- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

America is a fascinating, strange place, and no more unique individual has been seen in a documentary in some time than Daryl Davis, a black musician who played with legends Little Richard and Chuck Berry. That in itself, while praiseworthy indeed, pales in comparison to Mr. Davis‘ “hobby,” which is meeting KKK and other white supremacists face to face in an effort to try to change their minds about their preconceived notions about racial issues and America’s history.

“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Mr. Davis is seen repeatedly asking Grand Wizards, white supremacists and racial separatists throughout this fascinating documentary from filmmaker Matt Ornstein, who co-produced with Noah Ornstein.

Whether it is because of the presence of Mr. Ornstein’s camera, or due to a tremendous sense of ignorance suddenly shined upon by enlightenment, many of Mr. Davis‘ queries go unanswered.

“Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America” follows Mr. Davis on his strange quest, intercutting between his gigs in jazz joints with traveling to such fraught places as the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was killed, and to the statue of Confederate general and KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest sited not far away.

Then he has his sitdowns, which must be seen to be believed. Incredibly, Mr. Davis soon calls many of these persons his friends. Even more unbelievably, some eventually renounce their former prejudicial beliefs entirely. Mr. Davis can be seen in the film carrying in his possession the robes of Grand Dragons who have left the Klan’s ideology behind and donated the garbs to him as a way to publicly renounce their hatred.

Naturally, not all are so easily swayed, even by one so brave and so calmly persuasive as Mr. Davis. One of the most tense sequences shows Mr. Davis meeting with leaders of Baltimore’s Black Lives Matter lobby, who excoriate him for even deigning to sit down with white supremacists — insinuating that Mr. Davis has sold out or, worse, may in fact be an Uncle Tom.

Mr. Davis is an enthralling presence, whose mission seems undertaken not for attention or a lofty liberal ideal of “converting the wrong” but rather from a deep-seated, lofty notion that we, as Americans, must share this land, and can learn and grow and change if only we have discussions rather than scream into a microphone — or a Twitter feed.

“Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America” airs Monday on “Independent Lens” on PBS. Visit PBS.org for airing schedule.


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