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Director John Singleton knew that he was taking on a challenge when he chose to film Rosewood, which tells the little-known story of a 1923 race riot in a quiet Florida town. Unlike other well-known historical events in American history, the Rosewood Massacre is a story that few have learned about in their history classes. This gives Singleton a substantial amount of power and responsibility, as he holds the opportunity to tell his viewers about one of our country’s darkest secrets. Throughout Rosewood Singleton effectively portrays the violence of the lynch mob, the dehumanization of the black community, and the powerful, personal relationships among whites and blacks alike. Although he exposes the violent truths of the Rosewood Massacre, he is often criticized for falling into a Hollywood, "John Wayne" ending via his fictional hero, Mr. Mann. Critics agree that Rosewood is a moving film that will leave the viewer thinking about the perpetuation of racial violence in America, but they seem to offer contrasting views on Singleton’s portrayal of black and white characters. Likewise, critics seem to disagree as to whether Singleton’s film does justice to the survivors and families of Rosewood. Rosewood offers viewers a glimpse into the well-hidden past of racial violence in America – a glimpse that undoubtedly still applies today.

Arsenault, Raymond. "Rosewood." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Journal of American History 84.3 (1997): 1173-74.
Although he applauds Singleton for an aesthetically pleasing rendition of Rosewood in the early twentieth century, Arsenault critiques the director for demonstrating a "lack of respect for the historical record." Specifically, Arsenault sees the film as sensationalized, a "cartoon-like fantasy." A fictional character ultimately saves the day, and the final hour of the film seems to be purely for Hollywood purposes. Most poignantly, Arsenault explains such "romantic mythmaking" as "detrimental to the cause of racial justice and interracial understanding." At the end of his review, Arsenault concludes that Singleton has ultimately failed in the production of a film that does the Rosewood Massacres and the survivors justice.
Berardinelli, James. "Rosewood." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Reel Views.
A generally positive review of the film as "an epic" similar to Schindler's List in that both films explore "the theme of the duality of human nature: the capacity for great good and great evil, boundless love and infinite hatred." Though not quite up to par with Spielberg's film, Rosewood is undoubtedly a film with a message. Berardinelli discusses character development as well as the formulation of Mr. Mann (Rhames) as a fictional character. In Berardinelli's eyes, Rosewood is a film which examines the human spirit in an effective manner, by "presenting a forceful message without ever preaching."
Cottrol, Robert J., and Raymond T. Diamond. "Rosewood." American Historical Review 103.2 (1998): 635-36.
Cottrol and Diamond praise director John Singleton for his "valuable effort" in Rosewood, which is a film of many layers. The film is tripartite: a story of black achievement, a story of "bestial racial violence," and "the most undertold" story of back resistance. After acknowledging that it is Mr. Mann, a fictional character, who weaves these stories together, the authors suggest that Rosewood be supplemented by a viewing of The Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story (Discovery Channel). Although Singleton effectively captures the horror of lynch fever, the authors commend him for refusing to portray all white men as racist and violent. Singleton's characters are dynamic and multidimensional as they tell "more than a simple story of racial violence in one small town." Rather, they write, [Rosewood] "represents an era when the law's failure and white envy combined to make black life precarious."
Dauphin, Gary. "Rosewood is burning." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Village Voice 42 Mar 4 (1997): 76.
Dauphin establishes the film's main contradiction: it provides a "courageous example of what movies can do with the black past, but it's also pure Hollywood -- a broadly earnest period piece cut from the familiar dusty bedrock of the western." Dauphin criticizes Mann as the fictional hero who waltzes in to save the day, as well as the fact that Singleton has created just enough "good white men" to ensure that whites will be able to view his film somewhat comfortably. Indeed, much of the struggle of Rosewood focuses upon Mr. Wright's (Voight) struggle as a white man to support the blacks or the whites. Dauphin exposes Rosewood as a film that had the potential to expose a dark part of American history but which has ultimately succumbed to Hollywood's desires.
Dean, Mensah. "The story of Rosewood; Violence in Florida is spark for film." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Washington Times 21 February 1997: C12.
Dean does not write a film review which explores the strengths and weaknesses of Singleton's Rosewood. Instead, he provides significant historical context and offers interesting thoughts from the director and actors of the film. Dean shares the story of director Singleton interviewing the survivors of Rosewood and of Singleton taking on the challenge of a historical film. Most moving, though, are the personal accounts that actors such as Ving Rhames and Esther Rolle share with regards to their motivation behind making this film. Rhames and Rolle share specific instances of racism from their childhoods, while white actor Jon Voight states, "If this film produces nothing but despair and anger, it would be a failure," saying finally, "The value of it, I see, is that this is a true aspect of our history. We dare not hide it, which in some way has been done."
Ebert, Roger. "Rosewood." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Chicago Sun Times 12 February 1997.
