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Film / 4 Little Girls

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"On Birmingham Sunday a noise shook the ground
And people all over the earth turned around
For no one recalled a more cowardly sound
And the choirs kept singing of freedom"
Joan Baez
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4 Little Girls is a Spike Lee joint from 1997.

It is a documentary film about the notorious 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. Four white racists planted dynamite which exploded at 10:22 am, shortly before Sunday services at the church were to begin. Killed in the explosion were four young black girls: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Carol McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 11). Eventually, long after the murders, one of the perpetrators is put on trial.

The tragedy ignited worldwide anger and outrage and is widely seen as being a factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.


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Tropes:

  • Black Best Friend: A withered, frail George Wallace (governor of Alabama at the time of the bombing and at that time a passionate defender of segregation) chooses to demonstrate that he is not a racist by trotting his companion Eddie Holcey, who appears to be a caretaker, and proclaiming Holcey to be Wallace's best friend. Holcey doesn't look too happy about it.
  • Blatant Lies: Howell Raines, then a teenaged boy growing up in Birmingham, describes seeing footage of Fred Shuttlesworth being beaten. Raines recognized one of the men beating Shuttlesworth, so he was shocked to realize that police were lying when they said they didn't know who did it.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: A member of the congregation recalls dreaming of blood streaming from the church on the morning of the bombing.
  • Gorn: Lee makes a point of showing the morgue photos of all four dead girls.
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  • The Ken Burns Effect: Another stock documentary trope, used with stills documenting civil rights protests in Birmingham as well as with many photos of the murdered girls.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Jesus. Robert Chambliss is said to have enjoyed bombing. One person says that Bull Connor, the notorious racist sheriff of Birmingham, couldn't have existed without the broad support of the less overtly hostile white people of Alabama.
  • Stock Footage: Lots, of the civil rights protests in Birmingham, news coverage of the church bombing, and other subjects.
  • Talking Heads: Used in classic documentary style. Friends and family of the four murdered girls are interviewed at length. Walter Cronkite appears briefly, musing that the bombing helped move public opinion in America in favor of civil rights.
  • Title Drop: References to the "four little girls", as well as a song called "Four Little Girls" that plays over the end credits.
  • The Voice: Spike Lee never shows his face on camera but can be occasionally heard questioning his interview subjects.
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