Rosewood (film)

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Rosewood 1997 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Singleton
Produced by Jon Peters
Written by Gregory Poirier
Starring Jon Voight
Ving Rhames
Don Cheadle
Bruce McGill
Loren Dean
Esther Rolle
Elise Neal
Michael Rooker
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Johnny E. Jensen
Edited by Bruce Cannon
Peters Entertainment
New Deal Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s)
  • February 21, 1997 (1997-02-21)
Running time 140 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million
Box office $13,130,349

Rosewood is a 1997 film directed by John Singleton. While based on historic events of the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida, the film introduces fictional characters and changes from historic accounts. It stars Ving Rhames as a man who travels to the town and becomes a witness. The supporting cast includes Don Cheadle as Sylvester, who also becomes a witness to the riot, and Jon Voight as a white store owner who lives in a village near Rosewood. The three characters become entangled in an attempt to save people from racist whites attacking the blacks of Rosewood.

Due to its scenes of violence, assault, and sex, and profuse use of racial slurs and curses, the film received an Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating of R. It was favorably reviewed by many critics, more than any John Singleton film since Boyz n the Hood.[1] The film was not a commercial success and it was unable to recoup its $30 million budget at the box office. The film departs from what is known, especially in the portrayal of the number of fatalities. In another example of changes, the Ving Rhames character fights a white mob with pistols; this did not happen. The siege of the Carrier house did take place.

The film was entered into the 47th Berlin International Film Festival.[2]


Main article: Rosewood massacre

Rosewood relates the historical events of a January 1923 race riot in Rosewood, Florida, in which whites attacked blacks and burned the town down. A mentally unstable white woman, Fanny Taylor, claims to have been beaten by a black man. Historical accounts note that this was never proven. The movie shows a white man, not Fanny’s husband, in her bedroom where they have sex. Shortly after he finishes, he prepares to go back to work. She accuses the man of having an affair with another married woman and hits him from behind. He strikes her back, knocking her across the bed and onto a floor. While she's on the floor he continues to kick her. Some black workers outside heard the events but did nothing. When they told about it, their account of a white man beating Fanny was not believed. Singleton presents it as looking as if Fanny was covering up her cheating on her husband by blaming it on a black man. The white residents readily believe Fanny's account, demonstrating the power of racial stereotyping and fears. The black residents of Rosewood quickly become targeted by the white males of nearby Sumner, Florida and others who arrive for a fight, including members of the Ku Klux Klan. Mobs formed swiftly.

The movie features the fictional character of Mann, played by Ving Rhames. Mann is a WWI veteran who is traveling around in search of land. He meets and falls in love with a woman in Rosewood named Beulah or "Scrappie" and has stayed there. After Fanny tells her story of rape, Mann leaves town. He is afraid of being lynched as a suspected stranger. He hears stories of the attacks and returns to the town to save the woman he loves, together with children she cares for.

Some white men who lived in Rosewood helped black people escape from the mob. Railroad conductors smuggled people out of town on the rail cars that ran nearby. In the movie, Voigt as Wright asks the train conductors to pick up the women and children. Other blacks took refuge in white people’s homes, including Wright's. Racism was shown by the mob's avoiding Wright's house but burning down those of blacks. They did not bother with known white houses. Although it was dangerous for them to do, some white men like Wright protected blacks from death.

In the movie, the mob believed James Carrier held information about the escaped convict Jesse Hunter. Wright let the Sheriff take Carrier, because the officer said he only wanted to question him. When Carrier said he didn't have any information, he was shot immediately by one of the mob. Wright gets upset and the mob accuses him of being soft on blacks. The scene shows that most of the white men didn't agree with what was going on, but were too afraid to face the mob.

The movie portrayed towns near Sumner trying to prevent the violence from spreading. At one point the men of Sumner were following the trail of some men. But when they get to the border of Alachua County, heading toward Gainesville, a group of armed white men stopped them. They protected their black citizens, saying they are law abiding and peaceful, and Singleton demonstrated that not everyone agreed with the riot.

As word spread to the federal government and national newspapers, the media splintered in its portrayal of events. Some portrayed the murder at Sylvester Carrier's as appropriate to stop the black men from arming. They relied on rumors and fear. Southern white newspapers explained mob's actions as the way to avenge the rape of Fanny and keep blacks in their place. The Afro-American newspapers encouraged blacks and praised them for staying behind to defend their homes and property. Officially the death toll was eight people total, two whites and six blacks. Other accounts by survivors and the Afro-American newspapers were of a higher toll. The movie portrayed the newspapers as contributing to the riot; men came from neighboring towns and even states to put down the riot.

At the end of the movie, a narrative states that some blacks and one white testified as witnesses in court in a 1990s suit of survivors against the state for its failure to protect the people of Rosewood. (In the 1980s, newspaper reporters investigated and publicized the long-secret story.) This was followed by a state investigation and report. Florida was the first state to pay reparations to survivors and their descendants for a racial riot.



Critical response[edit]

Rosewood was well received by the majority of critics and currently holds an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[3]

See also[edit]


  • D'Orso, Michael. Like Judgement Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood. [S.l.]: Boulevard, 1996.
  • Loewen, James W. (2005). Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New York: New Press. Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  • Henry, Charles P. (2007). Long Overdue: the Politics of Racial Reparations. New York University Press. 
  • Rosewood. Dir. John Singleton. Perf. Ving Rhames and Jon Voight. Warner Bros., 1997. DVD.


  1. ^ John Singleton films at Rotten Tomatoes
  2. ^ "Berlinale: 1997 Programme". Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  3. ^ "Rosewood". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 19 June 2012. 

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