Co-writer/director Michael Roemer presents among the most memorable and honest of all cinematic character studies in this profile of Duff. Despite his disadvantageous position as a black man in a prejudiced society, Duff won't surrender his values or his dignity. For example, he refuses to deny wanting to unionize fellow mill workers, to defer to white men demanding subservience, or to accept jobs that demean him. Complicating his choices, Duff has a four-year-old son he isn't sure is his and hasn't seen in years, an alcoholic father who doesn't recognize him, and a father-in-law who doesn't approve of his romance with the preacher's daughter Josie. Equally impressive, Roemer faces the misogyny of the men while making sure that Josie is no naïve, elementary school teacher. Her insights and suggestions, calmly offered, resonate throughout the film.
Experienced Broadway actor Ivan Dixon, a director in his own right and president of the Negro Actors for Action at the time, brings his charismatic presence to Duff. As Josie, jazz singer and actress Abbey Lincoln (that's her stage name; her real name is Anna Marie Wooldridge) matches Duff's talent. Co-writer Robert M. Young's gorgeous black and white cinematography adds aesthetic and realistic power. And the music and sound, provided solely by fabulous 60s songs, comment implicitly on the action.
Above all, "Nothing But a Man" is a masterpiece of neorealist filmmaking with an impact that left me in awe. It screens at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 14th through Sunday, February 16th. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or on the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.