Comparing ‘A Way of Life’ and ‘Down in the Delta’. How are the female protagonists represented?

Irene Izquierdo Delgado

Comm 137 Spring 2016

A Way of Life is a film made by the British film director Amma Asante in 2004 and treats the problems of Leigh-Anne, a teenage mother living with the fear that they will take her baby away because of money and other problems. Down in the Delta is a film made by the American activist, writer and director Maya Angelou in 1998 and goes about how “together this sister and brother gently and methodically heal the wounded spirit of a Chicago inner-city household on the verge of disintegration, and in the process save their proud family line from possible extinction”[1]

A Way of Life (2004)
Source: pictureville
bus
Source: btchflcks

Both films, A Way of Life and Down in the Delta are really similar but at the same time really different. They both treat the problem of low-class families with money related issues. But, considering, for example, the background and how they end, they are really different.

One of the main parallelisms is that, in both films, the problems are partly represented in the baby, even though not the same ones. In A Way of Life, all the problems turn around the baby -how she all the big problems turn around her baby being taken away from her-, while in Down in the Delta, the baby being autistic is one of all the problems that the mother has, but the baby also represents, that, while the movie is happening, how the things are getting better, for example in how suddenly she says her first words.

Also, the representation of the place where they live says a lot of the representation of the families. Both live in a low class part of the city, and when they say where they live people don’t like it. In both of the places they are guys that mess everything and are represented as the ‘bad ones’.

One of the main differences is the difference in the course of the film and the ending. While A Way of Life stays getting worse and worse, Down in the Delta is totally the opposite, it just gets better, the family begins being closer, they save Nathan and they stay as a family, not as in A Way of Life, where they end up separating when they take Rebecca away from her mother. At the end, maybe Amma Asante’s one is more realistic, because, as some people say “in real life there are no happy endings”.

Another difference is that, while in Maya Angelou’s film the family is composed of black people, in Amma Asante’s film, they are not black. “I didn’t want to create an idea of ‘those good people from abroad, they know how to bring up their kids,’ she explains. “I wanted to say, it’s all of us. This affects everyone.”[2], Amma Asante stated on the family not being black, because problems can be the same regardless of the race. “It’s about using verbal violence. It’s about not having a voice that contributes to the world you live in that creates this kind of feeling.”[2]

Another difference are the problems that appear in the films, while in A Way of Life, the problems are more “superficial”, like money and violence, but way more brutal, in the sense that, for example, the film ends and begins with a brutal killing that is even hard to look at, while in Down In The Delta, apart from treating money, they also treat on Alzheimer’s Disease and autism and how the family copes with the two perilous circumstances. Also they treat the problem of alcoholism and they show how people can get out of it, in this case, having the family as a support.

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Source: screenshot from ‘A Way of Life’

Finally, another difference is the way family is represented in both films. In A Way of Life, family is represented as something more superficial, because, even if the girls cares about her child, at one point she is too busy with other stuff to be watching her and other of her friends take her, and at the end they take her child from her. On the contrary, in Down in the Delta, family values are way deeper: “If the term ”family values” has a taint of right-wing intolerance nowadays, the movie reminds you of what those values, shorn of political ideology, really mean in terms of caring, self-sacrifice and the nurturing of tradition through the honoring of one’s ancestors”.

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Source: sarahhulen.blogspot.com

When considering the politics of race, gender and class that are clearly shown in these films, regarding that both protagonists are females of lower class families, and one of them is black, the filmmakers, Amma Asante and Maya Angelou, are trying to state that women are stronger that what they are normally represented as in films, and that they are not given the opportunity and the visibility that they need in order to get the people think a different way.

So, regarding these two films, even though I didn’t enjoyed watching A Way of Life, maybe because for me was harder to understand due to the English accent of the actors, and that I loved Down in the Delta, because I think is a really strong movie, I think they are both good films made by women that really knew what they wanted to represent in them.

 

Works sited:

A Way of Life. Dir. Amma Asante. united Kingdom, 2004. UCSD E-Reserves. Web. 14 May 2016.

Down in the Delta. Dir. Maya Angelou. United States, 1998.UCSD E-Reserves. Web. 15 May 2016.

Glasper, Janyce Denise. “Revisiting ‘Down In The Delta,’ Maya Angelou’s Only Feature Film.Bitch Flicks. 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 June 2016.http://www.btchflcks.com/2013/08/revisiting-down-in-the-delta-maya-angelous-only-feature-film.html#.V1T2z5MrJE4.

