Conversations That I'm Tired of Having with Myself
By Sharon Hill


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

© 2000 Dilate World. All Rights Reserved.