AFI Fest: Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

Sammy Davis Jr. had one of the most remarkable showbiz careers of any artist. From beginning as a child star to becoming one of the symbols of the Black community while battling with his race and ethnicity, Sammy was one of a kind. Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me attempts to boil down the essence of his life over it’s just under two hour run time and is an admirable take on the man, his myth, and legend.

What I found slightly puzzling about the film is that the movie is constructed in a bit of a wonky manner. Opening with Sammy hugging Richard Nixon and the fallout that cause and showing him showing up at a Black event and singing is an interesting way to kick off the film and state the central thesis. However, that felt like an immediate high point of the Sammy narrative and as the movie moves towards showing how complicated his race and ethnicity made his life, it loses some oomph. It’s basically a love fest with a few detours into the prickly nature of Sammy and his politics.

Despite this, the movie does present some fascinating food for thought for those of us who weren’t born during his heyday. In a way, watching this account of his life, especially the Rat Pack stuff, I was reminded about Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind. how does one reconcile with some stuff that would be hashtag problematic today and how someone needed to make a space for themselves in the past? It’s in these moments that Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me soars as a documentary and the best. Our heroes were people too, and exploring the more challenging aspects of the man’s life or challenging the audience to form a new view is really important for a documentary like this.

Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me is definitely a film that everyone should check out, regardless of how much you know about the man.

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