The Spook Who Sat by the Door Review

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The Spook Who Sat by the Door: A Revolutionary Call to Arms

In the midst of a global resurgence of the Civil Rights movement, the film “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” remains as compelling and relevant as ever. Released in 1973 and based on the 1969 book by Sam Greenlee, this blaxploitation classic, directed by Ivan Dixon, is a furious and complex tale of revolution. It not only portrays the lived reality of oppression but also confronts the suppression of Black art, as the film itself was removed from theaters upon its initial release. This ironic fate underscores the film’s message, as history tends to obscure art created by Black and marginalized communities. For decades, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” was only accessible through bootleg videos until the negative was discovered by actor Tim Reid. This article explores the significance of this film and its powerful narrative.

The Story

“The Spook Who Sat by the Door” tells the story of Dan Freeman (played by Lawrence Cook), a Black man who applies to the CIA under their new “inclusive” hiring practices. However, unbeknownst to the CIA, their intention is to make the hiring process so challenging that no Black applicants will meet their standards. The film sheds light on real-life discriminatory hiring practices that persist to this day. Against all odds, Freeman excels at every challenge, ultimately securing a position within the CIA as the “Top Secret Reproduction Center Sections Chief” – in charge of the copy machine.

While the first half hour of the film cleverly satirizes tokenism, the tone shifts dramatically when Freeman decides to leave the CIA after five years. He returns to his hometown of Chicago and becomes involved in organizing a group of Freedom Fighters. Here, the film transitions into a profound exploration of guerrilla warfare training and a thoughtful rumination on revolutionary actions, specifically within the context of the Civil Rights movement.

A Struggle for Empowerment

A particularly impactful scene occurs when Freeman converses with his old friend Dawson (played by J. A. Preston), who is now a police officer. Freeman astutely points out the police’s role as protectors of private property and as a force designed to oppress Black individuals. This confrontational yet poignant dialogue provides essential context, shedding light on the motivations behind Freeman’s fight against the established powers. The film challenges the prevailing narrative that idealizes Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful approach to protesting, while dismissing or condemning Black militancy. This oversimplified perspective reflects the white supremacist nature of history, dictating acceptable behavior to an oppressed population. “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” serves as a bold critique of this white interpretation, challenging the norms and asserting the right of Black individuals to determine their own paths of resistance.

The Relevance Today

Over four decades later, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” remains a hallmark of the blaxploitation genre and continues to resonate with its thought-provoking examination of the struggle for civil rights. Combining humor and action, the film offers a thrilling and momentous experience, captivating audiences with its relevance and power. Though underseen in its time, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” stands as a testament to the resilience and significance of Black art in shaping the narrative of the Civil Rights movement. Its exploration of militant resistance serves as a reminder that the fight for justice is multifaceted and that different approaches can be equally valid in pursuit of equality.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” based on a true story?

No, the film is not based on a true story. However, it draws inspiration from the experiences of the Black community during the Civil Rights era to craft its narrative.

2. Why was “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” suppressed upon its release?

The film’s portrayal of Black militancy and its critique of white interpretation of the Civil Rights movement likely contributed to its suppression. The prevailing narrative at the time tended to favor a more peaceful approach.

3. How did “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” find recognition years later?

After years of being available only through bootleg videos, the film was rediscovered when actor Tim Reid located the negative, which had been stored under a different name. This renewed interest allowed the film to reach a wider audience and gain recognition as a significant contribution to Black cinema.

4. How does “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” challenge traditional narratives of the Civil Rights movement?

The film questions the notion that peaceful protests, as championed by figures like Martin Luther King Jr., were the only valid approach to fighting for civil rights. It demonstrates the importance of recognizing and respecting diverse forms of resistance, including militant action, in the struggle for equality.

5. Why is “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” still relevant today?

The issues of systemic racism, oppressive structures, and the fight for equality depicted in the film continue to resonate in modern society. Its critique of white supremacy and its call for empowering marginalized communities make it a powerful and timely piece of cinema.