Dick Gregory took on a lot of challenges. The respected comic used humor to deliver messages about injustice. Then Gregory turned into a focused civil rights activist working closely with Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. Then he became an evangelist for healthy eating. It is all there in “The One and Only Dick Gregory” a documentary premiering July 4 on the Showtime network.
“Dick was the person that stepped in and made political and social issues the subject of his humor,” said Harry Belafonte, fellow entertainer who also is an activist. Belafonte and Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, contribute perspectives on Gregory’s significant role in the civil rights movement.
A six-year labor of love, the film was directed, produced and written by Andre Gaines. Clips from Gregory’s appearances from late-night television are woven between comments from his wife Lillian and four of his ten children. He was a loving husband and father but was constantly on the road. There were times when Gregory’s activism resulted in him losing work. He went to jail 100 times. He was shot in the leg while trying to break up an altercation. He always fought for justice. At his core he kept the humor going to deliver a message of how people should be treated.
“For him, making people laugh was not enough. Being out there on the front lines of the civil rights movement, he made a huge sacrifice,” said Wanda Sykes, one of the comedians who appeared in the documentary.
Other admirers featured in the film include fellow comedians Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, W. Kamau Bell, Rob Schneider and Kevin Hart. They respected Gregory’s in-your-face and adventurous humor. Actress, producer and writer Lena Waithe noted the risks taken by Gregory in blending his comic talent with activism. In addition to on-camera interviews Hart and Waithe were film executive producers along with Christian Gregory, one of Gregory’s sons,. Schneider served as a producer.
Gaines blends footage from 1960s and 2020 protests. A statement is being made about how the struggle continues. At times in the film, watercolor paintings of Gregory are used where there is only an audio of his voice. The director allows the viewer to hear Gregory describe his activist persona.
“I got turtle philosophy. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside and willing to stick your neck out. That’s what it’s about,” shouts Gregory.
With Gregory missing performances due to his activist role, little money was coming in for the family. When paid gigs were booked, more than likely Gregory gave a lot of that money away for causes and people he felt needed it more. Ensuring he kept it together was Gregory’s wife Lillian.
“Lillian was in the truest sense, Dick Gregory’s foundation,” said Rock Newman, Washington, DC area businessman, talk show host and close family friend. “If you called Greg and asked him where he was going, he never knew. He would say ‘Call Lil.’”
Other Washington, D.C. area notables appearing in the documentary were Dr. E. Faye Williams, president and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women, media CEO Cathy Hughes and talk show host and producer Joe Madison.
Gregory’s approach to protest moved to long periods of fasting and running great distances. Again, he knew his purpose. Gregory wanted to bring attention to the Vietnam war, apartheid and mistreatment of Native Americans and women.
“Young people would ask me what distinguished him. I’d say the fact he shook the body politic, and he enjoyed flirting with the establishment on his terms,” said Belafonte. “I just fell in love with him all the time. He was my man.”
View the official movie trailer for “The One and Only Dick Gregory” https://youtu.be/QZjZ1VbhgvM
Twitter and Instagram: @andregaines
YouTube: Director Andre Gaines talks about “The One and Only Dick Gregory” https://youtu.be/Zpc7HSy2TqE