Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Director: Daniel Anker, Barak Goodman
Screenwriters: Barak Goodman

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


Scottsboro is a potent film, exposing another example of this country’s appalling injustices to black Americans. The film eloquently examines the years of hardship endured by nine black men solely because of the racism permeating our judicial system. The film brilliantly sets the stage for the unfortunate incident, beginning with a condensed portrait of the American South in the early 1930s. The Scottsboro case involved nine black men, ages thirteen to nineteen, accused of raping two young white women while riding the rails in Alabama in 1931. Ten thousand people gathered outside the jail in Scottsboro, where the boys were awaiting trial. Because no one in the state would take the case, the boys were poorly represented by a lawyer from Chattanooga. All nine were convicted and received death sentences. The American Communist Party came to their defense, staging rallies nationwide. The party also hired a famous defense lawyer from New York, Samuel Leibowitz, to retry the case, and it seemed the boys might finally get a fair trial. Though he introduced enough evidence for acquittal, Leibowitz did not take into account the negative impact he was having on an all-white, southern jury. The case was lost before he started.

The film successfully takes viewers on a multi-decade journey, following the boys from adolescence through their adult lives, where they became pawns in a fierce battle over race, politics, and geography. Interviews with surviving witnesses to the trials and letters written by the boys vividly bring the case to life in this pivotal, overlooked chapter in our nation’s history.

Screening Details


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