Sharpton says film debuts at ‘critical point’ in US politics

Dec 6, 2022, 6:23 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2022, 10:31 am
FILE - Director Spike Lee, left, and activist The Rev. Al Sharpton attend the premiere for "Loudmou...

FILE - Director Spike Lee, left, and activist The Rev. Al Sharpton attend the premiere for "Loudmouth" during the 2022 Tribeca Festival in New York on June 18, 2022. The film opens at theaters in over 20 cities Friday. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

              FILE - The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a news conference in Chicago, Friday, July 8, 2022. A documentary about Sharpton "Loudmouth" opens at theaters in over 20 cities Friday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
              FILE - Rev. Al Sharpton attends the Harry Belafonte HB95 benefit tribute, in honor of the 95th birthday of the singer, songwriter, activist and actor on March 1, 2022, in New York. A documentary about Sharpton "Loudmouth" opens at theaters in over 20 cities Friday. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Invision/AP, File)
              FILE - Director Spike Lee, left, and activist The Rev. Al Sharpton attend the premiere for "Loudmouth" during the 2022 Tribeca Festival in New York on June 18, 2022. The film opens at theaters in over 20 cities Friday. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton has been called a lot of names in his public life: a hustler, a racist, an opportunist, a fraud, a rat, a jester.

He embraces at least one of the intended insults, a name often hurled by his critics on the right and the left: “Loudmouth.” That’s also the title of a two-hour documentary about the national civil rights leader debuting at theaters in 50 cities Friday.

Sharpton’s brash and combative styles, deployed in his advocacy for victims and families seeking accountability over police brutality and racial injustices, are on full display as filmmakers trace his evolution from Brooklyn rabble-rouser to sought-after figure in the U.S. political arena. Sharpton said he hopes the film inspires up-and-coming generations of loudmouths to join movements against injustices in their own communities.

“You had to be loud because you were not invited to address the public,” he says in the documentary framed around a wide-ranging, sit-down interview.

The lean physique Sharpton sat for the interview dressed in a three-piece, tailored suit and tie — a noticeable contrast to the rotund, chain and medallion wearing young man in a track suit, who many older Americans may remember.

The documentary opens with the civil rights leader’s 2019 birthday party, which was attended by A-list celebrities and top New York elected officials. The film concludes with a tearful Sharpton leading a prayer in 2021 after a jury convicted a white, former Minneapolis police officer for the murder of George Floyd. In between those bookends, viewers see an in-depth exploration of Sharpton’s upbringing by his mother, Ada Richards Sharpton, mentorship by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and soul music icon James Brown, as well as his headline-grabbing activism in New York in the 1980s.

It’s arguably the most nuanced look at the leader to date.

Directed by Josh Alexander and executive produced by singer-songwriter John Legend, “Loudmouth” has already screened at the Tribeca, Chicago, Philadelphia, Martha’s Vineyard and Denver film festivals. Its nationwide release comes at a “critical point” in U.S. politics, when divided government via the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate could mean intensified activism around a civil rights agenda, Sharpton said.

“I think it’s more needed now than ever,” he told The Associated Press, “the kind of direct action and work on the ground that create the climate for protest. It’s going to double our efforts.”

As he wraps up 2022, Sharpton reflected on what has been a mixed, yet consequential stretch in progressive politics. On one hand, the midterm elections showed larger than expected engagement among a younger generation of voters, which blunted a predicted “red wave” in state and federal offices. By that, Sharpton said he is encouraged.

On the other hand, violence via mass shootings this year, including the massacre of Black shoppers by a white supremacist gunman at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, woke many up to how intractable politics on guns and racial justice can be.

“I think that the shooting showed that we were not nearly as far as we thought we were going to go after George Floyd,” Sharpton said. “From the shootings in Buffalo, to the synagogue attacks, to the LGBTQ attack (in Colorado Springs), there’s widespread violent hate out there.”

“We’re going to have to have strong, hard enforcement legislation,” he added.

Alexander, the director, said whether viewers come out of the film loving or hating Sharpton, they will go away understanding what the leader was up against.

“If he’s saying the same things now that he’s been saying for decades, but now he’s celebrated and back then he was castigated, what does that tell us not about him but about the media ecosystem at the time?” Alexander told the AP.

