By Teelia Gooden
The opening scene of The Two Killings of Sam Cooke, a newly released documentary on Netflix, shows the legendary artists Smokey Robinson and Dione Warwick smiling with glee as the soulful sounds of Sam Cooke echoe in the background.
The expectation from the documentary has proven to be transparent. There were times where the story conflicted itself as it outlined the details surrounding Sam Cooke’s death. Some accounts weren’t told truthfully and some in a pacified manner. Honesty, was expected.
The complications happened when the young lady who accused Cooke of raping her changed her story. Then the film shifted from, ‘he caused his own murder’, to, ‘he was set up’, to ‘the FBI wanted to take him out’. You can see how confusing this can become.
Overall, the documentary was enjoyable and educating. It was raw in its form and honest, to say the least. The Two Killings of Sam Cooke gave an insight into people of color attempting to color outside the lines, becoming either a target or a martyr along the way.
The love of clarity and additional of information was appreciated. The interviews showed the lighter side of Sam Cooke that only those close to him would have known.
Seeing Cooke’s lifeless body in the beginning was startling for a moment. I found myself unable to move past that moment in time, teleporting into that space. Although I didn’t agree with its placement in the film, it was necessary to identify him as a person senselessly killed for his beliefs and slandered post mortem.
Due to the time period depicted in the film, the audience was able to teleport into the Civil Rights era. I was able to feel my hair being pulled and body being shoved by a white man as I walked down the streets in 1964. The audio guided me as I drifted my eyes from left to right on my television screen.
Introducing the relationship and correlation between Malcom X, Muhammed Ali and Sam Cooke was brilliant because it made sense of who Cooke was. As a viewer, I was able to understand Cooke, not only as a performer, but as a social activist for his people. At the young age of 33, Cooke’s voice was reaching not only to his people but was breaking color barriers too.
Which brings me to the purpose of the film, who was Sam Cooke?
Sam Cook wasn’t a rapist, as told from the viewpoint of family, friends, and legendary artists honoring his character. He was as a man who didn’t have to force himself on anyone; a man that the black community took pride in; a man that was a civil rights activist and who helped shape the landscape of African American music.
Smokey Robinson recalls Cooke experiencing what life was like in the Jim Crow South, on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’, having to endure separate accommodations for people of color. It ate at the core of Cooke’s pride.
In 1960, Cooke refused to perform at a segregated nightclub.
“I’ve always detested people of any color, religion or nationality who lack courage to stand up and be counted,” he said.
Three years later, Cooke would compose “A Change Is Gonna Come”, a song that shaped the nation and popular black music forever.
A year later he was found shot to death by the manager of a Los Angeles hotel, a murder in which the LAPD failed to conduct a proper investigation.
When the news of Cooke’s death went public it shocked the world, more so that there was no news coverage to patronize his life.
He would’ve been remembered as another black man who was gunned down in the streets of L.A. The world we live in today is no different than the world Sam Cooke lived in. The injustice are still roaming free while the, legacies of the Malcolms, Martins, Medgars, Sandras, and Sams are all buried.
They were all people of color who used their voices to bring change, only to be silenced due to their refusal to “SHUT UP and COLOR.”