[1] Holden, Stephen. “FILM REVIEW; The Healing Power of a Delta Family’s Roots.”NY Times. 25 Dec. 1998. Web. 02 June 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A01E5DA1E3CF936A15751C1A96E958260

[2] Asante, Amma. “The Making of ‘A Way of Life’. Multi-Cultural Britain And Race“www.ammaasante.com, n.d. Web. 01 June 2016. http://www.ammaasante.com/a-way-of-life/a-way-of-life-the-making-of

Featured Image Photo Credit: IMDb / moviepostershop.com 

 

Eve’s Bayou: Opinion on film and influences on director’s creative process

by Anna Shamirian

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Eve’s Bayou, a film written and directed by black female filmmaker Kassi Lemmons, tells the story of the Batiste family living by a bayou in a prosperous African American community in Louisiana. The family consists of Louis Batiste, a praised doctor in the community, his beautiful wife, Roz, his kids, Eve, Cisely and Poe, and Roz’s sister, Mozelle, who is also a fortuneteller. The movie focuses on each Batiste family member’s relationship with Louis and how his actions cause ripple effects in the family, especially on Cisely and Eve. One night, Eve catches her father cheating on her mother with a close family friend. Feeling betrayed, she confides in Cisely who assures her that she must have misinterpreted the situation. It is during this scene that we begin to understand Cisely’s deep desire to feel affection from her father. As the story is told through Eve’s perspective, we see the journey she goes through that causes her to develop a hatred for her father. Through a series of unfortunate events, mixed with magical elements, we see the Batiste family go through a great deal: Mozelle’s husbands die violently, Cisely romantically advances at her father, and Louis is shot and killed by his lover’s husband. Lemmons introduces a seemingly cohesive family, and then proceeds to unfold all the dark secrets that tear them apart in the end. I think by telling the story through a child’s point of view (Eve), she was able to create a powerful film that challenges the traditions of love and family. Overall, I found that Eve’s Bayou was an intricate and interesting movie that grabbed my attention and held onto it until the very end.

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Critics responded exceptionally well to Eve’s Bayou, with Lemmons receiving much praise. Roger Ebert gave the film 4/4 stars, while Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 80%. Ebert went on to say that the film “resonates in the memory. It called me back for a second and third viewing. If it is not nominated for Academy Awards, then the academy is not paying attention. For the viewer, it is a reminder that sometimes films can venture into the realms of poetry and dreams,” (Ebert). What is most interesting is that this film received a lot of critical acclaim for introducing a different kind of “black” film. By creating a self-sustaining black community unaffected by whiteness, Lemmons successfully challenged the idea of the “typical black film”.

Since this is a story that deals a lot with identity and self-perception, it is easy to think that Lemmons’ creative process was influenced by her self-identity. It could even be argued that this film was an opportunity to bring light to a topic that she may have experienced herself. After doing some research on her background, I found that Lemmons’ mother and father divorced when she was 8, right around the same age of Eve in the movie. It is possible that her childhood influenced her to focus on the corrupt father-daughter relationships Louis has with both Eve and Cisely. However, I dug deeper and found that this was not exactly true. In an interview Lemmons did in the 90’s, she revealed that very little of the story had to do with her own life. She explained that although the sisterly dynamic between Eve and Cisely at times resembled the dynamic between her and her own sister, most of the story was made up. It prompts me to wonder if she subconsciously kept her childhood in mind when writing this story. This would explain the similarities between what she wrote and what she actually went through as a child.

 

Sources:

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/eves-bayou1997

http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/9711/11/review.eves.bayou/

http://www.combustiblecelluloid.com/klint.shtml

Ngozi Onwurah’s films and “Eve’s Bayou”: parallelisms and contrasts

Irene Izquierdo Delgado

Comm 137 Spring 2016

Ngozi Onwurah, is a British-Nigerian film director, producer, model and lecturer, who has made more than 10 shorts, 3 films and 4 TV series; Kasi Lemmons is an American Film director and actress who has directed 5 films and a TV Show, among which Eve’s Bayou stands out, and appeared in more than other 25, in which we can stand out The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Even though that they have really different backgrounds, they share a lot, as from example, probably suffering from discrimination because of their race.

Regarding that they share a lot in common, I’m going to study if that’s reflected on her films by comparing Ngozi Onwurah’s Coffee Colored Children and The Body Beautiful and Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou.

