Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored (1995)

PG  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  26 January 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 427 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 9 critic

A narrator tells the story of his childhood years in a tightly knit Afro-American community in the deep south under racial segregation.



(book), (screenplay)
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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ma Ponk
Uncle Melvin
Ma Pearl
Miss Alice (as Salli Richardson)
Miss Annie
Mr. Walter
Preacher Hurn
Cliff (12 Yrs.) (as Willis Norwood Jr.)
Cliff at 16
Iona Morris ...
Nila Fontaine
Sammy (19 Yrs.) / Narrator
Taj Mahal ...
Mr. Will
Miss Maybry


This film relates the story of a tightly connected Afro-American community informally called Colored Town where the inhabitants live and depend on each other in a world where racist oppression is everywhere, as told by a boy called Cliff who spent his childhood there. Despite this, we see the life of the community in all its joys and sorrows, of those that live there while others decide to leave for a better life north. For those remaining, things come to a serious situation when one prominent businessman is being muscled out by a white competitor using racist intimidation. In response, the community must make the decision of whether to submit meekly like they always have, or finally fight for their rights. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic elements including mild violence, language, and sensuality | See all certifications »




Release Date:

26 January 1996 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$3,375,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


7 years prior to this film, Bernie Casey (Mr. Walter) And Isaac Hayes (Preacher Hurn) acted together in the Keenen Ivory Wayans comedy, "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka." See more »


narrator: Everyone clung to the idea that if you worked hard, you get a piece of the American dream.
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Maybe Tomorrow
Written and Performed by Lionel Cole
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User Reviews

A special film, heartfelt, soft spoken.
4 March 1999 | by (Lucas Buck, NC) – See all my reviews

Tim Reid has not been ‘that guy from WKRP' for some time now. And no, he wasn't Isaac on The Love Boat either. He still finds himself in too many schlocky TV movies, and weak situation comedies. One must pay the rent, and no one can argue with that.

More and more a champion of black film, he has been careful, deliberate in his choice of projects. Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, elevates him, appropriately, as a serious filmmaker, black, white, or otherwise.

This is not a ‘new' film, but it is a different approach. An insightful look into Afro-American existence during turbulent times, the focus is on the community, rather than the oppression, the individuals rather than the cause. The result is every bit as effective in getting the message across. ‘You get more flies with honey…'

Al Freeman Jr. gets a well-deserved opportunity to show that he's not just some kind of TV Morgan Freeman. His portrayal of Poppa, the family patriarch is wonderful and slighted unfortunately by the Academy. Even the Image awards overlooked him, preferring to bestow honor on the over-cooked and under-talented Phylicia Rashad, one of the only weak links in this strong cast. Bernie Casey and Richard Roundtree both play well against their macho-type.

Don't expect to be hit over the head with the ideas of this film. Just let it ease you on down the road, and, take a look around, every so often as you do.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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