Can any of you relate to the reoccurring disappointment
that I've been experiencing lately? You're sitting there, watching
television or a video rental, with your mouth hanging wide open
because the effort it would take to close it is being utilized
by your brain grappling with the fact that two hours of your life
is now gone. Your brain is so busy asking why that it can't even
help you perform the most basic motor skills. I guess the question
is why there is such a disparity between the good, the bad, and
the just plain ugly in film today? As film goers, are we really
this simple, that we would rather be pandered to than engaged
in a dialogue between the world up there on the screen and the
world we bring to the stadium seats and the ten dollar experience?
Not everything has to be E.T., or Roots or any other such profundity
as that, but how many times can we vary on the soulful themes
set forth in Booty Call or make an entire movie based on the question
Dude, Where's My Car!
I did have a moment last month, however, that renewed my belief
in fate and movies once more. I was up at the ridiculous hour
of 7AM, and I turned the station to my local PBS channel. The
title of the film they were about to show was Cora Unashamed.
I had a moment of trying to place where I had heard that title
before until I saw the name of the author and instantly I knew.
Langston Hughes (who was and will always be the man) originally
penned the short story that Masterpiece Theatre adapted for film
for its American Collection series. It tells the tale of Cora
Jenkins, one of only three blacks to live in Melton, Iowa, who
"the people referred to when they wanted to be polite as
a Negress, and when they wanted to be rude, as a nigger-sometimes
adding the word wench for no good reason, for Cora was usually
an inoffensive soul, except that she sometimes cussed." The
story is about a lone black family in an all white midwestern
town. Cora, the youngest Jenkins to have stuck around Melton,
works as a servant for the Studevant family until a turn in events
causes her to have to leave their employment. In a few short pages,
Hughes chronicles and captures the essence of interracial relationships/love
circa 1930 in America, of the bond between white children and
the black folks who raise them, of the intra-racism and classicism
that exists between white folks, and of how one person's miserable
life can ruin the promise of another's. It also chronicles what
can sometimes happen when a person is true to themselves, even
at the risk of their own peril.
I was riveted for two hours. Regina Taylor, as
Cora Jenkins was amazing. She and the rest of the excellent ensemble
transported me back in time. As a black member of the viewing
audience it was so nice to see a story that had a black protagonist
and examined various issues in our society that are rarely explored.
It also supports the idea that excellent writing can be translated
and adapted into an entirely different medium and still have the
same impact it had in its original form. That when done well the
work will not suffer in the translation, it actually will actually
take on a whole new life.
When the film was done, I felt completely satisfied.
Cora Unashamed was entertaining, thought provoking, and polished.
Maybe the fact that it was PBS and the box office wasn't an issue
had something to do with it, but I think there is even a more
basic reason that the film worked: it had direction and substance.
It was about something. The movie set out to ask a central question,
highlight a particular aspect of life in America, and it did that
using interrelated events to illustrate its point. It didn't need
a rap star turned actor or a model turned actress to try to boost
it up or add some sort of star power to make up for the lack of
muscle, because the words were able to stand on their own.
It seems as though the establishment, those folks
that decide what is made and what is not, assume that their audience
is unintelligent, that if an individual is not a filmmaker that
maybe he or she will not notice the inept quality of the project.
This applies especially when it comes to shows or movies made
for or about people of color. If I have to see one more jheri
curled or press n' curled brother running from a cop, one more
woman of color crying on a corner bereft because her man has left
her penniless and turned out, two people having sex and they don't
know their partner's address, or one more man or woman of color
just bad talking each other because it's trendy to "dis"
each other in the race appropriate vernacular, I'm going to scream!
I know that everything is not going to be Schindler's List, that
sometimes a film is just purely for entertainment sake and you
have to take it at face value, but can't
those films be made well too. . .?
So the next time you're sitting in your living
room, shaking your head, because you feel cheated for the time
you just wasted, know that you are not alone. Know that someone
is in California feeling your pain, waiting for the time when
excellence is not the exception but the norm, when a person like
myself is inspired to put pen to paper, not provoked screaming
at the top of my lungs as I throw myself into the computer chair
and bang away at the keys mumbling that anybody gets to make a
film. What happened to the art of filmmaking? When it used to
be the honor of the creatively driven as opposed to the right
of the seriously uninformed?---dw