A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich

Watch A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich

  • PG
  • 1977
  • 2 hr 15 min
  • 6.8  (362)

"A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich" is a poignant and hard-hitting drama from 1977 that delves into the struggles of addiction and family dynamics within an African-American community. Directed by Ralph Nelson, this film is an adaptation of the novel by Alice Childress and offers a starkly realistic portrayal of the impact of drug abuse on young lives and their families.

The narrative centers on Benjie Johnson (played by Larry B. Scott), a bright and sensitive thirteen-year-old boy navigating life in the midst of the turbulent and often troubled environment of an inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood. Benjie's life is compounded by the difficulties of growing up without a father figure and seeking role models in an area where positive influences are scarce.

Cicely Tyson stars as Sweets, Benjie's determined and caring mother, who works tirelessly as a housekeeper to provide for her family. Despite her profound love and resilience, Sweet's efforts to keep her son on the right path are constantly threatened by the pervasive presence of drugs and crime in their community.

Paul Winfield plays Butler, a kind and understanding man who enters the life of Benjie and his mother when he becomes Sweet's boyfriend. Butler genuinely strives to fill the void of a paternal figure for Benjie, hoping to guide him with a firm yet understanding hand. However, the complexities of forming a new family unit and gaining the trust of a skeptical teenager like Benjie create tensions and challenges that Butler must face.

The film offers a candid and nuanced look into Benjie's descent into heroin addiction. Rather than presenting a simplified, one-dimensional view, it explores the various societal and personal factors that lure Benjie into the clutches of drug use. Peer pressure, the search for acceptance, and the escape from personal and socioeconomic hardships all play a role in his developing substance abuse issues.

Supporting characters in the film help to paint a broader picture of Benjie's world and the community's struggle with similar issues. These characters include teachers, friends, drug dealers, and other family members who each, in their way, affect or reflect Benjie's life choices and dilemmas. They represent the different paths one can take and the push and pull factors that influence a young person's decisions.

As a work of its time, "A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich" does not shy away from exploring racial and economic tensions. It provides a platform for discussing how marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by the drug epidemic, and how resources, support systems, and opportunities—or the lack thereof—shape the outcomes of individuals like Benjie.

The film is also a critical examination of heroism and role models through the eyes of a young African-American boy. The title itself is derived from Benjie's perspective on what it means to be a hero in a world where his supposed role models often fall short of his expectations. This exploration prompts audiences to consider who is deemed a hero and why, alongside how expectations of heroism can often be unrealistic or inapplicable to the conditions of real life.

Visually, the movie captures the gritty and often bleak landscape of the community it portrays, utilizing locations and set pieces that resonate with authenticity. The mood is further established through a soundtrack that conveys the era and the emotional undercurrents of the narrative.

The performances in "A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich" are powerful across the board, with Larry B. Scott delivering a raw and heart-wrenching portrayal of a boy struggling against overwhelming odds. Cicely Tyson brings her signature gravitas and emotional depth to the role of Sweets, creating a multi-layered character whose perseverance and love for her son serve as the emotional backbone of the film.

Paul Winfield's Butler is a complicated presence, offering wisdom and support amidst his own limitations and failings. His interactions with Benjie demonstrate the complexities of their evolving relationship, with each actor playing off the other to highlight their characters' shared vulnerabilities and desires for connection and change.

Ultimately, "A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich" provides a sobering and empathetic exploration of Subtly challenging viewers to reflect on their perceptions of addiction, family, and community, the film remains an important cultural artifact for its representation of the challenges faced by many African-American communities during the 1970s and continues to resonate in discussions of societal issues to this day.

A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich is a 1977 drama with a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.8.

Where to Watch A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 15 min
  • IMDB Rating
    6.8  (362)