Firstly, the main of the parallelisms between Ngozi Onwurah’s films and Eve’s Bayou is, obviously the appearance of black actors and actresses, but there are other ones. I also found that both stories carry children in it. In Eve’s Bayou, the story is told from a child perspective, while on Ngozi Onwurah’s The Body Beautiful is also told by a “young Ngozi” and in Coffee Colored Children, the story carries Ngozi and her brother’s testimonies. “The central narrative is carried through the emotional and psychic perplexities of her children, who face the brunt of hate and contradictory relations from this racialized oedipal drama”.[1] This is interesting and I think that the use of children could be in order to make a different approach to the viewer, who is used to watch films from an “adult” person point of view.

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Children in Coffee Colored Children trying to make themselves white-skinned. [Photo credit: Screenshots of Coffee Colored Children]

Other one that caught my attention is the narration in 1st person in all of them, Eve’s Bayou, The Body Beautiful and Coffee Colored Children. This resource, in my opinion, is used in a similar way as the one before, to catch more the attention of the viewer and make it more personal to them.

Moreover, in Eve’s Bayou’s story, there is a moment when we can’t distinguish between real life and dream/fiction -e.g. in the mirror scene with Eve’s aunt-, something that also happens in The Body Beautiful, when you don’t know if something is really happening or not -when the mum is with the guy in the bed and she shouts and “Ngozi” shouts, for example-.

Eve’s aunt having a un-real moment of her dead husband over the mirror / Ngozi’s mum having an intimate moment with a guy. [Photo credit: Screenshots of Eve’s Bayou and The Body Beautiful]

Mothers play a very important role in both filmmakers’ films. In Eve’s Bayou, the mother who is presented as the one who values the family ties, same thing that happens in Ngozi Onwurah’s films, in Coffee Colored Children when is forced to head the household when her husband dissapears, and in The Body Beautiful all the time, by keeping her family together.

But I was also able to find some contrasts. The main one is that, while Eve’s Bayou shows the story as a “not black story”, because you could find problems and a plot that could happen to other people, Ngozi Onwurah’s films, you can find black people’s problems in society, as for example in Coffee Colored Children with the child rubbing himself trying to get his black color off and be white.

This one is the main one because it may be what differentiated the first one to be more known and more appreciated by the audience and the critics than the second one. Also, another point that can corroborate this is that Eve’s Bayou is made in a more “Hollywood” way of making films while both of Ngozi Onwurah’s films are made in a very experimental way, that, in my opinion, makes them a little difficult to understand at first.

Also, another contrast is the way of telling the story, as Professor Charles said in class, in Eve’s Bayou we see a world unaffected by white people, and the second one, Ngozi Onwurah’s films, we can see a world affected by cultural pressure, whether it is racism or the rejection that Ngozi’s mother suffered due to her mastectomy.

Ngozi Onwurah’s films are also differenciated because they seem to be more experimental than Eve’s Bayou, that has a normal storytelling line. Ngozi even mixes different languages (when she introduces French in The Body Beautiful) or introduces PSA voices in the short.

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Ngozi in The Body Beautiful, in a very experimental way use of colors. [Photo credit: Screenshot of The Body Beautiful]

The last contrast that I found is that Ngozi Onwurah’s films are way more intimate than Eve’s Bayou, regarding that Ngozi presents her life in both of the films , she uses an autobiographical format, and Eve’s Bayou doesn’t have anything directly related to her. “Coffee Colored Children blurs the boundaries between autobiographical cinema, experimental cinema and ethnographic cinema”[2] .

Works sited:

Kasi Lemmons | Biography and Filmography | 1961.Hollywood.com. n.d. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.hollywood.com/celebrities/kasi-lemmons-57304046/.

Ngozi Onwurah.” IMDb. n.d. Web. May 27, 2016. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0648937/.

Bobo, Jacqueline.“Gloria J. Gibson-Hudson. The ties that bind”. Black Women Film and Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998. Print. AFI Film Readers.

[1] Woolery, Reggie. “Coffee Colored Children (Review).Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Number 5, Fall/Winter 1996, p.64. Web. May 28, 2016. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/422500/pdf

[2] Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. “Ngozi Onwurah: A different concept and agenda.Women Filmmakers of the African & Asian Diaspora : Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity. p. 24-42. Carbondale, US: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997. Web. May 29, 2016. ProQuest ebrary from UCSD’s Library Roger Catalog.

Featured Images Photo Credit: IMDb / serendip.brynmawr.edu

Cheryl Dunye: THE DUNYEMENTARY

Irene Izquierdo Delgado

Comm 137 Spring 2016

Cheryl Dunye is an openly lesbian film director, producer and actress concerned with issues facing black lesbians. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1966 and later moved on to Philadelphia, where she received her BA from Temple University and her MFA from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. She emerged as part of the 1990’s “queer new wave” of young film and video makers who dealt with gay and lesbian themes with a new directness and vitality.

