Best Picture This: The 1973 Academy Awards- Sounder

David Lee listens to his parents arguing over a lack of food.

The first of our Kick It or Keep It Best Picture This columns where we either keep a best picture nomination or kick it from its cinematic pedestal.

1972 was a banner year for cinema. Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway hit the big screen. Clint Eastwood was Joe Kidd. Charlton Heston directed himself and Hildegard Neil (who passed away late last year) in Antony and Cleopatra. 1972 also saw the releases of The King of Marvin Gardens, The Candidate, Jeremiah Johnson, and Super Fly.

It’s also the year that the 1973 Best Picture nominees were released. The Best Picture nominees were: The Godfather, Cabaret, Deliverance, The Emigrants, and the focus of today’s column, Sounder.

History At A Glance 1972

The 2oth Olympic Games started on August 26th, 1972. Eleven days later, Palestinian terrorists with the organization Black September would kill eleven Israeli Olympic athletes. (see: The Oscar winning documentary One Day in September, Steven Spielberg’s Munich).

David Lee reads The Three Musketeers in Sounder

After forty years of experiments the U.S. Government ends the Tuskegee Experiments when the press releases to the public that more than 399 African-American men with syphilis were left untreated, on purpose, with the intention of seeing the side effects. An average of 100 men died from the disease when a simple shot of penicillin would have saved their lives.

The Farley Award

The Farley Award is given to the best scene in the movie. Of course, best scene is objective. You may have a different favorite scene in a movie and that it okay. We ask our readers to share their favorite scenes from any of the movies we discuss.

The Farley Awards for Sounder goes to the scene David Lee finds a classroom with nothing but kids that look like he does. Unlike the classroom we see David Lee attend early in the movie there’s not a white face present at the classroom he finds along his journey to find his father.

David Lee enters a classroom in rural Louisiana.

Today, seeing a classroom made up of only African-Americans may be a touchy subject for some people to handle. But for David Lee (Kevin Hooks) the sight, after walking for days, is like a breath of air. The look on his face is one of pure wonder. You can actually hear him think how could a place like this exist? In a movie full of flat scenes it’s a stand out.

The Golden Take

Sounder, the name of David Lee’s dog, is basically a road trip movie, but without a car. Road trip movies start for all sorts of reasons. David Lee’s road trip starts after his father is found guilty of stealing meat from a local smokehouse. Nathan Lee (Paul Winfield, who was nominated for a Best Actor) is sentenced to a year of hard labor at a work camp. When people were sentenced to hard labor it usually meant the feared chain gang. However, we never see Nathan Lee actually in prison.

Nathan Lee plays baseball after a long day of working in the fields.

In any good road trip movie, the characters learn something about themselves and about the people they’re on the road trip with. David Lee doesn’t go on his little road trip with anyone, but he still learns a lesson on the bonds between father and son. At the end of the movie, we finally see David and Nathan Lee embrace in a hug when we only saw them shake hands before.



Sounder is set in 1993 Louisiana. In 1933, sharecropping was a major economic driver in the south. Basically, sharecroppers rented the land from the owners, usually former slave owners or descendants of slave owners, in exchange for planting crop, pick the crops, and then give the owner a large percentage of the crops. If sharecroppers couldn’t meet the demand of the owner, the sharecroppers could be kicked off the land and a new family moved in. Sharecropping was one step away from being slavery.

Plessy v Ferguson, better known as “Separate But Equal, was passed by the US Supreme Court in 1896. It was the ruling that would end segregation in the United States. It did the complete opposite making segregation legal. Jim Crow laws remained in place throughout the south.

David and Nathan Lee sit at a river bank talking about the past and the future.

However, you wouldn’t know this by watching Sounder. It’s been cleansed of anything that remotely resembles racism or the racist policies of the south. We never see Nathan Lee working at the labor camp and, except for two short scenes, we never see how hard it is for Rebecca (Best Actress nominee Cicely Tyson) and her remaining two children to plant the crops.

Would you kick or keep Sounder? Let us know on our all social media accounts. And be sure to join us next time as we look at Jan Troell’s The Emigrants.