Radical History: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

How do you recognize a radical?

A smiling 98-year-old woman with the world’s most sensible haircut, shuffling along a sunny, decrepit Detroit street, hardly seems like one of America’s great radicals, but she is — a dialectal humanist, Chinese-American black power activist, and sometime Marxist with a thick FBI file.

Lucky for us, Grace Lee Boggs never stops talking. Grace Lee’s documentary is a glorious feat of editing — in content, visually, and of sound. Lee began her work with the superficial idea of interviewing the many other Asian women also named “Grace Lee,” but in Boggs she found a formidable force and an agent of one of the most dramatic political movements of our time.

Boggs and her African-American husband, James Boggs, were not just activists but also intellectual heavy hitters. “We realized a rebellion is an outburst of anger but it is not revolution,” Boggs says. “Revolution is evolution toward something much grander in terms of what it means to be a human being.”

She is acutely aware of her place in this history, but her thinking remains sharp and deeply connected to the moment. This film is one of our best documents of the civil rights era, but it is also a portrait of someone with a singular perspective, a big mind, and a joyous aptitude for conversation.

Lee’s movie is the most fun you’ll ever have in a history lesson.

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