Birmingham Sunday in 4 Little Girls

I thought Spike Lee’s use of the folk song “Birmingham Sunday” by Joan Baez in the opening of the 4 Little Girls documentary was perfect as the song, juxtaposed with the images of four girls that the song was about, perfectly places the viewer into the time period and gives an immediate overview of what happened on that fateful day at 16th Street Baptist Church.

More so than that, I thought Lee’s ability to recall the song later in the film, when it is revealed that Bill Baxley listened to Baez’s Continue reading “Birmingham Sunday in 4 Little Girls”

When The Levees Broke: Off-Beat

Early on in WTLB (I’m sticking with this acronym from now on), it became clear that the combination of talking-head interviews and found footage would represent the aesthetic crux of the documentary. Yet, with each passing interview, I noticed Lee’s particular attention to primary colors. Continue reading “When The Levees Broke: Off-Beat”

Babyface back at it again with the lyrics

The opening sequence in Get on the Bus was accompanied by a Michael Jackson song that I had never heard before. I consider myself to be one of Michael’s biggest fans so after listening for the first thirty seconds and realizing that I wasn’t familiar with the song I immediately Shazamed it. After leaving the screening I googled “On The Line,” and found out that it was written and co-produced by Babyface with Michael, and was made for the movie Get on the Bus. The song was released in 1996 but not on any of Michael’s own albums or greatest hits collections. This blew my mind because I fell in love with the song instantly and I didn’t know why such a good song, even if it was made for a movie soundtrack, wasn’t technically apart of his body of work. Especially because other movie soundtracks have produced major hits in the past. For example, Whitney’s Houston’s The Bodyguard gave us “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You.” While “On The Line” is tailored to fit the movie, its universal message of strength and perseverance far extends past its original movie purpose.


Something that is also noteworthy about this song is that Spike Lee had Babyface and Michael Jackson co-write it. I think there is something to be said that two of the greatest song writers, and arguably the greatest performer of all time, came together to write a song for a movie about Black men coming together to fight for civil rights and justice. There is an inherent beauty in the conception of this song. Babyface was in his songwriting prime in the ’90s, writing songs for Mariah Carey, Tevin Campbell, Boyz II Men and many other superstars. I believe for him to take the time to write this song for Lee is his own personal  form of activism and homage to the struggle and legacy of the first Million Man march that happened in 1963. The song “On the Line” is layered with significance both in its conception and its delivery within the film. Beginning the movie with song produced and co-written by two superstar Black musicians for the purpose of said movie sets a precedent that the film is meant to make people stop and pay attention to its message.


No sense pretending its over
Hard times just don’t go away
You gotta take that chip off your shoulder
It’s time you open up
Have some faith

Nothing good ever comes easy
All good things come in due time
Yes it does
You gotta have something to believe in
I’m telling you to open mind

Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
You’ve got to reach out and try
Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
Gotta put it all on the line

You see yourself in the mirror
And you don’t like what you see
And things aren’t getting much clearer
Don’t you think it’s time you go for a change

Don’t waste your time on the past, no, no
It’s time you look to the future
It’s all right there if you ask
This time if you try much harder
You’ll be the best that could can be

Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
You’ve got to reach out and try
Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right

If you wanna do it now
You gotta learn to try
You can make it right somehow
Let love come free
And that’s just so easy now
You gotta go for what you want
You gotta do what you got to do

Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
You’ve got to reach out and try
Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right

[Repeat and fade out]