I’m Charlie Walker Review: Two tankers collided beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in January 1971; spilling 800,000 gallons of oil.
The incident is notable for igniting a campaign to protect the environment.
A Black trucker called Charlie Walker played a significant part in the cleanup movement during a period when white trucking unions and their political supporters were freezing out Black laborers in the Bay Area; which is less well known.
With “I’m Charlie Walker;” director and writer Patrick Gilles attempts to correct the narrative by employing the overly wide gestures of 1970s blaxploitation films to mixed results.
Mike Colter (“Luke Cage”) plays Charlie and gives him a cool intelligence; albeit his manner is more wink than a wallop.
As the Black proprietor of a trucking company; he must be astute to deal with white drivers’ crude bigotry and oil executives’ self-proclaimed superiority.
Walker gets a break when a foreman reluctantly gives him a length of the beach in Marin County to clear with an almost impassable road.
The crude oil is diverted away from the tourist hotspots where white truckers are waiting.
Charlie quickly gathers hippy volunteers and hires truckers eager for a paycheck — both Black and white — to help with the big cleaning.
Dylan Baker plays the ruthless businessman who believes he has complete control over Walker and the story.
The movie’s voice-over is provided by Charlie’s wife, Ann (Safiya Fredericks). Her story has a mythmaking undercurrent, but it’s also a deft celebration of Black love and family throughout the film.
‘i’m Charlie Walker’ Should Have Been a Documentary Instead?
When the postscript to a film based on a true tale is more engaging than the film itself; it’s never a good thing.
- Unfortunately; this is the case with Patrick Gilles’ “I’m Charlie Walker;” a biography about an ambitious Black trucker who secured a lucrative contract to assist clean up the worst oil spill in San Francisco Bay history after two Standard Oil tankers collided in 1971.
- This film would have been better as a documentary as interview footage of the actual Charlie Walker plays with text cards shortly before the credits roll.
- “I’m Charlie Walker” has all the elements of a fun period piece: a little-known true event; an environmental crisis; a vibrant locale, and an interesting subject in Charlie; played by Mike Colter.
- Gilles; the writer/director; employs various documentary techniques; such as a voice-over narrative provided by the character of Charlie’s wife; Ann; at the beginning of the film (Safiya Fredericks).
- But what should be a mechanism to assist us to comprehend Ann’s inner feelings on the subject becomes an extremely uninteresting way to set the scene for Charlie’s plight as a Black truck driver in San Francisco in the early 1970s; battling bigotry from the truckers’ union bosses.
- Charlie competes for a contract to assist clean up distant Stinson Beach when the tankers collide, grabbing the work opportunity.
When the winds start to blow his way; literally dropping the majority of the oil on his beach; he takes the lead; employing a crew and creating cleaning methods.
His public persona as a Black man irritates the prejudiced white “Tower Oil” executives in charge of the purse strings; who begin to undermine him.
Another Film on a Historical Black-Figure Is ‘i’m Charlie Walker,’ Which Aims to Educate White Viewers
After seeing the trailer, I knew I wanted to write a review for this picture.
It featured a Black businessman who was eager to play the game with white corporate males while being fawned over by predominantly white women.
Would this be another film that allows white audiences to witness a Black historical figure in a way that allows them to learn?
After seeing the film and seeing how much I hoped the trailer had focused on Charlie Walker’s determination to support his family and how white people are often the ones who “make it about race;” the answer is yes and no.
I’m Charlie Walker is based on the true story of Charlie Walker and is narrated by his wife Annette Walker (Safiya Fredericks) (Mike Colter).
He is a Black truck driver who heads the cleanup effort at Stinson Beach following the 1971 Standard Oil Spill at the Golden Gate Bridge.
He navigates white male truckers who don’t take his leadership seriously because of his race; white hippy volunteers who fetishize and tokenize his leadership, and white corporate oil company employees who try to blame him for the damage they did.