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Constellation chronicles the lives and loves of an African-American family in the deep South as they are forced to come to terms with a tumultuous past marked by an unrequited interacial affair. The film explores the way in which the family patriarch must confront his demons amidst the changing racial fabric of society and his own family. Written by
Jordan Walker- Pearlman
Constellation" Shines with the Brilliant Beauty of Its Namesake.
It is interesting to note that the movie CONSTELLATION was first screened in 2005, just after the Academy Award-winning CRASH. And like "Crash," it provides a penetrating look into how race relations have influenced the American character; but un-like "Crash," it gives much more credit to the role that love has played in developing that character. Director-writer Jordan Walker-Pearlman opens his film with a quote from Jeffery Seaver in which the author observes that between love and death, "Love is more powerful and lasts longer." The film "Constellation" attempts to prove that point by tracing the history of an interracial relationship and its painfully mixed impact upon the lives of the couple involved as well as their family and friends.
Set in Huntsville, Alabama, the movie starts around World War II when a very bold young black woman named Carmel Boxer, played with effecting simplicity by Gabrielle Union, and a young white soldier named Bear, played by Daniel Bess, defy social convention and the law by pursuing a secret romance. With her younger brother Helms Boxer acting as their look-out, they enjoy brief times together hidden by the cover of night; until Carmel decides to visit Bear in broad daylight as his platoon is preparing to deploy. That decision proves devastating when her lover is ordered to walk away from her and board his train, leaving Carmel behind in a room where several white men assault her. We do not see an actual gang rape but the implication is clear enough and so is the bitter aftermath. We come to understand that aftermath some 50 years later shortly following Carmel's death as family members and friends--Black and White--gather to mourn her passing as well to make some kind of peace between each other.
Veteran actor Billy Dee Williams plays the now mature Helms who, unable and unwilling to cope with his country's racism, has made a life for himself as an artist in Paris. The price of doing so, however, has been the loss of a viable relationship with either of his daughters, and, two apparently failed marriages. Relationship is a key word for this movie because the "Constellation" referred to by the title more than anything else is a constellation, or grouping, of deeply intimate interactions. Relationships between lovers, between a brother and a sister, between friends, between Blacks and Whites, and between the past and the present. Walker-Pearlman weaves these relationships together and explores their human depths with sheer mastery set to a mesmerizing score of America's classical music forms, including jazz, gospel, American classic, folk, and rap. In his vision of America, specifically the U.S., racial antagonism comprises only a fraction of what has bound Blacks and Whites together. They have also been bound by shared culture, history, tragedies, triumphs, and blood.
Plum acting roles are rare for veteran black male actors but that of Helms Boxer is a perfect fit for Williams, who actually is an accomplished visual artist as well as an actor. He finds himself in good company with a constellation of bona fide stars that include: Lesley Ann Warren, Rae Dawn Chong, Clarence Williams III, Hill Harper, and Zoe Saldana.
Recent high profile interracial marriages might lead some to feel that "Constellation" squeezes a bit too much drama out of the subject. But anyone under that impression might consider that the last laws officially barring interracial marriage in the United States were just taken off the books, in the year 2000, in the very state where this movie is set: Alabama. One of the great triumphs of the film is its ability to acknowledge the agony of past prejudices while celebrating the triumphs of family and love in the here and now.
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