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 dates
  • 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, when a white mob killed blacks and destroyed their town, the film introduces fictional characters and changes from historic accounts. In a major change, it stars Ving Rhames as an outsider who comes into Rosewood and inspires residents to self defense, wielding his pistols in a fight. The supporting cast includes Don Cheadle as Sylvester Carrier, a resident who was a witness, defender of his family and victim of the riot; and Jon Voight as a sympathetic 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 its portrayal of a higher number of fatalities than have been documented.

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


Main article: Rosewood massacre

A married white woman, Fanny Taylor, claims to have been beaten and raped by a black man. The movie shows a white man, not Fanny’s husband, in her bedroom where they have sex. They have an argument and strike each other. Some black workers outside heard what was happening but did not think they should intervene in white people's business. The white residents readily believe Fanny's claim. Hearing of an escaped black convict, a posse and other unaffiliated white men from Sumner and nearby towns go to Rosewood to investigate. The black residents of Rosewood quickly become targeted by a white mob, including men from out of state and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The movie features the fictional character of Mann, played by Ving Rhames. Mann is a WWI veteran who is scouting out land to buy. He meets and falls in love with Beulah, a woman in Rosewood also known as "Scrappie" and has stayed with her in Rosewood. After learning about Fanny's accusations, Mann leaves town. As a stranger, he is afraid of being lynched as a suspect. Learning of the mob attacks, he returns to Rosewood to save Beulah and 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, Voight 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.

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 many white men did not agree with what was going on, but were too afraid to face the mob.

At one point the men of Sumner were following the trail of some black 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 were law abiding and peaceful.

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; white men came from neighboring towns and even states to put down what was called a "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 by survivors against the state for its failure to protect the citizens of Rosewood. (In 1982 journalist Gary Moore was the first to break decades-long silence about the events at Rosewood.) This was followed by a state investigation and report. Florida was the first state to pay reparations to survivors and their descendants for racial violence.



The dramatic feature film Rosewood (1997), directed by John Singleton, was based on historic events in Rosewood, Florida when a white mob attacked the majority-black town and killed several residents, burning the town down. The long-suppressed history was revealed in the late 20th century, and survivors filed a claim against the state for failing to protect them. The legislature passed a bill for a compensation package for survivors and descendants, the first time that victims of racial violence have been compensated by a state government in the United States.

Minnie Lee Langley, a survivor, served as a source for the set designers, and Arnett Doctor, son of a survivor, was hired as a consultant.[3][4] Recreated sets of the towns of Rosewood and Sumner were built in Central Florida, far away from Levy County, where the events took place. The film version, written by screenwriter Gregory Poirier, created a character named Mann, who enters Rosewood as a type of reluctant Western-style hero. Composites of historic figures were used as characters, and the film offers the possibility of a happy ending.

Asked about why he decided to tackle this subject, Singleton said: "I had a very deep—I wouldn't call it fear—but a deep contempt for the South because I felt that so much of the horror and evil that black people have faced in this country is rooted here ... So in some ways this is my way of dealing with the whole thing."[5]


E.R. Shipp in The New York Times suggests that Singleton's youth and his background in California contributed to his willingness to take on the story of Rosewood. He notes Singleton's rejection of the image of blacks as victims and portrayal of "an idyllic past in which black families are intact, loving and prosperous, and a black superhero who changes the course of history when he escapes the noose, takes on the mob with double-barreled ferocity and saves many women and children from death".[6]

Reception to the film was mixed. Shipp commented on Singleton's creating a fictional account of Rosewood events, saying that the film "assumes a lot and then makes up a lot more".[6] The film version alludes to many more deaths than the highest counts by eyewitnesses. Journalist Gary Moore, who reported the events in 1982, breaking open decades of silence, believed that Singleton's creating Mann, an outside character who inspires the citizens of Rosewood to fight back, was condescending to survivors. He also criticized the inflated death toll, saying the film was "an interesting experience in illusion".[3]

On the other hand, in 2001 Stanley Crouch of The New York Times described Rosewood as Singleton's finest work, writing, "Never in the history of American film had Southern racist hysteria been shown so clearly. Color, class and sex were woven together on a level that Faulkner would have appreciated."[7] This is a different take than whether Singleton accurately represented events at Rosewood.

Critical response[edit]

Rosewood was well received by the majority of critics and currently holds an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Singleton films at Rotten Tomatoes
  2. ^ "Berlinale: 1997 Programme". Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  3. ^ a b Persall, Steve, (February 17, 1997) "A Burning Issue", The St. Petersburg Times, p. 1D.
  4. ^ "Raising 'Rosewood'", TCI (March 1997), pp. 40–43.
  5. ^ Levin, Jordan (June 30, 1996). "Movies: On Location: Dredging in the Deep South John Singleton Digs into the Story of Rosewood, a Town Burned by a Lynch Mob in 1923 ...", The Los Angeles Times, p. 5.
  6. ^ a b Shipp, E. R. (March 16, 1997). "Film View: Taking Control of Old Demons by Forcing Them Into the Light", The New York Times, p. 13.
  7. ^ Crouch, Stanley (August 26, 2001). "Film; A Lost Generation and its Exploiters", The New York Times. Retrieved on April 17, 2009.
  8. ^ "Rosewood". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 19 June 2012. 


  • 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.

External links[edit]