lies and the big lie, you find yourself in the company of a patriot who challenges us to get to the bottom of the truth.”

Loudmouth, directed by Josh Alexander, centers on an interview with Sharpton, who describes his story as a constant struggle to keep social justice in the headlines. “No one calls me to keep a secret,” Sharpton said at the funeral service for George Floyd.

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For Sharpton, that was his goal—“the blow-up man,” as he once called himself—to agitate tirelessly and garner enough media attention and highlight injustices. Of course, this approach earned Sharpton many critics—almost all of whom are white—who have accused him of being a racial opportunist, particularly after his involvement in the 1987 case of Tawana Brawley’s allegation that she was from a group of Dutchess men County, New York, was later found to have been fabricated by a special state grand jury.

Sharpton argues in the film that his mission in this case and others has always been to make someone’s day in court. Before the film, Alexander said Sharpton’s only request was “to get the context right.” And on a number of other occasions, Sharpton has been there to advocate, advise and assist black people. Family members of Floyd, Eric Garner and others were in the audience on Saturday.

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“It just makes you realize that anyone who stands up for justice, especially for an oppressed minority, will always be treated as persona non grata in society,” Legend said. “They will always be unpopular to some degree because they fight to disrupt a status quo that protects many people.”

When Legend approached Sharpton to produce the documentary, he and the producers surprised Sharpton with the idea that Alexander, a white Jewish filmmaker from California, should direct. They argued that the film was more objective from a white filmmaker’s perspective, Sharpton said.

“I said, ‘I’ll tell you what. If it works, I’ll be there to bow. If not, I’ll line you up outside,'” Sharpton said.

Legend – whom Sharpton praised as a pop star and “crossover artist” who bravely joined a character considered by some “risque” – said he was disheartened by what he described as backlash to the reckoning following Floyd’s death and the recent fights over textbooks. But Legend said he found inspiration when he saw Sharpton on Loudmouth.

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“Every time we make progress, there’s a backlash, and the backlash is, ‘Oh, we have to control this narrative,'” Legend said. “Everyone knows the importance of storytelling and the importance of who is telling the story and what perspectives are represented.”

Lee, who twice mentioned being traumatized by an early school trip to Gone With the Wind, said Loudmouth should be shown in schools. Chronicling the frontlines of racial tensions in New York, Lee said it was a treasured memory.

“You have to show that racism doesn’t really have a specific zip code,” said Lee, who wore a “1619” hat. “It’s not Shangri-La. There is a whole lot of chaos here that continues to this day.”

Sharpton often returned to the question of how much has changed in the last half century. Sharpton recently held obituaries for several victims of last month’s racist mass shooting that killed 10 people in a supermarket. Still, he said he also sees big strides and more blacks in power than ever before.

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“We’re not over the hill yet,” Sharpton said. “But we’ve covered enough trails in the woods to think we can get out.”

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https://www.local10.com/entertainment/2022/06/19/al-sharpton-takes-a-bow-with-spike-to-close-out-tribeca/ Al Sharpton bows with Spike to finish off Tribeca

Sarah Y. Kim

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