*In advance of Black History Month, Olive Films will debut on Blu-ray the civil rights-inspired “Amazing Grace“ ($29.95 SRP) and the “astute and compelling” biography “King: The Martin Luther King Story” ($29.95 SRP) on Tues, Jan 27, 2015. Each will also be simultaneously re-released on DVD. “Amazing Grace“ is rated “G” and “King” is not rated.
While many are familiar with the story of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of peace and justice, few are aware of the trailblazing comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley and her influence on the civil rights movement. Moms was an extraordinary performer, the first female comedian to be featured at the Apollo Theater, dubbed the first “cougar” & “the funniest woman in the world,” and popular among African-Americans.
Yet, Moms was unknown to white audiences until the 1960s, becoming a sly avatar for the civil-rights movement and tackling issues of male sexual power and racism.
Appearing on the “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1969, Moms told a story about the “special” name she was called in the South:
“What’s that man got that horse in pictures . . . that Western man?” Moms asked Griffin.
“Roy Rogers?” he replied.
“They name me Roy Rogers’ horse…,” starts Moms.
“Trigger?” Griffin suggests.
“Yeah, everywhere I go, they’re, ‘Hello, Trigger. What you saying, Trigger?’ At least I think that’s what they say.”
Merv Griffin turned pale when he realized he was set up. Moms had a deep, civil rights-driven connection with John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., even meeting them during her life.
She was fortunate to have the ear of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and used her gentle-but-pointed comedy to push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It made it that much more poignant when she sang the song “Abraham, Martin and John” in 1969. Her tear-jerking rendition includes a fourth verse about Bobby Kennedy and reached the US Top 40, making Moms the oldest performer to top the charts at 75.
Watch Moms Mabley’s “Abraham, Martin and John” performance:
In “Amazing Grace,” her fifth and final film, she played a rousing community organizer. Near the end of the film, Moms (as Grace Tisdale Grimes) gives a speech to a group of college kids, telling them they shouldn’t wait for someone else to change society for them, they have to make the decision within themselves to become a person that improves society and fights for justice.
The audience is left with the message that if we use our mouths and our minds to put forth positive change, then we as a nation will be “OK”. This sentiment is echoed in an on-set interview Moms gave while “Amazing Grace“ was in production.
Expertly scripted and directed by Abby Mann, the 1978 three-part television miniseries “King: The Martin Luther King Story” center’s on Paul Winfield’s masterful portrayal of King, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award. Nominated for a total of nine Emmy Awards, the mini-series was made with the support of the King family, several of whom appeared in the film in small roles. For example, King’s daughter Yolanda plays Rosa Parks.
See Paul Winfield give Dr. King’s speech at the “Selma to Montgomery March”: