Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

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Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
Unforgivable Blackness- The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.jpg
dvd cover
Directed byKen Burns
Produced byPaul Barnes
Ken Burns
David Schaye
Written byGeoffrey C. Ward
Narrated byKeith David
Music byWynton Marsalis
CinematographyStephen McCarthy
Buddy Squires
Edited byPaul Barnes
Erik Ewers
Florentine Films
Distributed byPBS
Release date
January 17, 2005
Running time
214 Minutes
220 Minutes (DVD version)
CountryUnited States

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson is a documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Geoffrey C. Ward (2004). In Burns' signature style the 220-minute film serves as a biography of Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, as well as a documentary of racism and social inequality during the Jim Crow era against which Jack Johnson lived in defiant opposition.

The documentary was first broadcast on PBS in two parts on January 17 and January 18, 2005. The film is narrated by Keith David[1] and features a soundtrack by Wynton Marsalis and Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of Jack Johnson.[2] Alan Rickman also contributed his voice to the documentary. Stanley Crouch appears offering commentary, including a quote from Johnson responding to a question from a white woman about black people, "We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts."

This documentary is an example of a type frequently used by Burns, namely authority contributions, where a range of authorities give voiceovers to contribute particular details. Stanley Crouch is the star authority, whose personal recollections, storytelling ability, and frequent appearance, lend an air of intimacy and detail.[3]

In 2005, the film earned Ken Burns an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming and won for Outstanding Nonfiction Special. Geoffrey C. Ward won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming. Keith David won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.[1]

The film was produced by David Schaye, Paul Barnes and Ken Burns (Executive Producer) for Florentine Films.

See also[edit]

The Great White Hope, Howard Sackler's 1967 dramatization of Jack Johnson's life.


  1. ^ a b The Hollywood reporter: Volume 395. 2006
  2. ^ About time: Volumes 32-34. 2004, page 12.
  3. ^ Grindon, Leger (2007-10-22). "Q & A: Poetics of the Documentary Film Interview". The Velvet Light Trap. 60 (1): 4–12. doi:10.1353/vlt.2007.0014. ISSN 1542-4251.

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