When I think of Friday nights, I think of rest; of sabbaths, relaxation, peacefulness, calm, repose; time-out. I also think of a good movie to watch. If possible, I would like to fill up my Friday posts (every now and again) with my favorite movies and why I love them. We’ll call this:
At the top of my list is one of my favorite movies called “Something The Lord Made”, starring Mos Def, Alan Rickman, and Gabrielle Union. A made for TV movie back in 2004 and based on a true story, Something The Lord Made is the story of Vivien Thomas, a black man who was not a doctor, not a college graduate, and paid a janitor’s wage and yet, became one of the most skilled surgeons of his time.
In 1930, Vivien Thomas (19) played by Mos Def, was a carpenter from Nashville with ambitions to attend Tennessee State College and then medical school. However, he was fired from his job and took a position as janitor at Vanderbilt University, as learned through a friend, working under Dr. Alfred Blalock, the world famous “Blue Baby” doctor who pioneered modern heart surgery, played by Alan Rickman. Vivien’s plans were to work temporarily as to save for college, but the depression wiped out his savings as well as his hope of going to school.
However, while hired as a janitor, Thomas quickly becomes a key component in Blalock’s medical research and becomes Blalock’s medical research partner. Vivien is not just any partner; Vivien is brilliant, using his carpentry skills, profound intellect, simplicity, and teachings from his father to learn in three weeks what most lab assistants learned in months. Blalock sees potential in Vivien and lets him in on his groundbreaking work on shock, the first phase of the body’s reaction to trauma. In short, Vivien became a cardiac pioneer 30 years before the first black surgical resident. And he was just a High School graduate.
The movie picks up when the men move their work to John Hopkins Hospital in 1941. Mary Masterson plays Helen Taussig, the pediatrician / cardiologist. At a social gathering among the doctors, at which Thomas is the waiter, Taussig challenges Blalock to come up with a surgical solution for her blue babies, babies who practically suffocate due to a blockage in the main artery in the lung, medically termed, Cyanosis ( the appearance of a blue or purple coloration of the skin or mucous membranes due to the tissues near the skin surface having low oxygen). She needs a new way for them to oxygenate the blood. The movie shows the two, Blalock and Thomas, in the lab conducting experiments and experimenting on dogs. Their plan is to figure out how to turn the dogs “blue” by giving them the blue baby condition and then figuring out a way to solve it.
The film dramatizes Blalock and Thomas fight to save the babies and Blalock praises Thomas surgical skill as being “like something the lord made”. But outside the lab, they are separated by the racism of the time. Thomas is a bartender, a waiter, and despite his genius in the lab—conducting most of the experiments, doing the research, and standing over Blalock’s shoulders to ensure the surgical procedures are done correctly—he is paid a janitor’s wage. He is not an invitee to the Belvedere Hotel where they honor those of the Blue Baby surgery, not featured in the magazines, and not given credit at all for his remarkable contribution to the medical field. In what way does Vivien become one of the most talented surgeons of time, training white surgeons with doctorate degrees, at an institution where he has to enter through the back door? How does the story unfold? Who was Vivien Thomas? This movie is a must see.
Spot the knot! (Funny Movie Mistakes)
When you watch this movie (Check Netflix ), when Clara (Thomas wife, played by Gabrielle Union), takes her seat next to Thomas on the bus and begins talking to Vivien, a modern SUV, sedan, and pickup truck are briefly visible in a parking lot behind them. Try to see if you can catch it!
“What’s your favorite movie? Why do you love it?”