leave a comment --Robert Pardi
Coming down squarely on the side of the angels, this factual drama revisits the landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of Sipes vs. McGhee, which barred racist covenants from home-sale contracts. Blue-collar worker Benjamin Sipes (Bruce Greenwood) has more in common with Mac McGhee (Roger Guenveur Smith) than he initially realizes. In post-World War II Detroit, both men move their struggling families into an all-white neighborhood. Sipes, who's Caucasian, finds grudging acceptance; McGhee, who's African-American, finds a burning cross on his lawn. Despite the bigotry of her neighbors and her upwardly mobile husband's censure, Anna Sipes (Linda Hamilton) develops a strong friendship with Mac's wife Minnie (Lynn Whitfield). Meanwhile, their wealthy fellow residents decide to play legal hardball to get the McGhees out, and use Sipes as a front. After losing preliminary rounds in court, the McGhees press on with appeals, and Sipes comes to realize that he's been exploited. Severing all ties with his racist peers, Sipes lends his support the McGhees' cause. More admirable than impassioned, this TV movie transforms a trenchant history lesson into a cut-and-dried lawyer's summation. Greenwood does his usual superb job with the film's one complex role, while Whitfield and Hamilton manage to earn audience sympathy despite their paper-thin parts. Given the restrictions of the format, the unchallenging manner in which writer Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, granddaughter of the real Mac McGhee, sets up her grandparents' obstacles comes as no surprise. But her reduction of the villains to stereotypes and total ennobling of the heroic McGhees rob this social equity saga of vitality; the undeniable valor of Mac and Minnie McGhee entitled them to a more invigorating replay of their hardships.