“Not choosing sides is a choice,” Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lanier) tells white college boy Bob Zellner (Lucas Till) when he talks to the civil rights icon a few years after she infamously refused to give up her seat on the bus. It’s the early 1960s in southern Alabama and Zellner is on the verge of a transformation from good ol’ boy grandson of a Klansman, to civil rights activist. Son of the South is based on Zellner’s autobiography, “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek,” which recounts his brave choice to defy his family and white southern norms in order to fight against social injustice and align himself with the likes of John Lewis and the Freedom Riders.
I love a good movie based on a true story. Unfortunately, Son of the South is not a particularly good movie. It’s okay, but never quite finds its footing or tone. It’s all over the place, and characters like Parks and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Cedric the Entertainer) enter the picture, only to deliver a few poignant lines and disappear. Till (X-Men, TV’s MacGyver) is endearing as Zellner but he’s surrounded by an odd mix of strong veteran actors (Brian Dennehy is in it for a minute) and a few too many overactors, which makes for a very uneven viewing experience.
Son of the South has some heavy hitters behind it (Spike Lee is an executive producer; the late Maya Angelou was an early supporter of the film), and I can certainly appreciate Zellner’s backstory, perspective, and the message this movie is trying to send. But it doesn’t have much by way of dramatic or emotional impact. There’s certainly no harm in watching; but Son of the South is unlikely to find a place in the pantheon of good films relating to the Civil Rights movement.
Son of the South premieres in select theaters, VOD and Digital on Feb. 5.