Diplomatic Bunche 

Biopic sheds light on overlooked statesman

Ralph Bunche may not be a household name like Jackie Robinson or Rosa Parks, but he probably should be. Bunche, the first African-American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (a full 14 years before Martin Luther King Jr. got the prize in 1964), is often considered the first person of color to break into the American mainstream in a field other than sports or entertainment.

Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey, a new biopic by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker William Greaves, follows the life of the international statesman from his Detroit upbringing to eventful career as Under Secretary General of the United Nations. IMAGE Film & Video Center is offering a free screening of the documentary Thursday in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.

With narration by Sidney Poitier, the film lends appropriate gravity to celebrating a figure often sadly overlooked by modern considerations of racial history. Through newsreel footage, authentic photos and interviews with an astounding number of academics, Greaves reconstructs Bunche's life, from Harvard scholar to Howard University professor to governmental adviser during World War II.

Bunche's real claim to fame, however, came through his role with the newly formed United Nations in the late 1940s; his negotiations of the armistice between Israel and several Arab nations led to his Nobel honor in 1950. An unexpected side perk of the documentary is its concise history lesson in Middle Eastern tensions, exposing the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that garners international attention even today.

Though a few dull spots (and some truly dreadful voiceover readings from Bunche's private memoirs) do little to elevate the film above standard PBS fare, Greaves gives Bunche some overdue props on the role he played in eliminating the evils of colonialism and advancing basic human rights for people everywhere.

Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey screens Thurs., Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m., at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site Screening Room, 450 Auburn Ave. Free. 404-352-4225.

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  • Re: Fresh air

    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

    • on June 29, 2016
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