A Lesson Before Dying

"A young man's destiny becomes a teacher's journey."
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Based on the novel by Ernest J Gaines starring Don Cheaole (Grant Wiggins), Mekhi Phifer (Jefferson) and Cicely Tyson (Tante Lou). A Lesson Before Dying is set in the 1940s and is about a wrongfully accused black man (Jefferson) sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Jefferson is mentored by schoolteacher Wiggins who guides Jefferson down the road to a personal rebirth as he in turn begins to answer questions to his life that has gone unanswered for far too long.

The film starts as Jefferson is innocently fishing and somehow gets caught up in being accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Racial disparity is at its peak in Louisiana, and there’s no relief when Jefferson’s attorney uses a lame-duck defense to save his life. Jefferson’s godmother Miss Emma (Irma Hall) recruits a very resistant Wiggins who is a black community teacher to help Jefferson learn life's lessons.

Wiggin’s journey with Jefferson begins on unsteady legs, unsure about his unwitting participation, Wiggin’s fights through divides between light and dark skinned blacks, differences between believers and nonbelievers as well as struggles with the church in regards to his nonconforming views as to Jefferson’s path to seek redemption. Throughout the film Miss Emma is gradually put through an emotional wringer as Jefferson slowly and sadly cuts the life long caretaker out of his existence after his incarnation.

This dark drama has many real life, thought provoking questions to ponder and in Jefferson’s case, that might be too little and too late to answer. Overall both Wiggins and Jefferson exchange the gift of the human experience, the knowledge of accepting responsibility to self and others in the challenges of life. Amy Peacock screenplay captures the essence of the novel and brings to life the heart and soul of the human will.

| 1999 | 1 hr 45 min | 6.7/10
Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson, Mekhi Phifer, Irma P. Hall
Joseph Sargent
A Lesson Before Dying
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