‘With All Deliberate Speed’

Fifty years ago the Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, struck down an earlier ruling that had said that “separate but equal” was acceptable for Black Americans.

“With All Deliberate Speed,” a documentary by Chicagoan Peter Gilbert (producer of “Hoop Dreams”), looks at the landmark case called Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In the Supreme Court decision, the remedy suggested was to dismantle segregation as soon as possible.

Gilbert’s movie is ambitious, covering just about a century. It is also depressing and inspiring at the same time.

The film focuses on Farmville, Va., and Summerton, S.C., and the way the legal team for the plaintiffs came into existence. Those were two of the six cases that made up the totality of Brown v. Board of Education. Then Gilbert takes us into a current Washington, D.C., high school as a barometer of this landmark decision.

So take a break and use your imagination. Think that a Black man for the first time will go before the Supreme Court and have to argue what is hurtfully obvious. Because there’s no video or audio footage from the court, Gilbert uses actors Alicia Keys, Mekhi Pfifer, Larenz Tate, Joe Morton and Terry Kinney to depict what the justices heard.

In the Virginia story, we meet 16-year-old Shirley Johns. She organizes a school walkout. The students march to the superintendent. His only response is, “If you don’t return to class, your parents will no longer have jobs. And you will no longer eat.” This is 20 years before there were school breakfast or lunch programs, so that’s quite a threat to people who are marginally malnourished and many times hungry.

Johns’ courage forced her to leave Farmville and seek sanctuary in Alabama (imagine that!). Johns is the niece of Vernon Johns, who refused to bend to the racism of the South two generations before Martin Luther King was hired to pastor at the 16th St. Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

“With All Deliberate Speed” continues to the present, noting that many of America’s schools are as segregated now as they were 50 years ago.

‘ ‘Super Size Me’ – a scary movie too! ‘

There’s just enough sly undercurrent at work that brings a pleasant surprise to Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock is a tall, thin white guy with a fu manchu. He looks directly into the camera and announces that he’s going to eat nothing but McDonalds for the next 30 days, and at Mickey D’s, when asked if he wants it super sized, he always says yes.

And it’s right there that we take the bite. As in (1) How absurd, so what? (2) This can’t possibly be a movie where we watch someone bite into a Big Mac 90 times. (3) Will we change our vote on whether we should punish Mickey D’s or the plaintiffs in fast food lawsuits? (4) It’s even more incredulous that state legislatures and governors sign laws so Mickey D’s can’t be sued. (5) Will there be a Surgeon General’s warning on all fast food bags?

So now that we’re hooked on the movie and living in the hinterlands of absurdia, Spurlock makes the most of it in a David and Goliath moment, preparing for his first day as if he’s getting ready for a prizefight. He weighs in and gets his basic vital signs read so on the 31st day we can see the difference.

Mickey D’s wins hands down. Spurlock has gained about 40 pounds, blood pressure up significantly and bad cholesterol, three times what it was before, liver dangerously close to non-functioning. But what’s the real news here? His girlfriend, a “vegetarian chef,” complains about his sexual performance.

The next morning, all 666 McDonalds in Manhattan are closed, and the following day, home pregnancy tests are completely sold out (just kidding).

The movie spreads out a little to take on the whole junk/processed foods industry. There are three scenes that have a particular bite. In one, a Texas couple goes through 52 2-liter bottles of pop every two weeks. (I won’t give away what happens, but it involves staples.)

In another scene, at a Naperville, Ill., high school in which the cafeteria manager keeps a straight face when she explains that all the junk food being sold is just to supplement the “basic” meal young people are bringing from home – never mind that barely three feet away, a table full of young people is eating only the “supplements.”

The last scene is gut-wrenching. See the founder of Subway giving an “inspirational” weight-loss talk, then in the most dramatic of ways, whipping out the size-40 pants he used to wear when he was fat.

After the speech, an overweight mother and her daughter get a few moments with the “guru,” explaining in clear class differences why they can’t afford to eat at Subway for every meal (as though they come out of the inspirational talk convinced that the only way they can be skinny is to eat at Subway three times a day – this makes Ray Kroc look like a saint).

Unfortunately, Spurlock’s absurdity doesn’t even touch Mickey’s absolute claw and contribution to the USA’s big problem with obesity – and that’s kind of scary, too.

— Special to the World