Rosewood is the true story of an almost unknown incident in a small Florida town, (fictionalized, but faithful to the known facts, as documented in a 1994 report by the Florida Legislature). The town was inhabited almost entirely by quiet, “middle-class” African- Americans (most of them home and land owners and better off than average at the time.) On New Year’s day, 1923, the town was wiped off the face of the earth by angry whites from a neighboring community. Based on palpably false testimony by a single white woman against one “Black” stranger, many of the men of Rosewood were hunted down and lynched, or shot, or burned. The rest of the town’s residents fled into the swamps and never returned. At the time, official reports stated that two to six people from the black community were slain. Neither the perpetrators nor the victims spoke of the incident again, which was promptly forgotten until 1983 when a reporter stumbled across the old story and began investigating. Interviews with surviving victims indicated that the previous reports were wrong; in reality, between 70 and 250 people were killed in Rosewood during the four-day attack.
The film is a human story, about human envy, greed and lust, about the totally insane psychology of a mob, but also about the courage and decency of common folks facing an unbelievable onslaught of evil. The courage of the black residents is self evident, and the decency on the part of a few white neighbors is reluctant, until they realize that they can’t live with themselves if they don’t help the woman and children to escape. The most notable black heroes are Sylvester (Don Cheadle) — a music teacher and the best-educated man in town — and Mann (Ving Rhames) — a stranger on horseback with Samson-like strength who becomes the focus of white hatred and black resistance. The penny-pinching, adulterous town grocer John Wright (John Voight), one of the few white residents, also plays a key role in saving lives, but before he does, he must resolve painful racial issues and make a difficult personal choice. Eventually, though, he sees enough of the mob’s evil to know what he must do, and with the help of the reluctant owner-operators of the Gainesville railway, he does it. John Singleton’s powerful epic film does not present a “comfortable” view of the circumstances of this grim, little-known page from American history. via