|Index||10 reviews in total|
I caught this movie very, very late one evening. (Our PBS station replays the prime time shows after midnight. Good for sleepless night owls!). I have to say, I was floored by the not only the cast, but the plot and direction as well. It is terse, succint, yet eloquent. Right after the showing there was a mini "promo" on other tele-plays to come. These were all from the same series "American Short Stories" Sadly, these other plays never seemed to have come to fruition. But I was glad this one made it. I highly suggest it. Especially for anyone interested in African American literature, a truly under-appreciated, incredibly important form of American writing.
This was one terrific film how often do we get a chance to see something of this quality. Regina Taylor is excellent as were all the actors, very well done indeed Masterpiece Theater is like the Hallmark hall of Fame quality. I hope they will continue to have these kinds of film.
Why was the film overlooked by the Emmy awards? There were so many good things about this film that deserved recognition. First of all, Ann Peacock's teleplay should not have gone unnoticed. Peacock managed to turn a 10 page short story into a 95 minute film, while keeping true to Hughes's style. The performances by Regina Taylor and Cherry Jones were top notch. The sets, costumes, hairstyling were all so good. This realy was overlooked.
This film, to my mind, is an excellent portrayal of the values of the time. The set, costumes and camera-work are outstanding. The story in itself has a universal theme; it could have been set in any country, at any time. In a way, it reminds me of The Color Purple, also of Clara's Heart; the issues of gender and race are still relevant today, as are the issue of loveless parents leaving the care of their children to hired help. I cannot understand why this film did not receive the international recognition it deserves; I will recommend it to everyone I know. It was shown on late-night TV here in South Africa, and I stayed up until 3 a.m. just to watch it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cora Jenkins (Regina Taylor) is the black maid for the Studevant family
in Iowa. Her parents were the first coloured people in the town. The
film starts in 1916, with the birth of Cora's daughter Josephine
(Tinashe Kachungwe), whose white father, a poet and political activist,
was forced to flee before the birth. The time moves to 1921 and
Josephine and the Studevants' daughter, Jessie, are the best of
friends. Mrs. Studevant, Lizbeth (Cherry Jones), is a social-climbing
bigot who can be quite charming with "inferiors" as long as they keep
their place. Lizbeth is overly harsh with Jessie, whose father, Arthur
(Michael Gaston), obviously feels that to be true but is too weak to
stand up to his wife, whom he adores. Cora occasionally suggest things
very tactfully to Lizbeth but, because of her position, she cannot do
anything more forceful. Cora wants only good but has not the power to
cause but only to influence. In this, she shows more courage than
Arthur. The time shifts and Jessie (now Ellen Muth) is 18 and about to
go to a dance with Willie Matsoulis (Ben Easter), whom Arthur likes and
whom Lizbeth thinks of as "a Greek" and, therefore, an inferior. Jessie
and Willie fall madly in love. When Jessie becomes pregnant, everything
falls apart. Cora, who is totally aware of the whole situation, is
asked by Jessie to intervene. I can say no more about the story without
revealing too much.
The film is a wonderful character study but there is little personal growth. The acting is consistently excellent: far above the quality of most TV movies. The story is tragic but very touching.
THERE ARE SPOILERS, AFTER THIS, FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO READ THEM.
***** SPOILERS *****
Cora's daughter, Josphine, died suddenly, at the age of five, of an illness.
Willie and Arthur are both away when Jessie asks Cora to tell Lizbeth about the pregnancy. Lizbeth takes Jessie to the city, ostensibly for shopping, but actually for an abortion. When they return, Jessie is not well. Lizbeth refuses to allow Willie to see Jessie, who could tell him about what actually happened. When Jessie dies, of an infection caused by the abortion, Cora can no longer remain silent about Lizbeth's treatment of Jessie. At the funeral, in a very moving scene, Cora confronts Lizbeth, in front of all the family and friends, with the truth: Lizbeth has killed not only the baby, but Jessie too. When two men try to drag Cora out, Arthur, who did not know about the abortion, finally discovers some courage, intervenes and orders them to release Cora. Cora leaves on her own volition and feels great for having done the right thing.
I saw this movie on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. It was so amazing in every
aspect that the story, acting and production were all worthy of a major
motion picture release.
People will always say (rightly so) that movies are never as good as the book, however, this movie is one of only two movies I have ever seen that are in my opinion better that the original writing they are taken from (the other being Billy Budd).
I love Langston Hughes and all, but the original short story was a little short and lacking in emotion. That being said, read the story and see this movie if you ever get the chance.
Viewers unfamiliar with the Langston Hughs' short story are in for a
moving experience with this thoughtful feature film. Not televised
since 2000, you can catch it NOW on DVD!
As a white American Male I would seem to be an unlikely admirer of a film centered around a black female domestic worker in Depression-era Iowa. But Regina Taylor had me captivated as Cora, a character we can truly care about! Her charm and understated wit are played masterfully, and this film emerges as another testament to the Triumph of the Human Spirit. Bravo, Regina! And you also, Cherry Jones for your layered performance in counterpoint to Regina's character!
