A single African-American mother (Louise Stubbs, The Landlord) and her three daughters battle each other and the elements.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“If she makes nothing out of it, it will be her nothing.”
Incisive, no-holds-barred indie production provides a window into the unique challenges African-American women face in America’s post-civil rights era. While Black Girl has some technical shortcomings that prevent it from reaching greater heights, this is an undeniably gutsy and thought-provoking study on black womanhood.
Written by playwright Jennie Elizabeth Franklin, based on Franklin’s 1969 play of the same name, Black Girl is very similar to Lorraine Hansberry’s legendary 1959 Broadway hit A Raisin in the Sun and its subsequent 1961 movie adaptation starring actor Sidney Poitier (In the Heat of the Night). Why dramatist Franklin’s stage play isn’t as popular as Hansberry’s? I really don’t know… your guess is as good as mine.
Anyhow, Black Girl is interesting in a number of ways. Unlike most ’70s films with a predominantly African-American cast, the movie doesn’t take place in an urban area. This isn’t a race-relations story, either. Boldly and fiercely, Black Girl attempts to encompass the whole gamut of the black female experience — it’s a tall order, but I thought the film managed to do a remarkably good job depicting all facets of women of color.
The film was directed by actor Ossie Davis (Do the Right Thing). Although Davis is unable to make us forget that we are watching a filmed play, he gets some fine performances from the cast. Louise Stubbs is dynamite as the well-intentioned, but embittered “Mama Rosie,” who is determined to keep her daughters on the right path. Claudia McNeil is also superb as Stubbs’s uneducated, but wise mother (she played a similar role in the 1961 movie A Raisin in the Sun).
Stubbs’s daughters are played by Gloria Edwards (Which Way Is Up?), Loretta Greene (Leadbelly) and Peggy Pettitt (she later went on to become a renowned dancer, writer and teacher). Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird) appears briefly as Stubbs’s charismatic, but wishy-washy ex-hubby. Leslie Uggams (Poor Pretty Eddie) plays Stubbs’s adoptive daughter. Ruby Dee (Jungle Fever), director Davis’s real-life wife, plays Uggam’s mentally-ill biological mother. It’s an excellent ensemble cast!
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Black Girl depicts many timeless human issues from the perspective of African-American women. This is also a pretty courageous movie. It dares to propose that society rots from the inside out: toxic family equals toxic society. With all the current talk regarding the lack of good roles for black women, I’m surprised no one has thought about remaking this (seemingly forgotten) movie. In any event, I recommend it to fans of chamber pieces. You can watch it on YouTube. Color, 96 minutes, Rated PG.