Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey

Director: William Greaves
Screenwriters: William Greaves, Leslie Lee

Institute History

  • 2001 Sundance Film Festival


The legacy of Nobel Prizewinner Ralph Bunche, who died in 1971, has faded from public consciousness in the 30 years since his death. Given the historical significance of his life as a diplomat and scholar, and his impact on the shape of twentieth-century political life, this neglect is particularly lamentable. Thus, William Greaves's compelling documentary chronicling Bunche's achievements acquires even more importance.

Ralph Bunche was a national icon in the decades after World War II. His role as the behind-the-scenes mediator of the 1949 armistice between Israel and its four Arab neighbors marks the only time in the history of this Middle Eastern conflict that an agreement has been signed by all parties. It was also the event that precipitated his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. His later position as under-secretary general of the United Nations, his critical contribution to the decolonization of Africa, and his calm handling of other international insurgencies are revealed here in fascinating and complete detail.

Greaves is a veteran documentary filmmaker whose expertise and professional skills are fully on display in this serious, yet captivating portrait of a man who played a leading role in creating the world as we know it, but who remains obscure and rarely spoken of in the media. Bunche is also noteworthy as the first person of color to win the Nobel Prize and one of the few African Americans of his generation to achieve prominence inside the halls of traditional power. Narrated by Sidney Poitier, Ralph Bunche succeeds in painting a vivid portrait of a remarkable man.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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