January 31, 2002

Cornell Cinema

Print More

Who is Dr. Ralph Bunches? If you know the answer to that question, you are one of a select and educated few. In light of the documentary film that focuses on the esteemed and influential career of Bunches called Ralph Bunches: An American Odyssey, this is a hugely unfortunate circumstance.

Contrary to what numerous American history books present, black history (to which the month of February is dedicated) extends far beyond the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement. The contributions of black Americans to not only the history of the United States, but also the world, are largely neglected outside of these two imperative, but not solely significant historical occurences. The story of Dr. Ralph Bunches, the first black American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, is a resounding testimonial to this type of neglegent oversight.

Bunches’ importance to world history in the first degree, United States history in the second, and black American history in the third perhaps holds more pertinance and gravity now more than ever before. In 1949, it is arguable that Bunches single-handedly affected the lives of the global population by serving as prime negotiator for the 1949 armistice between Israel and its four Arab neighbors. Consequently, his life-long work concerning the issues of colonization, to which he dedicated his dissertation and career, greatly shaped the history of this portion of the world in the last half of the 21st Century.

It is truly a disservice to the American public that Bunches’ name and accomplishments do not appear in the texts that educate us all on the story of this nation. His career, brilliance, and perserverance despite many obstacles in this country and abroad are a credit to not only African-Americans, but all Americans.

It’s highly unlikely that venture capitalists could have predicted that the most characteristically capitalist and profit-reeping project of the new millenium could be born out of Nazareth, Isreal, but it did. The city known world-wide among Christians and Muslims alike as the site of the Annunciation hatched a plan to captialize on the phenomenon of the year 2000.

This venture was undertaken in the hopes of drawing tourists and stimulating business in this less-visited metropolis of the Israeli nation. Interestingly, as the documentary Nazareth 2000 unveils, the project affected the relationships between the Nazarite people more than it did the economy.

The beautifully shot film revolves around the filmmaker’s own experience reaquainting himself with his native city and its set of unique and diverse cognitions, stories, and belief systems. The documentary is largely formatted with intimate interviews with very frank and honest citizens discussing and contesting what it means to be a Nazarite. These citizens range from Yassar Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to two loyal gas station attendants he has known since childhood, to members of his own family.

The discussion ultimately centers upon the Nazareth 2000 project and its effects on the city’s passionate citizens. The ensuing controversy largely stems from the religious split between Islam and Christianity that has existed there for centuries.

The result is a poetic portrayal of Abu-Assad’s homeland, his extreme affection for his people, and his consternation at the ever-present conflict that exists over the ownership of Nazareth and its religious obligations as a city.

Archived article by Laura Thomas