Sammy Davis Jr. documentary to bow tonight at JCC

“Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” a major film documentary that examines the performer’s vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America will be shown tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center, 5342 St. Charles Avenue.

Presented as part of the Cathy and Morris Bart Cultural Arts Series, the 100-minute film will be seen prior to its being shown nationally over PBS later this month. It is free and open to the public.

Davis had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, so vast and multi-faceted that it was dizzying in its scope and scale. And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was the veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions trying to stay relevant; he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America; he was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to another persecuted minority.

The doucmentary features new interviews with such Hollywood celebrities Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak and features never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection. There are also excerpts from his legendary performances in television, film and concert. The film show the trajectory Davis’ career enjoyed across the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the 1980s.

Part of the lyrics to the song “I’ve Gotta Be Me” echoes the trials and tribulations of his own life: “I want to live, not merely survive And I won’t give up this dream Of life that keeps me alive. I’ve gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me The dream that I see makes me what I am.”

And beside being a great dancer and singer, he was a comedian who never failed to make his audiences laugh.”I’m Puerto Rican, Jewish, colored, and married to a white woman. When I move into a neighborhood, people start running in four ways at the same time,” he said.

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