The aged, black nurse, Eunice Evers (Alfre Woodward), testifies before the 1973 Senate hearings into the Tuskegee study. Through a series of lengthy flashbacks, her testimony evokes the 1932 origin and four-decade course of a research experiment to study but not treat syphilis in the black men of Macon County, Alabama. The federally funded project began with the intent to treat the men, but when funds dried up, the project coordinators decided simply to document the course of the disease to discover if blacks responded to syphilis as did whites.

The nurse was deeply attached to the patients and they, to her; a Dixie band named itself "Miss Evers' Boys." Evers and her doctor supervisor (Joe Morton) hoped that treatment would be restored after a few months, but ten years pass. With the advent of penicillin in 1942, her intelligent lover Caleb (Laurence Fishburne) rebelled, took penicillin, and enlisted in the army; the project, however, continues.

Evers is disbelieving when she realizes that the men will not be treated, but she cannot abandon them. Against the advice of her father, she refuses to leave Alabama with Caleb and continues to participate in the lie that encourages the Tuskegee men to remain untreated into the late 1960s. One by one Miss Evers' Boys die or are disabled by the disease.


This film is closely based on the true events of the shameful Tuskegee project, for which the few survivors received a formal apology from President Clinton in 1997. Heat-haze and sultry music evoke the sensuality of the poverty-stricken, deep south. The questions asked by the Senate committee chairman (E. G. Marshall) are precisely those that viewers want to ask.

Superb performances by Woodward and Fishburne create a plausible answer to one of the most baffling questions of all: why the black Miss Evers (in real life Nurse Rivers) might have participated in this unethical project for so many years. At the end, her passivity finally erupts in anger: "If these men had been white," she tells the committee, "they would have been treated! And the federal government would not have renewed the grant year after year."


Based on the play by David Feldschuh.

Primary Source

Film distributed by Home Box Office.