What Would Fannie Lou Do? Review

AKA: What Would Fannie Lou Do?: The Freedom Party
Genre: Historical Documentary
Year Released: 2020
Distributor: Movementism
Origin: USA
Running Time: 13 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The X Factor (Neset Kamene Documentary), The Inner Ground Railroad, Hate Crimes In the Heartland, I Am Not Your Negro, Fannie Lou Hamer: Stand Up, This Little Light of Mine: The Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer
Notes:
-This documentary is streaming on Movementism’s YouTube page.

-Topics of racism and political matters will be discussed in this review. Reader discretion advised.
Fun Facts:
-Fannie Lou Hamer (nee Townsend) was the youngest of 20 children and was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi before moving with her family to Ruleville, Mississippi. She was the Vice chairwoman of the Freedom Democratic Party as well as the co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus. In her hometown of Ruleville, she got her own holiday in 1977 as well as the local post office being named after her 17 years later.

-Director Heru “Neset” Kamene is a graduate of Lehman College in The Bronx, and his Bachelor’s Degree was in Business Administration. Outside of his film and music work, he also has a clothing line called The Movement which existed before his studio of Movementism was created.

-One quote from Fannie Lou Hamer about being fired off a cotton plantation far daring to register to vote was “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.” (credit to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution)

I’ve thought many times about how much I have or haven’t learned in all my years at school. While I certainly learned some skills and some important things in some way, shape, or form, it wasn’t until after I graduated university when I realized how much I didn’t learn. This could range from skills or techniques I felt like I should’ve known or learned for what I got my degree in (it doesn’t help that my Alma Mater removed the program I was a part of among other majors), but I was furious about all the things I didn’t know about history and I wasn’t even a history major. Isn’t it sad that I learned more about the historical documentaries and some period pieces I watched and reviewed on Iridium Eye than most history courses I’ve taken in my life? There’s a state of rage with so much information being downplayed or obscured. Sadly, a lot of this involves American history. Whether it was never learning about Black Wall Street until I did my own research and eventually watching Hate Crimes In the Heartland or the Nat Turner Rebellion when I watched Birth of a Nation (2016) for example, I felt like I had been lied to among other subjects of this magnitude when it came to things that happened in America or worldwide. Reviewing these types of movies have been educational for me.

Then, the latest documentary from the father/son team of Prof. Kaba Hiawatha Kamene and filmmaker Heru “Neset” Kamene showed up on YouTube and I felt compelled to check it out.

What Would Fannie Lou Do? is a short documentary that details parts of the life of Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Prof. Kaba Kamene narrates elements of her life and works during her fifty-nine years on this Earth. He also wonders what she might have done if she were still alive or at the very least lived in this day and age. Besides that, Prof. Kamene makes parallels to Hamer’s work decades ago with 2020’s racial and sociopolitical landscape as people begin to protest for racial equality. This documentary is an homage to Fannie Lou Hamer while also offering some questions of how the people in this present age could be influenced by her.

I have a confession to make before I continue with this review. I had never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer until after graduating college. This is a shame because she could definitely inspire people if one finds out about her story. I remember seeing her name in some books and I believe she was mentioned when I reviewed I Am Not Your Negro as well as The X Factor (the latter makes perfect sense since the Kamenes made that doc). Learning about her actions in and outside of this documentary caught my attention with her works in ensuring the right to vote, the Freedom Summer, and helping women of all colors with a political coalition. I know the term “strong woman” can be thrown around and can be misconstrued, but when you find out about Fannie Lou Hamer, you believe she deserved that title more than so many women out there. She had to live through the KKK poisoning her family’s livestock, getting death threats, getting arrested fro peacefully protesting, being experimented on by racist doctors, or even dealing with the humiliation of taking a literacy test to register to vote (even an illiterate white person didn’t have to deal with this) among other forms of coercion. One of her most famous actions is showing up with the Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention while also having that political party as a platform to fight against the DNC’s attempts to curb the Black vote at the time. Her story was so powerful and I’m frustrated that the schools don’t teach about her even with all this talk about “female empowerment” in society and the media. As per usual, Prof. Kamene does drop knowledge about her in general as well as bringing up the fact that she and Malcolm X were about to meet, but it didn’t happen due to Malcolm being assassinated. The production was certainly competent as it was a mix between the interview segments with archived footage from the aforementioned Hamer and Malcolm X, pictures of the protests back then, as well as the protests that happened recently to really show the correlation between the past and present. That was a great poetic touch in between the talking segments which really highlights how things haven’t changed much in America. Neset offered some great music as to be expected from the other documentaries I’ve seen from him. He did great work with some ambient and low-key hip-hop instrumentals that don’t distract from the information presented.

