In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 9 – 4 Little Girls (1963)
Spike Lee’s devastating documentary, released in 1997, tells the tragic story of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, carried out by four Klu Klux Klan-affiliated murderers. The bombing claimed the lives of four African-American girls (all between the ages of 11 - 14): Addie May Collins, Denise McNair, Carol Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.
Lee had approached Chris McNair, father of Denise, about making the project when he first heard of the story through a New York Times article in 1983. However, the elder McNair did not provide permission at that time given that Lee, still a student at New York University, was an untested filmmaker. Nearly a decade and a half later, the documentary came together at the right time, and the results are truly impactful.
While Lee once considered making the film as a narrative project, the documentary format proves to be the most effective way to tell the story of the four girls whose lives were claimed on September 15, 1963 by an abhorrent act of evil by racists targeting their place of worship. Lee uses archival footage, home movies, and interviews with family members, friends, officials and activists to paint a vivid portrait of the event, and the Civil Rights Movement at that time. News footage of police spraying activists and demonstrators with fire hoses caused an outcry across the nation.
Reverend Martin Luther King and others were present in Birmingham to help organize demonstrations, and King spoke at the funeral of the four girls. It was a pivotal time in the nation’s history. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that summer…yet still, nearly six decades later, America is still dealing with issues of race and inequality at a fever pitch. “4 Little Girls” stands as a necessary reminder of a true tragedy in our country’s past, and hopefully points us all to work towards a better present and future.
Spike Lee’s continually produced films intended to inform and spotlight our country’s real problems with racism, from "Do the Right Thing" to "Malcolm X" to his latest “BlacKkKlansman,” which was a big critical and commercial success. “4 Little Girls” remains a somewhat less known, but just as insightful and profound work in his filmography that deserves even more notice. Produced by HBO, it was rightfully nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.
Where to Watch
4 Little Girls
Documentary / 1997
Synopsis: On Sunday, September 15, 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by four members of a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated racist group. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, four African-American girls between the ages of 11 and 14 who had been attending the church's Sunday school, were killed in the blast. Director Spike Lee's somber 1997 documentary tells the story through new interviews and archival footage.