Winner of the Grand Prize for Documentary Feature at the Culver City Film Festival, Dr. Angela S. Williamson's My Life with Rosie is a compelling 64-minute film that shares intimate, largely unheard stories of a woman often referred to as "the mother of the freedom movement," Rosa Parks, whose passing at the age of 92 in 2005 led to her being the first person in American history who'd never been a politician to lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
My Life With Rosie finds its heart and soul in the the weaving together of interviews, especially those of Carolyn Williamson Green and Parks researcher Dr. Jeanne Theoharis, that share a vision of Parks that is often a stark contrast to the meek, mild grandmotherly type often portrayed by the media and historians in favor of what is proclaimed as a more accurate description of Parks as a bold, lifelong rebel whose arrest on December 1, 1955 in Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger is viewed by many, perhaps most, as having truly sparked the civil rights movement.
Over 4000 people attended Parks's Detroit funeral, including Senator Barack Obama who was quoted as saying "When the history of this country is written, it is this small, quiet woman whose name will be remembered long after the names of senators and presidents have been forgotten."
Indeed, even by many of those for whom she's served as a lifelong role model, Rosa Parks will always it seems be viewed through that rose-colored lens of a "small, quiet woman" rather than the woman who, upon her arrest, actually confronted the arresting officer and spoke her truth even in the face of tremendous adversity.
A first-time filmmaker, Dr. Williamson, who acknowledges being a cousin of Rosa Parks, has crafted a rather straightforward documentary that benefits greatly from being a straightforward documentary. Rather than tossing in unnecessary theatrics and special effects, Dr. Williamson obviously knows and trusts the power of the story she's here to tell and she's selected her interviewees well to tell that story. One of two key interviewees, Carolyn Williamson Green is not only also a Parks cousin but also served as Ms. Parks's caretaker and personal assistant and, as we learn over and over again in My Life With Rosie, a trusted confidante and favored companion.
The weaving together of Ms. Green's interviews alongside the more academic, historical reflections of Dr. Theoharis helps to provide a balance to the material that unfolds here and provides a fullness to the more personal life stories that are shared here. Parks's activism didn't begin or end on that bus, a fact that comes vividly to life in My Life With Rosie.
My Life With Rosie does occasionally fall victim to the inevitable challenges that come with low-budget filmmaking. The film's transition scenes, for example, sometimes lack the crispness that would aid in lingering emotional resonance. Likewise, the film's otherwise involving interviews are mildly impacted by the black background that is frequently utilized for the interviews in My Life With Rosie.
These are, it should be stressed, minor issues within a film that is consistently engaging, involving and manages to take what appears to be a familiar subject, the life of Rosa Parks, and brings magnificent new life to it.
As a white film critic who attended a 95% black college for my undergraduate degree and who was immersed in social justice and civil rights, I found myself enthralled by the real life tales of a woman who has always seemed to be both mild yet larger than real life. If there's one key thing that My Life With Rosie does and does really well, it's humanizing a civil rights icon and bringing her words and her deeds and her life into a current time in history when institutionalized and individualized racism, neither of which has ever actually gone away, has instead seemingly been given new life in ways that are jarring and frightening.
For more information on My Life With Rosie, visit the film's Facebook page linked to in the credits to the left of this review. If you get a chance to check it out, you'll definitely want to do so.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic