By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Since his dynamic portrayal as a savvy financial exec with bipolar disorder in the groundbreaking television series “Empire,” Trai Byers’
profile has risen. Byers starred as civil rights activist James Forman in the 2014 Oscar nominated movie “Selma.” As good as Byers was in “Selma,” he delivers an even more powerful performance in his latest film “The 24th”
which he co-produced and wrote with Oscar winning director Kevin Willmott
(“Da 5 Bloods” and “BlacKkKlansman”).
“The 24th” is a historical drama that is loosely based on the true story about the all-Black 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment and the Camp Logan Mutiny also known as the Houston Riot of 1917. This horrific incident occurred when members of the Houston Police Department harassed local blacks in the community. When black soldiers intervened, they were also threatened and that resulted in 156 soldiers marching on Houston in response to the violence. The riot lasted two hours. It led to the death of nine civilians, four policemen and two soldiers. The Houston Riot was the largest murder trial in U.S. history as 19 soldiers were sentenced to execution and 41 received life sentences.
“The 24th” takes place four months after the U.S. entered World War I. Col. Norton (a convincing Thomas Haden Church, “The Peanut Butter Falcon”) is the commander of the 24th and informs the men that he plans to prepare/train them so they can fight in France. Many of the soldiers are looking forward to the opportunity to serve their country. However, their training would take place in the segregated city of Houston. Instead of fighting, the men are relegated to protecting Camp Logan, the Houston army training facility that’s under construction. While there, they are met with blatant racism at every turn.
If there is anybody who has been deceived and betrayed during their stint in the military it’s Sgt. Hayes (a fantastic, Mykelti Williamson, “Emperor”). He’s a bitter old man who tells the young soldiers they’re fools to think they will be treated with respect and equality. Afterall, Sgt. Hayes isn’t even respected by Col. Norton’s vile and racist assistant Abner Lockhart (Jim Klock, “Green Book” and TV’s “Sasquatch Watch”).
So, it’s no surprise Sgt. Hayes is especially leery of the newest recruit, Boston (Byers), an optimistic Sorbonne educated, soldier who has a lot going for him. Boston really believes that he and the rest of the black soldiers can indeed make a difference.
Sgt. Hayes isn’t the only one that doesn’t like Boston. Walker, (a powerful Mo McRae, TV’s “All Rise”) is an uneducated and flippant soldier who is incredibly jealous of the guy, but really Walker is filled with self-hatred.
It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears for these men to realize they are stronger together than apart.
Fortunately, for Boston he finds love and falls for a sweet piano player named Marie (a superb Aja Naomi King, “The Birth of a Nation” and TV’s “How to Get Away with Murder”). They have big dreams, but fate may not be kind to bring them to fruition.
In addition to Byers and Williamson, “The 24th” also features fine performances from Tosin Morohunfola (TV’s “Black Lightning”) Cuyle Carvin (TV’s “Cobra Kai”) and Bashir Salahuddin (Upcoming, “Top Gun: Maverick”) and Tony Demil (TV’s “Succession”).
“The 24th” is an infuriating, riveting and timely movie that spotlights another grim chapter in American history.
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Check Out This Trailer For "THE 24TH"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.