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Vanessa Bell Calloway,
Bittersweet, ill-fated romance actually a racist commentary...
This movie, directed by Gregory Hines, disguises itself as an ill-fated, tender romance between an adult, male, white tutor (Mark Evan Jacobs) and his 17-year-old, African-American, female student (the excellent Karen Kirkland), but it's not. Oh, it has all the elements of a sweet inappropriate romance, and the leads do an excellent job of creating a very believable love affair. The chemistry between the two is quite strong, and in another movie you would forget completely that they are an inter-racial couple, becoming instead caught up in the bond that these two actors share.
(CAUTION: what follows, gives details about the movie, INCLUDING THE ENDING, that might spoil the picture for those who haven't seen it. Also, the content of the movie discussed is adult in nature).
You won't however, be able to get too caught up in that in this movie. Instead you are dragged, unwittingly and unhappily into a commentary by Director Hines about the evils of the white man intruding into an innocent African-American world. I know it sounds racist, and it is.
(!!! Again, caution; this gives away the ending !!!)
Consider the final moments of the film. Jacobs is invited to dinner, by the begrudging mother of Kirkland. The mother disapproves of the relationship, but is beginning to relent because her daughter is seemingly upset to the point of illness by her lack of contact with Jacobs (actually she is physically ill, but not for that reason). As Jacobs knocks to no avail on Kirkand's door, a neighbor tells him that Kirkland has been rushed to the hospital. Jacobs rushes to the hospital and finds Kirkland's mother falling to the floor, wailing in agony. Jacobs finds out, from a doctor, that Kirkland has died because the sexually transmitted disease (Chlamydia) Jacobs gave her caused an infection brought about by an abortion she had two days prior. The baby was Jacobs' and Kirkland was a virgin when he met her, by the way.
Totally devastated, Jacobs leaves the hospital, and while stumbling down the street, a passing Limo driver offers a ride for $10.00. Dazed, Jacobs falls into the Limo like a rag doll, catatonic with grief. Here he is treated to the following story from the white driver... It seems the driver makes excursions to jungle areas where black native girls who (because of poverty) are willing to have sex with Americans (he has videos to sell, too!). Young girls who (in the driver's words) "[will] do anything. They're not whores, they're just poor. These jungle girls are almost virgins, and they don't have any of our diseases yet." I almost threw a brick at my television!
I might not have been so mad if the movie had ended with Jacobs wandering down the street. Because, I might have thought that Hines meant to denounce romance between girls in their late teens and adult men, or any adult and a young person (actually Kirkland turns 18 before all the grief happens, so technically she is an adult). That is a message I could have agreed with. Anyone can agree that these kinds of romances are inappropriate, ill-fated and downright criminal if the person is under 18. But the final words by the driver, reveal that Hines has a whole different message in mind.
What other message can we construe than this one? That Jacobs, the evil white pedophile, had intruded on the innocent, poor and pure black world of Kirkland's and destroyed everything. Just like the vile white American men that trek to jungle nations to have sex with poor, black, innocent girls. Indeed, like all evil white devils.
This movie is the anti-thesis to "Guess who's coming to dinner?". Hines, very obviously, is telling us that white and black do NOT mix. It wasn't enough that we had to suffer Kirkland's untimely death, and the agony of her mother. We had to have the film's racist, moral conclusion crammed down our throat, in very harsh and blunt terms. Why? Is there some statement about society that could bring some understanding or healing or just plain information? I don't see any. It just smacks of the basest type of racism; threatening of tragic consequences if the races mix.
If anyone comes away with a different message than this, please email me with your take. I'd welcome it, because this movie hurt me. It sets you up with a romance-drama theme and then drops the roof on you with bigoted aplomb. This is just hardcore racism; "Don't mix the races, or tragedy ensues!" And this theme, as you look back over the whole movie, is pervasive throughout. It is not present just in the heartbreaking ending.
I read an article once, while researching for a study I did on black and white racial issues in college, that has similarities with this film. It was in a little known Texas magazine for African-Americans that was published by a group of white persons (I'm sure African-Americans of the time said "gee, thanks"... NOT). The article was called "Are White Women Stealing Our Men?". It was supposedly a gentle tirade by African American women about how good African-American men were being taken by white women. Actually it was a not-to-subtle warning to African American men about dating white women. The tone of the article was very terrifying when you started to get the real message of the piece. Right there, in a African-American person's magazine was an article by white men, warning them to stay away from white women.
This movie shares elements with that article, as it also disguises itself as something it is actually the opposite of. Presented as a tender, wrongful romance between two people. Instead it is a mean-spirited statement that white people (intentionally) only bring destruction to African-American people. And both the article and this movie have the same closing admonishment... "Stay away! We don't want you devils around us!". Except in the article it is spoken by white people and in the movie it is spoken by an African-American. No matter who says the words, it still sickens. And in this movie it adds a little cinematic grief and heartache to the mix, just to grind it in.
Watch this movie for the excellent acting and chemistry between Kirkland and Jacobs (little else is good, except the brief performance of Kirkland's mother, the always awesome Lorraine Toussaint). But be ready to be hit over the head HARD in the end with heartbreak and a racist conclusion.
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