In 1992 Dunye was a recipient of the Art Matters, Inc. Fellowship and in 1993, her work was included in that year’s Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. In her life she has also written articles for the journals Time Out, Felix and Movement Research, produced art pages for Parkett and taught at the UCLA, UC Riverside, Pitzer College, and Clairemont Graduate School before pursuing directing full-time. Also, she is currently a board member of Outfest in Los Angeles, the IFP/West and Film Arts Foundation.

She began her career by making short films. Her first one was Janine (1990), an experimental short documentary that tells her relationship with her upper class high-school girl friend named Janine and her struggle for acceptance in Janine’s world, despite their racial and sexual-identity differences. Also, her sixth short film, Greetings from Africa (1996) goes over how she struggled over relationships while being lesbian during the 90’s. and was shown at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival.

Her first full-length film, The Watermelon Woman (1996), was written and directed by her as the first African-American lesbian feature film and won a Teddy for Best Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival and an Audience Award at L.A. Outfest. She defines it as “a story about coming out and into empowerment around being a black woman queer filmmaker and placing yourself within queer and black film history — and having to invent that because we’re invisible”[1]. It tells the story of Cheryl as African-American lesbian who works in a video rental store in Philadelphia and gets interested in a black actress who is credited as ‘The Watermelon Woman’ in the film Plantation Memories and decides to make a documentary about her in order to know more about her. At the same time that she is beginning to know more about ‘The Watermelon Woman’ -for example that she was a lesbian and that she may have had a relationship with the Plantation Memories director Martha Page-, she meets a girl, Diana, with which she begins a relationship, with the innaproval of her friend Tamara because “now Cheryl wants to be white, and Diana has a fetish for black people.”

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A picture of The Watermelon Woman and the film director of Plantation Memories. [Photo credit: cheryldunye.com]

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Diana and Cheryl in the film. [Photo credit: loosecanons.com]

She also directed the television movie Stranger Inside (2001), which depicted the lives of African-American lesbian inmates and because of which she won two awards at the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival, a Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement from the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and Audience Awards from L.A. Outfest, the Philadelphia and San Francisco Film Festivals and the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, but she has a lot more films and shorts, a total of 13 in which we can also stand out My Baby’s Daddy (2004), The Owls (2010) or Black is Blue (2014).

She calls her films Dunyementaries, because nearly all of them have a lot of common characteristics that are not often found in other filmmaker’s work. After watching carefully and studying Janine, Greetings from Africa and The Watermelon Woman, I found a lot of this ‘Dunyementary’ characteristics: they all are filmed in a documentary way, they all have Cheryl Dunye’s talking monologue and narration, in them she talks about personal things and relationships, turning around two main themes: lesbian and black people -joining them in lesbian relationships of black people-, they mix reality and history and finally, at least in the three of them, she has a relationship with a white woman.

Moreover, regarding the talking-head monologue, or what is the same, the moments of her talking to the camera explaining what happens and making ironic references to the production itself., I find this a very interesting and different way of watching a film because you end up not realizing if you are watching a documentary or a narrative film and not differentiating the fiction from the non-fiction. These monologues have an aim for the audience to get. With them she wants to concern with issues facing black lesbians, blur the distinctions between fiction and “real life” and emphasizing the importance of social issues the film addresses.

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Cheryl Dunye’s “talking-head monologue” in The Watermelon Woman. [Photo credit: rochellesaramiller.com]

Works sited:

Cheryl DunyeIMDb. n.d. Web. April 20, 2016. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0243109/

The Watermelon Woman. Dir. Cheryl Dunye. United States, 1996. UCSD E-Reserves. Web. April 20, 2016.

Stranger Inside. Dir. Cheryl Dunye. United States, 2001. Web. April 23, 2016 on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5a6ZOkdMRAOhOmodH7REBabEWJvi3AeI

Janine. Dir. Cheryl Dunye. United States, 1990. Web. April 20, 2016 on Fandor.com. https://www.fandor.com/films/janine

Greetings From Africa. Dir. Cheryl Dunye. United States, 1994. Web. April 20, 2016 on Fandor.com. https://www.fandor.com/films/greetings_from_africa.