This film again proves that American Television projects can be top-notch if the will and funding are provided. There is so much acting talent in America that we could produce much more entertainment that has significant social substance if we were subsidized by the government Big Time, like the BBC is!
We love the BBC imports, but the cultural exchange should be a Two-Way Street! America Culture has much to offer the world Beyond Blockbuster Car Chases and War! Viva la Public Television!
I have just finished watching Cora Unashamed. I wish I had not waited to see it. I enjoyed it immensely. The best thing about it is the performances of Regina Taylor and Cherry Jones. I have never been so riveted to a screen in all my life and I have viewed a lot of movies. The tension between the two characters was so apparent and the weakness of the father in the family was absolutely disturbing. I commend all the actors in this fine film but most notably, Regina Taylor and Cherry Jones. I look forward to enjoying their future performances.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having read Langston Hughes's short story after watching the movie, I
can't fairly critique the movie itself without comparing it to the
source material ... although, had I not discovered Hughes's brilliant
narrative, I probably wouldn't even bother discussing the movie in the
first place. As TV movies go, it's better than average, I guess -- and
it DID compel me to seek out Hughes, for which I'm extremely grateful.
But even before reading the story I felt the movie version was
overloaded with "filler" -- cliché scenes and subplots that work
against, even contradict, the main story.
And what a story! Langston Hughes packs a whole novel's worth of ideas into a few carefully crafted, disarmingly simple and direct pages. His spare approach is perfectly suited to the character he is describing: the Cora that Hughes gives us is a woman with no imagination or ambition; no grand illusions about life, the world or her place in it. Unlike the movie's Cora, Hughes's character really doesn't change over the course of the story's events: she spends her whole life in the small town of Melton, living in the squalid house of her alcoholic father and "ailing" mother, continuing to stay there even after her younger siblings move on, working as a maid for a well-to-do white family that may not treat her well, but doesn't treat her as badly as other white families might. Hughes doesn't attempt to make her larger than life for the purpose of fiction; he doesn't glamorize or exaggerate her situation. She is plain, she is common; to this day you can find women exactly like her working menial jobs to support unexceptional children who will probably just grow up to do exactly the same thing (if they don't die or go to prison first).
What keeps Cora "stuck" in this dull-as-dirt life is that she isn't ashamed of it; she doesn't have the education, breeding or imagination to be ashamed of it. She has nothing to strive for -- hers is the only black family in a town of whites who think of her as a "nigger" and that's just the way it's always been and the way it's always going to be. There is no social ladder for her to climb, so she doesn't need to impress anyone or worry about what others will think. Hughes does not use the word "unashamed" in the story's title to describe a noble quality that Cora develops over the course of time. It's her natural state; like a dog or any other dumb animal, she has no capacity -- or use -- for shame.
So Cora does not evolve or change through the story's progression, but the reader's perception of her does, because Hughes contrasts her with her white employer, Mrs. Studevant -- a woman who is plagued by shame. The movie portrays Mrs. Studevant as a two-dimensional, neurotic shrew, but Hughes is far too sophisticated for that. His Mrs. Studevant -- like his Cora -- is a natural product of the environment she was born into: the competitive, judgmental environment of upper-class white society. In Mrs. Studevant's world one is expected to be ashamed of slow-witted, unattractive daughters who get pregnant out of wedlock by sleeping with men below their social station. Without editorializing or exaggerating, Hughes shows us the natural consequences of Mrs. Studevant's shame ... and Cora's equally natural response to it.
The fundamental problem with the movie is that it feels the need to give Cora an "arc." Movie Cora bears virtually no resemblance to the woman Hughes described; for the purpose of dramatic progression, the filmmakers suggest that Cora spends most of her life feeling victimized (and therefore shamed) by her circumstances and that, by confronting Mrs. Studevant before God and Man in the climactic scene, she is able to cast off shame and become a stronger, better person. By taking this approach, the movie not only misses the point of Hughes's story, it actually violates the spirit of it.
I suppose if I were to attempt a movie adaptation of this story, I would try to set a tone similar to that in Billy Bob Thornton's "Sling Blade" (or perhaps Peter Sellers' "Being There," although I've only read the novel -- haven't seen the movie yet). Like Hughes's Cora, the main characters in those stories do not evolve or change. They simply are who and what they are, and as their stories progress they become mirrors reflecting the inhumanity in our society -- and ourselves.
This, however, is a made-for-TV version which -- though produced under the lofty-sounding auspices of PBS's "American Masterpieces" series -- really just gives Hughes's subtle and nuanced story a glamorized, sentimentalized, Lifetime Channel treatment. It's not utterly terrible, and there were certainly moments that got to me, but ultimately it's greatest virtue is that it prompted me to seek out Langston Hughes's truly magnificent short story.
It's a nice adaptation of the Langston Hughes story. Sometimes the acting may be a little stilted but overall it makes for a classic tear-jerker. I don't want to give too much away but it's interesting how it's relevant these days with the abortion debate still raging on. Overall it's a very good effort for a TV film.
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