Barry Jenkins Puts a Spotlight on Ruby Dee and Black Power

Inside Criterion / On the Channel — May 3, 2018


The late Ruby Dee has long been revered as a tireless activist and an electrifying performer both onstage and on-screen. Much less well known is her groundbreaking work behind the camera, which includes a project she developed with director Jules Dassin in 1968, a year of widespread civil unrest that marked a major turning point for the Black Power movement. As coproducer, cowriter, and star, Dee was the driving force behind Uptight, a powerful—but still largely unknown—political thriller about a group of black revolutionaries in Cleveland that grows more radical in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. “It’s such an amazing film—and nobody’s seen it, and people should watch it,” says Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, who has brought the movie to the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, where it’s presented alongside this impassioned new introduction. 

For Jenkins, Uptight—a loose remake of John Ford’s Irish War of Independence drama The Informer—is a staggering work of courage, one that was made at considerable risk to Dee and Dassin, the latter of whom was blacklisted in the 1950s for alleged communist sympathies. With its premiere on the Channel, audiences will see a film that has just as much to tell us about race and politics in American life now as it did upon its release fifty years ago. Alongside Uptight, you can also check out the other personal favorites Jenkins has selected to accompany his wide-ranging and intimate Adventures in Moviegoing conversation, in which the filmmaker discusses his own journey as a movie lover.