Rosewood does not seem to appeal to blacks or to whites. Each group is marginalized and stereotyped in the film. Ebert uses this notion of "appeal" to offer a positive thought on Singleton's film, though: "Perhaps it will appeal to people looking for a well-made film that tells a gripping, important story." Like many other reviews, Ebert discusses the end of the film as focused more upon an action-movie agenda than real events. Although he misnames one of the film's characters in his review, Ebert does offer some thematic insight into the idea of generations and perpetuating racism. He recognizes one of Singleton's important themes as "how racism breeds and feeds, and is taught by father to son."
Guerrero, Ed. "Rosewood." Cineaste 23.1 (1997): 45-47.
Guerrero writes a powerful review of Rosewood that effectively delves into the historical and cultural implications of the film. He explains that although Rosewood was not commercially successful at the box office, its success might ultimately lay in Singleton's composition of a film which "prods the collective, national psyche," forcing the viewers into shock in many instances. Guerrero discusses the graphic, violent nature of the film, as he explicitly states the challenge that Singleton has embarked upon: "Put simply, how does one make a slick, Hollywood action-adventure-entertainment flick, with big box-office expectations, about one of history's ultimate nightmares: genocidal racism?" Although Guerrero criticizes Singleton for embracing the "hyperbolic, heroic individual," as well as ineffectively facilitating the "tension between content and form," he gains power by exposing the events of the Rosewood Massacre. Guerrero explains the "subtle current of repressed history running through the film," which will ensure its success as a historical, though not blockbuster, film.
Maslin, Janet. "A Black Man Accused, A Town Destroyed." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. New York Times 21 February 1997.
Maslin makes it quite clear that the film's issues are black and white. After providing a brief historical synopsis of the Rosewood Massacre, Maslin praises Singleton for characters that "resist oversimplification," while criticizing him for succumbing to the lure of Hollywood. She writes, "Together, they [director Singleton and producer Peters] give a slick Hollywood gloss to an intrinsically wrenching story, filling it with so many stock characters and stereotypes that the audience's interest is pre-empted at every turn." Maslin emphasizes the heavy subject, while also highlighting the reality that Singleton establishes an overwhelming juxtaposition of the whites as "sordid" and the blacks as "exemplary."
McCarthy, Todd. "Rosewood." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Variety 9 February 1997.
McCarthy identifies "balance" as one of Singleton's strongpoints, as he recognizes the challenge of "bringing some sorrowful history alive." He praises the acting of Rhames and Voight, explaining that Voight effectively portrays a character torn in his moral dilemma to choose sides of black and white. Voight's performance stands out specifically because of the realization that the rest of the characters in the film are either black or white and "express one-dimensional attitudes" of good or evil. McCarthy is yet another reviewer who does not allow Singleton's film to escape its stigma of stereotypical "Western"; however, he does deem Rosewood admirable for its "ambition, urgency and acute observations [which] prevail over the many stock elements."
Ogidi, Ann. "Rosewood." Black Film Bulletin 7.3 (1999): 19-20.
Offering a lengthy plot synopsis, Ogidi places the film in its own historical context, sarcastically noting that immediately after reparations were made to the Rosewood survivors, Hollywood stepped in and began filming. Ogidi writes, "The film is disturbing for other reasons, to do with the commercial exploitation of history how a community's experience is reduced to a commodity to be packaged and sold to your local multiplex. Straining for the big bucks, the producers have hollowed the core." Like other critics, Ogidi praises John Singleton for his cinematography, while reprimanding him for Ving Rhames's fictional character, Mr. Mann. Valuable for the perspective that it offers from the perspective of The Black Film Bulletin, Ogidi's review acknowledges the power of "the believable white lie and the consequences of that lie" as well as the didactic nature of Singleton's work.
Shickel, Richard. "Shadows from the past." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Time 3 Mar 1997: 83.
Shickel powerfully dismisses Rosewood as a film that has gotten caught up in "movieish fictions." His most prominent example of this is the fictitious character of Mr. Mann (Ving Rhames). Mr. Mann's heroic entrance and action-packed finale to the film seem to be almost a disservice to the true survivors of Rosewood, who "embraced silence and anonymity" for the next sixty years. Though Shickel is obviously tempted to "condemn" Rosewood, he finds himself tantalized by the moving performances of Rhames, Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, and Esther Rolles. Such performances serve as redemption for the fact that the film lacks historical accuracy. "Rosewood finds, in a shameful bygone moment, sources of pride for contemporary audiences. There are worse things to do with the past."
Travers, Peter. "Rosewood." Rev. of Rosewood, dir. John Singleton. Rolling Stone 1997.
"Amazingly, the story is based on fact." If anything, this statement further emphasizes the general ignorance of Americans in terms of the racial problems throughout the course of our history. In an interesting comparison, Travers refers to the O.J. Simpson verdicts as "just one symptom of America's continuing racial divide." He provokes the reader to consider viewing Singleton's Rosewood predominantly because it "touches a still-raw nerve."

See Also

Fisher, Bob. "'Rosewood' probes racial violence." American Cinematographer 78 (1997): 90-95.

Gagne, Cole. "Rosewood." Film Journal 100 (1997): 100-1.