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Apart from Do the Right Thing, this surprisingly humble 1997 documentary may be Spike Lee's best film to date: there isn't an ounce of flab or hype, and the story it tells is profoundly affecting. In September 1963 four black girls attending Sunday school at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, a central meeting place in the civil rights movement, were killed in a racist bombing. This is a detailed exploration of what that event meant at the time—to family, friends, and the movement—and what it means today. In the only picture Charlie Parker ever painted—a beautiful portrait of a daughter who died in infancy—he imagined what she might have looked like in her 30s, and in 4 Little Girls Lee gets us to imagine something comparable. He uses John Coltrane's “Alabama” with tact and sensitivity, making up for his crude use of the piece in Malcolm X. My only quibble is that he doesn't tell us more about the belated sentencing of the bomber. 102 min.

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