Sharpton, 68, has been a go-to advocate for grieving Black American families seeking justice for nearly countless incidents that highlight systemic racism. Democratic politicians see him as a necessary ally for shoring up their credentials on racial justice issues.

It took Sharpton more than two decades to get there. Born in 1954 in Brooklyn, he showed promise as a preacher at age 4 and was ordained as a minister by age 10. At 13, Jackson appointed Sharpton as youth director of New York’s Operation Breadbasket, an anti-poverty project of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

By the ’80s, a young adult Sharpton constantly courted controversy for using inflammatory language against his opponents. His most fiery rhetoric was reserved for the elected officials from whom he demanded action on cases of racial violence and police brutality.

“Loudmouth” relies heavily on footage from that period. The documentary highlights Sharpton’s activism in the cases of Michael Griffith, a 23-year-old Black man killed in 1986 by white men outside a pizza parlor in the then-predominantly white Queens neighborhood of Howard Beach; Yusuf Hawkins, a Black teenager fatally shot in 1989 after being confronted by a mob of white youths in the historically Italian American neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn; and most controversially, Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old Black girl who in 1987 accused six white men, including police officers, of assault and rape in upstate New York.

A grand jury later found evidence that Brawley had fabricated the story. Although Sharpton was hardly the only prominent New York figure who believed Brawley’s story, many of Sharpton’s critics still bring up the case to discredit him.

“Later in life, I became more conscious,” Sharpton says in reflection in the documentary. “I saw Tawana, in many ways, like the Black mother I had that was fighting for kids. … I saw in her a Black woman that Black men wouldn’t stand up for, and I wasn’t going to be the one to walk away from her. No matter how hot it got, I just wasn’t going to do it.”

Sharpton told the AP that the documentary does a good job of dispelling the narrative that racism was largely a problem of the U.S. South.

“Racism was not just a Southern thing, it was a Northern thing,” he said. “But it was manicured racism, until we got out there and marched.”


Aaron Morrison is a New York-based national writer on the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 201...
Associated Press

Google hopes ‘Bard’ will outsmart ChatGPT, Microsoft in AI

Google is girding for a battle of wits in the field of artificial intelligence with “Bard," a conversational service apparently aimed at countering the popularity of the ChatGPT tool backed by Microsoft.
22 hours ago
FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Se...
Associated Press

Boeing plans to cut about 2,000 finance and HR jobs in 2023

Boeing plans to make staffing cuts in the aerospace company's finance and human resources departments in 2023, with a loss of around 2,000 jobs
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Tuesday’s Scores

GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL= Annie Wright def. Chimacum, forfeit Annie Wright def. East Jefferson Co-op, forfeit Bellevue Christian 62, Klahowya 31 Camas 71, Battle Ground 14 Cascade Christian 41, Life Christian Academy 24 Central Valley 57, Lewis and Clark 56 Clarkston 57, East Valley (Spokane) 4 Clover Park 41, Orting 22 Colville 49, Medical Lake 38 […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Tuesday’s Scores

BOYS PREP BASKETBALL= Annie Wright 80, Chimacum 34 East Valley (Spokane) 74, Clarkston 70 Gonzaga Prep 69, Mead 56 Lewis and Clark 55, Central Valley 51 Mt. Spokane 79, Ridgeline 55 University 74, Cheney 39 District Tournament= Class 1A District 5= La Salle 58, Royal 33 Naches Valley 61, Wahluke 39 Toppenish 61, Connell 45 […]
22 hours ago
In this undated photo supplied by the New Zealand police, a shipment of cocaine floats on the surfa...
Associated Press

New Zealand police find 3.5 tons of cocaine in Pacific Ocean

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand police said Wednesday they found more than 3 tons of cocaine floating in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean after it was dropped there by an international drug-smuggling syndicate. While they had yet to make any arrests, police said they had dealt a financial blow to everyone […]
22 hours ago
Rep.George Santos, R-N.Y., lower center, and other Republicans, gather in the House Chamber before ...
Associated Press

GOP on GOP: Romney scolds Santos, ‘You don’t belong here’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. George Santos positioned himself in a prime location for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address — an uncomfortably prominent place for the embattled new lawmaker who faces multiple investigations and has acknowledged embellishing and even lying about his life story. Santos’ presence at the center aisle to see […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Sharpton says film debuts at ‘critical point’ in US politics