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Home of the Brave

Examines the case of Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman murdered in the civil rights movement.

A printer-friendly version of this page 75 minutes
Directed by Paola di Florio
Produced by Paola di Florio, Nancy Dickenson
Photographed by Joan Churchill
Narrated by Stockard Channing

"A serenely powerful, handcrafted film that navigates into a place Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once called 'the tangled discords of our nation'" DAILY VARIETY
Home of the Brave is about the only white woman murdered in the civil rights movement and why we hear so little about her. Told through the eyes of her children, the film follows the on-going struggle of an American family to survive the consequences of their mother's heroism and the mystery behind her killing.

Viola Liuzzo was a 39-year-old Detroit teamster's wife and mother of five, who joined thousands of people converging in Selma, Alabama for the march on Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King in 1965. But shortly after the historic Voting Rights March had ended, she was shot in the head and killed by a car full of Klansmen, while driving on a deserted highway.

Liuzzo's death came at a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, when President Johnson had been fighting an uphill battle to push the Voting Rights Act through Congress. Her murder is attributed by historians of the era as providing the final piece of leverage that won Johnson approval of the Act in Congress, which forever changed our political landscape.

Why do we not know the story of Viola Luizzo, while nearly everyone has heard of Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney -- the three rights workers killed the year before in Mississippi? The reasons are complex, and won't be found in history books. Immediately following her murder, Liuzzo became the target of a smear campaign, mounted by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, as a means of diverting attention from the fact that a key FBI informant was in the car with Liuzzo's killers. This discrediting of her name -- mostly based on her gender and wholly unfounded -- succeeded in erasing Viola Liuzzo from our cultural memory. After delving through thousands of pages of government documents and filming interviews with leaders in the fields of politics, history and forensics psychology, the filmmakers shed a new light on this complicated, buried story.

Parallel to the Civil Rights struggle for which Viola lost her life is the present-day journey of her five children. Mary, the middle daughter, decides to retrace her mother's road trip from Detroit to Selma with the filmmakers. In the mid-60s she was an angry kid in the midst of a personal rebellion with her mother. The trauma of her sudden death caused her to bury any memories of her mother. Instead, she found herself reliving only the details of her gruesome death and its tumultuous aftermath. Now as an adult, she's ready to bring her back into consciousness. What she finds in Selma is both surprising and profoundly healing.

Her brothers Tony and Tommy, who as boys felt the weight of it all on their shoulders, were eventually hit the hardest. Theirs is a path routed in turmoil, resulting largely from repeated failed attempts to vindicate their mother and seek justice their family. Their lives have been torn apart by what they see as a betrayal of their government, and after decades of fighting, they've each resigned themselves to their own form of refuge, which disconnects them from their sisters and the rest of the world.

Home of the Brave links the personal and the political, the past and present and has a disturbing resonance to our world today.

Grade Level: Grades 10-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2005     Copyright Date: 2003
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-244-5     VHS ISBN: 1-59458-243-2

"The film is interesting in its examination of the terrible personal toll the murder took as well as the great societal changes that the Selma March spurred. It is a disturbing investigation into the misuse of power and its lasting detrimental effects. For high school classes studying civil rights, political science, government, and history."
Mike Brown, Bowie High School for School Library Journal

"Di Florio has seamlessly woven together the strands of past tragedy and contemporary ramifications into a film that is stingingly personal and universal at the same time...required viewing by all citizens if we hope not to repeat this awful chapter."
Hollywood Reporter

"There is nothing simple about this moving, historically significant, riveting film... A movie of twists and turns that continually surprises and should be seen by as many Americans as possible."
Fox News

"Haunting... Home of the Brave does a meticulous job of summarizing these notorious events, but it is the stories of Liuzzo's five children that give it fresh emotional power."
NY Daily News

"Amazing footage from the glory period of the civil rights movement... Fascinating."
Christian Science Monitor

"The empty rhetoric about 'the price of freedom' that dominated so much post-9/11 posturing by politicians and opportunistic public figures snaps firmly into focus in light of this searing documentary's revelations about Viola Liuzzo...Even more than a crucial piece of remedial historiography, the film is also an unsettling exploration of the impact violence and shameful injustice continue to have on a family nearly 40 years after the fact."
TV Guide's Movie Guide

"***** Home of the Brave is one of the most important films of the year...The civil rights struggle presented in the film provides a timeless reminder that no country can honestly call itself a democracy if any segment of its population is denied full access to basic liberties... a powerful film worthy of a truly extraordinary American."
Phil Hall, Film Threat

"Poignant... freshly outraging..."
The New York Times

"A serenely powerful, handcrafted film that navigates into a place Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once called 'the tangled discords of our nation'."
Daily Variety

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Awards and Festivals
Short-Listed for Best Documentary Feature, Academy Awards®
Nominated for Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival
Nominated for Best Feature Documentary, IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards
Gold Plaque, Chicago International Television Awards
Social Justice Award, Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Port Townsend International Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Runner-Up, Audience Choice Award, Cleveland International Film Festival
San Francisco International Film Festival
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Philadelphia Film Festival
Ashland Independent Film Festival
Vermont International Film Festival
Western Psychological Association Film Festival
National Association for Multicultural Education Conference
American Psychological Association Convention

African-American Studies
American Government and Politics
American Studies
Civil Rights
Conflict Resolution
Human Rights
Political Science
Race and Racism
Social Justice
Social Psychology
Women's Studies

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... more Reviews

"Searing... not to be missed..."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Home Of The Brave stands out as both relevant and moving."
The Onion

"Highly recommended. The still-unanswered questions about Viola Liuzzo's murder, the surprising outcomes of the Liuzzo brothers' stories, and the emotional wallop of Mary's visit to Alabama make this an engrossing and moving viewing experience."
Brian Falato, Educational Media Reviews Online

"Home of the Brave...strives to restore the credit due to [Liuzzo] for her role in history and her personal sacrifice. Highly Recommended, especially for public, college, and high school library collections."
The Midwest Book Review

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