Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Least Among You

Last week, I just reviewed one of the worst movies I have seen in a long time. It was a faith based film and those who know me, know, I have some reservation about most of these types of film. Unfortunately, in my experience, faith based films are halfway done, and frankly, most of the time, unbearable. There are some good movies though that have story in them, well done, well acted, and have faith as a backdrop. It has been that way for years, and I suspect will stay that way for some time to come. I just had the pleasure of sitting down and watching a film that not only portrayed a part of history but also had faith as a backdrop that was presented in a real and honest way.

The Least Among You is a small independent film which has been picked up for distribution by Lionsgate. Lionsgate in fact has done a good job of picking up good indie films for national distribution. This is no exception. The Least Among You, while having a small budget for a ‘Hollywood’ movie plays quite large on the screen and is quite nice. While there are some story concepts that could have been explored a little more, the overall direction provided by Mark Young, (also the writer of the script) is quite exceptional. The story moves nicely, and there is a very good score for the film with some fun moments. The cinematography and lighting is appreciated and one of my pet peeves of indie films, the sound, is actually very well done. One of the only criticisms is at times the lighting and makeup just do not mesh up. While this is a minor issue, it is at times noticeable.

The Least Among You is a story based on the actual events of Reverend, Dr. Charles Marks. The story, with a name change tells the story of Richard Kelly, played by Cedric Sanders, (who is currently featured in The Social Network). Kelly is a young student with promise who is arrested during the Watts Race Riots of 1965. His mother works diligently to get him into an all white seminary and as a condition of his probation he is accepted into the seminary program. Kelly becomes the first African American student accepted into the prestigious seminary. While there, while one would think the attitudes and reality of racism wouldn’t exist, especially since it is a Christian Seminary. Kelly however has to prove himself on a regular basis and deals with racism and prejudice, even among the Seminary staff and student base. Along the way he deals with a less than honest Seminary President, Alan Beckett, played wonderfully by William Devane, and a professor who was a former missionary going through her own crises of faith, played by Lauren Holly. In a world filled with prejudice, despite the Christian setting, Kelly is befriended by a gardener and maintenance man, played by Louis Gossett Jr. It is here that Kelly rediscovers faith and the ability to persevere through hardship.

In The Least Among You, we see the challenge and questions faced by Richard Kelly as he progresses through stages of faith, and thus, eventually having to take stands for his faith. There is no doubt, Kelly is the featured story but it isn’t just his story. For the first time in a while we see Lou Gossett Jr. play a critical role. Gossett has always been there for emotional moments, and has been recognized for his abilities here, I have little doubt that he played a pivotal role in helping Cedric Sanders in his role as Kelly. We see the characters develop and there is a place for each role in the film, even those small roles. We see for example the importance and influence of a white roommate of Kelly from Texas in helping him understand his own areas of life in need of adjustment. While this character plays a bit part in the film, there is no doubt as to the his importance in the film.

The Least Among You uses faith as a backdrop, and it is done in a respectful, yet thought provoking way. It holds no punches in helping the viewer understand areas where some faith leaders hindered the progress and acceptance of African Americans, even in the Christian community. We are reminded though of the roles many individuals played in the decline of things like segregation, even within the faith community and at such places as seminaries. There was a price to pay, and Dr. Charles Marks was among those to pay a price. While the character based on his life, Richard Kelly is a representation of a real person, in real life, some like Dr. Marks had to live that life. There is the challenge beautifully portrayed and written for the screen that challenges the reality of faith, and the ways and reasons we as people of faith, either act on that faith or, deny it. We often talk about a God who cares, but few seldom listen to and responded to the voice of God. The question is asked, how would one know it is God who is doing the speaking if they bothered to listen? In the faith of Kelly, we see that life isn’t always a bed of roses. The message is not for the faint of heart, there are often consequences for living out faith, and there are sometimes difficult situations we face, it is often in the difficulty that others see the reality of faith, and at that point, are maybe willing, to be inspired.

While The Least Among You had some flaws, I loved this movie. It isn’t just one of the better films I have seen in a while with faith as a backdrop, it is one of the better, and most thought provoking films I have seen in a while, period! From the technical aspects of this film, including especially the acting and story, to the challenge to the viewer to understand our history, and those who paid a price for their beliefs, I liked almost everything about this movie.

One of the things I also liked about the film is the ample, and meaningful special features. I especially liked the interview with the real Dr. Marks, to see and hear him, now a college professor, telling his own story, and seeing him tear up and show emotion, all of these years later, when speaking about that gardener and grounds keeper played by Lou Gossett Jr. was a nice addition to this package. The reminder that even a gardener, even a simple man living a simple life can have such a dramatic impact on the life of another was touching and moving. In many ways, that feature lets the viewer know that in many ways, the real hero of the success of Dr. Marks, wasn’t Marks himself, but a man looked down upon by many, who took on a lowly job of serving others to sacrificially give of himself to better serve someone else. In many ways, that sounds like another named Jesus doesn’t it? In a world where so many strive to be all they can be, it is nice to have a reminder like this movie to challenge us, and move us to the concept of loving and serving others, from no matter what position in life we live.

Among the Least of You, isn’t just a film to educate African Americans, or history buffs, this is a movie to move and inspire all of us, whether we be a teacher, a truck driver or even a janitor working the halls of a school. We can all make a difference if we will but choose to show compassion for our fellow man. It is after all, Among the Least of You, that we will truly change the world, and the lives of those around us, not because we are least, but because we can use our lives to mirror the service and sacrifice of the one who is great, and presented himself as least. That was a lesson that changed the world, and we though our own examples, as presented by the example of Kelly, can at the very least, change the lives of those around us.

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