There are some things in life that are simply once in a lifetime experiences. Sam Cooke the singer is a once in a lifetime experience for anyone who loves music. Sam Cooke the activist and black nationalist is a black treasure lost in the media mutilation of his body and legacy. The Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke seeks to place singer, songwriter Sam Cooke in a contemporary context of “Black Lives Matter” by highlighting Cooke as a political activist. While clearly the efforts of white producers who seek to steer contemporary fervor stealthily in their favor, the documentary scores in implementing black celebrities and black scholars to tell the untold story of a man who was not just a singer or songwriter but a legend.
Realistically, aside from the stamp of time that has claimed many close to Cooke, like his family who have since transitioned, the documentary deviates little from previous documentaries on the singer. Though the documentary references the death of Cooke’s son Vincent, the film remains largely focused on Cooke the businessman and activist rather than the personal elements of his life. This focus makes the comment about Cooke’s “womanizing” from a white female former colleague appear deservingly crass.. Her comment also reeks of an upset that sounds reminiscent of a woman scorned, but I digress.
The documentary tackles black conspiracy in a manner that appeases the white gaze. The featured black scholars and celebrities bring integrity to the project and the black archive with their commentary on the following.
The brotherhood with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jim Brown, a colloboration Jim Brown (featured in the documentary), called “defying second class citizenship.” Brown also delivered the most resonating line in the film, stating that “hit records didn’t do it for him like touchdowns didn’t do it for us.” Brown’s line renders a poignant denouncing of the symbolism too often used tp attain black satisfaction.
II. Posthumous Releases
Sam Cooke’s live concert at the Harlem Square (1963), not released until 1985 because it was deemed “too black” and “too soulful” for universal circulation
“A Change Gonna Come” was also not released until after Cooke’s death.
This reminds the masses that in addition to what we wear, what we hear is systemically influenced to impair our ability to fight back. To release Cooke’s mergence of soul and activism after his tragic and bizarre death is to change its functionality. After Cooke’s death, the music serves as a warning of what consequences blackness imbues, yet to those who know and love Cooke’s craft, the song and album capture the immortal status of the black archive.
III. Sam, The Black Nationalist Businessman
Sam the Businessman:
The documentary also makes a significant comparison between sharecropping and the music industry. Money, fame and material continues to obscure the oppression that remains aligned with the music industry.
Sam didn’t wish to be a sharecropping singer, he wished to own the crop.
Sam desired economic and creative ownership over his talent. Thus, he was not only affiliated with black nationalism but espoused to its praxis.
IV. The power of black influence
The film notes that Sam Cooke, unlike most of the singers of that time, refused to conk his hair. Rather, Cooke donned a natural look that inspired many to go natural. He would go on to inspire feelings of black empowerment in others throughout his career, something that would eventually lead to his untimely death at 33.
V: Just Another N*gga
One of the most significant aspects of the documentary was the revelation that Cooke’s death was initially not investigated because he was thought to be “just another n*gga killed in Watts.” As delineated by history, Cooke’s murder would never receive an extensive investigation because the details that surrounded his murder painted him in America’s image of the black man.
VI. Once in a Lifetime Voice
The most touching component of the documentary was watching those who loved and admired Cooke listen to Cooke’s once in a lifetime voice, that though physically silenced, continues to sing the notes of the black experience from the grave.
The beauty the black scholars and black celebrities bring to this documentary, however, does not negate the reality that no documentary can do this for us. By “this” I speak to a black quest for truth. Yes, in placing Cooke in a contemporary context, the documentary reveals information previously stated but not attached to the singer’s legacy. However, there is still a lot that remains unsaid. To laud this documentary as presenting the whole truth is to issue Cooke a third death.
This documentary puts forth information surrounding Cooke’s murder like a good suspense film. Remastered leaves audiences intrigued and with good talking points for superficial engagement with a serious topic. Simply put, Remastered barely scratches the surface of what lies beneath this tragedy.
Sam Cooke’s battered and bruised body tells a vastly different narrative than the tabloids– a narrative not even a seemingly radical documentary will tackle. The documentary, while it does feature footage from Cooke’s funeral, does not give readers a close view of Sam’s beaten face. The parallel between Cooke and Emmett Till is made early in the documentary but retires to the back of viewer memory by the time the film revisits Cooke’s murder. The murder of black people does not just happen to the individual, it continues to happen to all of us. These mutilated bodies, as heartbreaking as it is to see, remains necessary in affording a portrait of oppression. These images showcase what racism looks like upon the canvas of the black body. This omission is a means to ensure that the white audience remains comfortable with the conflict of race, which is inherently racist.
The black community has never believed Sam Cooke died how the media said he died. This documentary appears to be for those who did. Cooke’s death delineates the normalized mistruths that sew together the displaced African’s experience in America. If the Sam Cooke story does not inspire one to adopt the praxis of black nationalism fearlessly, or to question every component of “truth,” then his legacy remains tragically reduced.
Cooke is an archive of what celebrity should mean and the fear that enables it to function as it does. He remains a testimony to the high price paid for not only desiring to stand upright as a black man, but seeking to create and own a platform to empower the black creative .
Mr. Cooke, may you rest in the peace you strove to give your people in life.
You’re still the best Cooke in town.
Black Power ❤