In January 1971, two tankers collided in the waters under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, leaking 800,000 gallons of oil. The disaster is remembered for spurring an environmental movement.
Less well known is how a black truck driver named Charlie Walker played a pivotal role in the clean-up campaign at a time when white truck unions and their political allies were blocking black workers in the Bay Area. Director and writer Patrick Gilles tries to set the record straight with the film “I’m Charlie Walker,” where the overly broad gestures of 1970s blaxploitation films have a mixed effect.
Actor Mike Colter (“Luke Cage”) does his part, Charlie imbued with cool savvy, though his style is more wink than thump. As a black truck owner, he must be cunning to fight the unrefined racism of white truck drivers and the self-imposed superiority of oil managers.
When a foreman reluctantly releases a stretch of beach in Marin County with a nearly inaccessible road, Walker takes a break. Streams divert the crude oil from the tourist spots where white truck drivers wait. Before long, Charlie is gathering hippie volunteers and hiring truck drivers eager for a paycheck — both black and white — for the massive cleanup. (En route, Bay Area notables Boots Riley and Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, make cameos.)
Dylan Baker plays the unctuous director who is confident he can control Walker and the story. But it’s Charlie’s wife, Ann (Safiya Fredericks), who provides the voiceover for the film. Her story has mythical undertones, but is also the film’s deft way of celebrating black love and family. Charlie Walker may not be John Shaft, but Ann — and the filmmaker — want you to know that he’s still a bad mom (shut up).
I’m Charlie Walker
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes. In theaters and for rent or sale on Apple TV, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV providers.