Nothing But a Man ★★★★

Mild Spoilers

There's so many great things going on in Nothing But a Man. First, the direction is beautiful; it's sensitive and gentle and definitely inspired by Oscar Micheaux in part, especially in the setting and the independent filmmaking style. Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln are absolutely wonderful in the lead roles. Josie's (Lincoln) little smile, one she can't help but get whenever she's around Duff (Dixon) is the sweetest thing to see. It felt so authentic and was such a lovely acting choice to convey this blossoming love and how new and exciting it felt to her.

One of the major themes of the film is financial and economic discrimination and how that affects Duff and his perception of his own masculinity. He's separated from his young son for two major reasons: his own fear of commitment to fatherhood and his job which keeps him in a different city. Duff's father and him have a difficult relationship as well due to his father's alcoholism and lack of presence in Duff's life, and it looks like Duff will continue a cycle if he continues to refuse to acknowledge his son as his own. There is also the element of Duff struggling to hold down one of the few jobs available to him, a Black man, in his small Southern town because he refuses to be spoken down to by the white men around him. The description of the movie on Letterboxd calls him proud, but I think him standing up for himself to racism is not pride but instead a man recognizing his self worth and making it clear to others. Of course, this is a threat to white supremacy, so he is essentially barred from most work in town, and his inability to work affects his relationship with Josie, who worked as a schoolteacher and is now a housewife. Duff feels emasculated by his inability to provide for his family as man of the house, both because of his job and because of Josie's own middle class background because her father is a preacher. While masculinity is in the thematic forefront, Josie's struggles around her role as a married woman are still an important part of the story, both with it being subtly clear Josie misses her teaching job and with Josie and other Black women of the film being forced into the role of mediator or minimizer of conflict instigated by their male partners. This also means that Duff takes some of his anger out on Josie. Because of this, their reconciliation at the end becomes bittersweet, and I'm not entirely sure if that was intended. Duff does take the step to be the present father he did not have, though Josie and Duff still have struggles ahead of them and it is saddening to think she still could be the receiver of his anger due to the white supremacist and patriarchal world around them.

Overall, I really liked Nothing But a Man and definitely recommend it for fans of thoughtful independent filmmaking, or for people who have enjoyed Dixon in supporting roles in the 60s classics A Raisin in the Sun and A Patch of Blue.

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