Before I get into the flaws of What Would Fannie Lou Do?, I do have to address this glaringly obvious part of the production which is also addressed in the film proper. As one can tell by watching, all the interview segments with Prof. Kamene happened in one room in an apartment or hotel complex and it is the only stationary scene on location besides the archived footage and pictures. Since this was clearly made in 2020 at the height of COVID-19, they couldn’t travel around to visit landmarks associated with Fannie Lou Hamer or interview people from far away. I will not dock any points due to the limited presentation since they managed to make something with limited resources and locations, so it’s not their fault at all. Anyone else could’ve really botched this, and there was clearly effort done with the research and presentation.

What Would Fannie Lou Do? has some noticeable low points that are irrelevant to the pandemic situation affecting the production. While the documentary was short and impactful, I felt like there was so much information being said and at the same time not enough. The archived footage of Fannie Lou Hamer was excellent, but there were lots of things I had to look up by myself to find out about her life. It’s good that Prof. Kamene wasn’t talking down to his audience, but at the same time, a documentary like this could be the first time someone has even heard about this Mississippian activist, so not everything should be assumed. I did appreciate Prof. Kamene’s honesty of how there isn’t some surefire answer for what Hamer, Malcolm X, or Harriet Tubman would do if they lived in present times (tying this documentary to previous works The X Factor and The Inner Ground Railroad), but at the same time things were vague in how the actions could inspire the people of today. This documentary was purposely timestamped and was clearly made before the election happened which can be a double-edged sword. While it makes sense with documenting everything at that time, it also has the risk of dating itself as an unintentional period marker even as early as 2021. I’m not going to say what’s going to happen in the future since I don’t have any psychic or prophetic abilities, so we’ll have to see what happens. It was good that Prof. Kamene calmly criticized both political parties in passing, I did have an issue with how some of the political commentary was presented. It was implied that the presidential election at that time was the only one to be focused on. I get it since 2020 was an election year (and a very tense, awkward, and frustrating one), but what about local elections or at the very least downballot candidates? Just for the record, I’ve criticized both DNC and GOP candidates, but that’s a story for another day. In hindsight, this makes it seem like other elections don’t mean anything which I’ll have to disagree. Local elections can affect people more directly and aren’t advertised as much regardless if it’s an election year or not. The most I’ve seen are governor or state senator election ads, and even then they only show up when there’s a presidential race going on. I have to tell myself this to pay attention to my city, county, and state officials since any major issue isn’t just going to be limited to the Oval Office. I feel like that should’ve been addressed even if it’s in passing because Hamer herself did her best to talk to the politicians in her home state and not just the presidents or federal-level politicians.

This latest work from the Kamenes had more positives than negatives. While the Coronavirus ruined so many plans for this documentary (okay, that ruined plans for everyone), the effort that was put into this film is definitely commendable. There was so much history to cover as well as there being food for thought. Hearing about her legacy was certainly enlightening and I wanted to know more about Fannie Lou Hamer. However, parts of the narration were rushed and the timestamped presentation did hamper this film a bit. What Would Fannie Lou Do? was a good short documentary, but it shouldn’t be the only thing used to learn about Fannie Lou Hamer and her legacy.

Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you’re a fan of Prof. Kaba Hiawatha Kamene’s work.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want more information about historical figures in your documentaries.

Pros:
-Good usage of archived footage, recordings, and pictures
-Insightful information about Fannie Lou Hamer
-Nice ambient hip-hop instrumental soundtracks

Cons:
-Some information could’ve been expanded on
-The timestamping dates this documentary
-The political discussion shouldn’t have been limited to just presidential elections

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Advisory: What Would Fannie Lou Do? is fine for most audiences, but it’s still a mature conversation to have. Racism is a main part of discussion and there’s talk of people dying like Malcolm X’s assassination in Prof. Kaba Kamene’s narration. While there’s little objectionable content, this documentary isn’t a benign watch as the uncomfortable truths about American bigotry are brought up.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. What Would Fannie Lou Do? is property of Heru “Neset” Kamene and Movementism. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Movementism.

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