But before WOL in DC, as history slabs it, Petey (Ralph Waldo Emerson Greene on his birth certificate) had a stint at Lorton Reformatory for armed robbery. It was while incarcerated that he spun the black circle for the inmates, who in turn stomped his name like he were Cash at San Quentin. Or, more appropriately, Brown at the Apollo.
Don Cheadle is con man Greene in another standout performance in his steady career. He befriends (or rather, force a tie on) program director Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose been a minor name since Stephen Frear’s 2002 Dirty Pretty Things). The bond is met with reluctance from Hughes, who fears his boss (Martin Sheen) will can him over hiring Greene, who retaliatingly pins Hughes as a sell-out to The Man.
With Petey Greene on the scene exploiting race-centered headlines and happenings, WOL’s ratings apex. This all sounds very Good Morning, Vietnam and Private Parts, and it is (though Stern’s story takes place some 15 years later). Greene is, undoubtedly, a distant disciple of Adrian Cronauer and an idol to Howard Stern.
The hip flow of Kasi Lemmons’ Talk to Me is blockaded at the moment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Now, more than ever (as the roundabout script reminds us every six minutes or so), Washington needs Greene to “tell it like it is,” even with the FCC cocking their guns. He remains as collected as one could have been given the circumstance, spinning Sam Cooke’s pro-rights anthem ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’
And then things get too biopic: the bottle overtakes Greene’s life and career, fading him into near-obscurity and an early grave, his memorial service attended by some 10,000. Facts yes, but we wonder if his life was meant for the big screen (was Stern’s?). Lemmons works plenty of magic (with help from editor Terilyn A. Shropshire), but is disinterested in making his picture as explorative or daring as the subject.
I admire Petey Greene, and if there’s something to be said about him, it’s that he was an audacious individual, a shepherd to the flock of not just African Americans and/or radio DJs, but those without a microphone. His story, however recycled it may seem, deserves better.
Who is Petey Greene? (10:13) wastes its time with production footage and Dewey Hughes instead of focusing on the REAL Petey Greene and his tribulations. A decent interview-laden making of…but not the mini-doc on Petey we’re led to believe.
Recreating P-Town (11:07) takes a look at the faithful costumes and production design. Smart addition to the otherwise skimpy disc.