Review: A Man with Something Important To Say, Loudmouth Gives Rev. Al Sharpton His Due

The legacy of the Rev. Al Sharpton is complicated, one that is still being written and re-evaluated by films like Loudmouth, from actor-turned-director Josh Alexander (Prescription Thugs). The filmmaker presents a fairly neutral—sometimes inflammatory—profile of the man who rose to prominence (or notoriety) in the late 1980s by calling out the truth about race relations, particularly in New York City. During a succession of high-profile cases—Michael Griffith’s killing in Howard Beach (1986), Tawana Brawley’s rape allegations (1987), and the Central Park Five Case (1989)—Sharpton inserted himself into these incidents, often as an adviser to the families, and got himself in front of cameras and crowds of people eager to see what his take on the situation was. And quite often he pointed at the imbalance in the justice system in which white victims or suspects were given breaks and benefits of the doubt that Blacks simply were not. At the time, he was seen as a rabble-rouser and professional shit-stirrer; today, he seems more like a prophetic activist still fighting against racial injustice.

The Brooklyn native made plenty of enemies, as the film points out, at the highest levels of power in New York. He may even have sabotaged several cases by pesuading Black victims not to cooperate with police, but more often than not he threw a light on the city and country’s blinding passivity on structural racism. Loudmouth moves back and forth between Sharpton today—trimmer, polished, even part of the establishment with his long-running issue-oriented talk show on MSNBC—and the bullhorn-toting firebrand, taking what he learned from heroes and mentors like Jesse Jackson, James Brown, and John Lewis and putting his defiant spin on turning an issue around to its root causes.

The film ends with Sharpton’s impassioned eulogy at the funeral of George Floyd in 2020, and beforehand it spends a great deal of time focused on how Sharpton addressed not only Floyd’s murder but what it meant to him to see as many white faces as Black ones during Black Lives Matter marches across the country or BLM protests around the world. He’s no less fiery and sharp in his comments and observations, and perhaps the world has just caught up to him and is more ready to hear what he has to say.

On a personal note, I briefly lived in New York City in 1990-91, and there was hardly a day that went by that Sharpton wasn’t in the news, usually in a negative connotation. And while it may not have registered with me at the time, his claims then and now that the media treated him unfairly seem clearly correct today, bordering on obvious. He was a character, chubby (his own description), often in a track suit or flashy outfit, with wavy hair, and often at the center of or in front of a crowd. They called him “the reverend without a church,” which was the same as delegitimizing his credentials. And they were constantly accusing him of being nothing more than an attention seeker and self-promoter, looking for media attention at every turn. 

One of his best lines was delivered during the Floyd eulogy, when he more or less agreed with the assessment of his always seeking the spotlight. “You don’t reach out to me when you want to keep a secret,” he said of his ability to get the cameras pointed in his direction. Loudmouth is a profile of a man who knows that if someone is going to put the microphone in your face, you better have something important to say.

The film will be in select theaters beginning Friday.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

Join Our Newsletter today!