"A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks' Criticism: Defining Portraits

John Maggio’s “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks” shares a title with the autobiography of the great photographer from 1966,...


John Maggio’s “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks” shares a title with the autobiography of the great photographer from 1966, which expressed his need for a camera mightier than a sword. Parks was born in 1912 as the last of 15 children on the Kansas family farm. He then recounted defining chapters in American history through the establishment pages of Life magazine, with nuanced fidelity to the black experience.

Maggio’s documentary walks through Parks’ rich photographic essays on a Harlem gang leader, the segregated South, Muhammad Ali, and a boy in a Rio de Janeiro favela, as well as the first daring work on Ella Watson, janitor at the Farm Security Administration. A line is drawn between Parks’ legacy and the cultural narratives drawn by current photographers Devin Allen and LaToya Ruby Frazier.

This avoids a portrayal of Park – an avuncular sage in a sweater and pipe – as a stand-alone figure. He also made history as the first black artist to produce and direct a major Hollywood movie (“The Learning Tree,” from his own book), to direct a pop culture landmark in “Shaft », To compose music and to write several books. Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, and conservation critics hold valuable but similar views on her empathy and perspective.

Maybe no documentary can do Parks justice. But “Choice of Weapons” ends up rationalizing its complexity, and its relaxation goes beyond its other audiovisual production (soon screened in a retrospective at Anthology Film Archives). Yet, as Parks once said, “I consider this to be my world,” and we all still live in it.

A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 29 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.

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