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Rated NR · 100 minutes · 2015

A prosaic treatment of an engrossing subject, this documentary by Aviva Kempner looks at the self-effacing Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who presided over Sears Roebuck as it grew into a retail empire, then used his personal wealth to build more than 5,000 public schools for African-Americans across the segregated south. (He also founded the Museum of Science and Industry, declining to put his name on it.) The documentary suffers from Kempner's clumsy use of clips from Hollywood movies to provide historical color, and near the end her ostensible hero begins to disappear amid thumbnail portraits of the many artists he funded (including Langston Hughes, Jacob Lawrence, Marian Anderson, Ralph Ellison, and Gordon Parks). But Kempner has also interviewed people whose lives were shaped by Rosenwald's charity—Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis, Julian Bond, John Lewis, Eugene Robinson, Rita Dove—and their cultural reminiscences give a strong feeling for what he was all about.
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Director: Aviva Kempner
Writer: Aviva Kempner

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