“Cheryl Dunye” Electronics Arts Intermix. n.d. Web. April 21, 2016. http://www.eai.org/artistBio.htm?id=390

Dunye, Cheryl. “About”. n.d. Web. April 22, 2016. http://www.cheryldunye.com/about/

TEDDY AWARD. “TEDDY AWARD Winner Cheryl Dunye on queer-feminist afro-american film making” YouTube Video. Posted January 4, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysdbI5RAmk4

[1] Nichols, JamesMichael. “Cheryl Dunye, Queer Black Filmmaker, Discusses ‘Black Is Blue’.Hufftington Post. April 9, 2013. Web. 21 April, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/04/cheryl-dunye-black-is-blue_n_3857350.html

Featured Image Photo credit: http://www.rochellesaramiller.com/

‘Eve’s Bayou’: opinion and analysis on the filmmaker’s voice in the creative process

Irene Izquierdo Delgado

Comm 137 Spring 2016

Firstly, in my opinion, Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou turned out to be totally different than I expected, because at first, when it begins, I thought it was going to be some kind of “slavery” film shown in the ‘perspective of the slaves’, just because of the scenario that they used (the house near the bayou) and because it’s a typical kind of theme used by other non-black directors to do. I really liked it and it made me think about fraternal love a lot. Moreover, the end is shocking and it makes the viewer realize that the family is just a normal one with its life and its problems, and it could be the same if the family was a white one, showing that we are all the same and that we all have the same problems.

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Eve’s house by the Bayou. [Photo credit: Screenshot of Eve’s Bayou]

“Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old.” With this opening words, the film catches you from the first moment, because, even though it already tells you what is going to happen —you already know that his father dies—, you don’t know what really happens or why and it makes you be interested in the film from the very beginning.

When considering the filmmaker’s voice, she probably thought about the racism of Hollywood itself and how to make a film that could be universal, so that it can approach all audiences, thinking about the diaspora too. The film, even if it didn’t went universal comparing to Hollywood super-productions, went out form its boundaries (where it was made, the US), regarding that it won 3 awards at the Acapulco Film Festival, besides other lots of national awards and being one of the most financially successful independent films released in 1997.

“It’s important to visualize myself and my people, so of course I’ll use black characters, but it’s also important for me to deal with issues important to all of us, whether they’re political, emotional, or psychological”[1]. So, considering Kasi Lemmons’ voice, she thought about the audience regarding that, as I already said, the problems are daily life ones, the ones every single person could have, not only could happen in the black community.

“Here was a story about a little black girl, told by a little black girl, that had nothing to do with her blackness”[2]. I read this while informing myself more about this film and I think it really defines the film itself, the fact that it doesn’t talk about her blackness, not about black people problems but everybody’s ones.

The diaspora, or what is the same, the dispersion of a population group of people from their country of birth or origin —in this case, Black African Filmmakers dispersing beyond Africa—, appears in this film regarding that is a film made in the United States, with known American actors as Samuel L. Jackson.

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Eve’s Father with one of the women with which he committed adultery. [Photo credit: Screenshot of Eve’s Bayou]

In this film, Kasi Lemmons also thought about the sexism, mostly against women. She tries to beat it by showing a story built around the strength and independence of the female characters. The man is the one that is shown as the one that hurts the woman and doesn’t care about the family because, in the case of Eve’s father, he sleeps with all the woman that he wants, opposite to her mom, who is presented as the one who values the family ties. The only problem that I see is that the men are portrayed as characters that are prone to jealousy, sex, infidelity and violence. I think there could be more compensation between both sexes’ view. 

Works sited:

Eve’s Bayou. Dir. Kasi Lemmons. United States, 1997. UCSD e-Reserves. Web. April 3, 2016

[1] Springer, Claudia. “Black Women Filmmakers.” Jump Cut. From Jump Cut, no. 29, February 1984, pp. 34-37. Web. May 23, 2016. http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC29folder/BlackWomenFilmkrs.html.

[2] KELLS3790. “The Fall of Eve: Female Sexuality in Eve’s Bayou (1997).” Reeldramaqueen. February 20, 2014. Web. May 24, 2016. https://reeldramaqueen.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-fall-of-eve-female-sexuality-in-eves-bayou-1997/.

Robertson, Melissa. “Thinking Outside the Blockbuster: Women of Color Make Films for Real Women – The Feminist Wire.” The Feminist Wire. January 25, 2012. Web. May 23, 2016. http://www.thefeministwire.com/2012/01/thinking-outside-the-blockbuster-women-of-color-make-films-for-real-women/

Featured image photo credit: http://www.btchflcks.com/

The Black Woman Filmmaker

Spring 2016

Diversity is the spectrum on which shared experiences travel a continuum; one that cannot be traveled if we do not explore how these connections are linked.  Although filmmaking is indeed a form of communication, it is a complex composition of flaws, struggles, conflicts, etc., that through the cathartic act of writing, directing and/or interpreting her art, as a black woman she is making accessible for the first time that which has been unspoken.