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Compensation (1999)

The life of a deaf African American woman in the early 1900's parallels with another living in the 1990's.
2 nominations. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
John Jelks John Jelks ... Arthur Jones / Nico Jones (as John Earl Jelks)
Michelle A. Banks Michelle A. Banks ... Malindy Brown / Malaika Brown
Nirvana Cobb Nirvana Cobb ... Tildy Evans / Children's Library Reader
Kevin L. Davis Kevin L. Davis ... Tyrone
Christopher Smith Christopher Smith ... William Young / Dancer
K. Lynn Stephens K. Lynn Stephens ... Aminata Brown
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Edith McLoud Armstrong Edith McLoud Armstrong ... Mrs. Emily Brown
Crystal Barnes ... Auntie Nidia
Lisa Brock Lisa Brock ... Period Movie Player
Otis Cunningham Otis Cunningham ... Period Movie Player
Jennifer Evans Jennifer Evans ... Jazz Club Emcee
Amaker Johnson Amaker Johnson ... Young girl at library
Bonnie Koss Bonnie Koss ... ASL Interpreter
Angela Roberts Angela Roberts ... Malaika's Mom
Reginald R. Robinson Reginald R. Robinson ... Period Movie Player


The life of a deaf African American woman in the early 1900's parallels with another living in the 1990's.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance





Release Date:

14 June 1999 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

Chicago, Illinois, USA

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User Reviews

A rich & complex modern silent film.
6 April 2000 | by Script2ScreenSee all my reviews

This was one of the more interesting and thought-provoking (if not completely successful) films that I saw at Sundance 2000. A (mostly) silent film wherein two stories are told simultaneously (a la _Intolerance_): one at the turn of the century and the other in the present day. The parallel stories examine relationships of young black couples where the female is deaf and the male is hearing. _Compensation_ thus explores relatively uncharted territory: cultural differences between the hearing and the hearing impaired. But not only does the wife/husband team of director Zeinabu Davis & writer Marc Chéry examine deaf/hearing socio-cultural issues, they further enrich (and complicate) the discussion by including issues of race and the AIDS epidemic (paralleled by consumption in the story set at the turn of the century) in the conversation. It's a wonderfully rich and complex film.

The only criticism I would aim at _Compensation_ is the _Intolerance_-like narrative structure. It didn't really work for D.W. Griffith to tell multiple stories in completely unrelated time periods and locations connected primarily by thematic material. While the technique works better here (partly because it's only two stories instead of four), it still feels a little forced. The two stories SO closely parallel each other that at times I felt like saying (as I did with _Intolerance_): "Okay, already! I get the point! You don't have to pound it into my head twice!" (Perhaps if you really liked _Intolerance_ you will like this aspect of the film more than I did.)

Aside from the narrative and thematic aspects of _Compensation_ the filmmaking is quite experimental, although not in any avant-garde sense of the word. Davis has created a (mostly) silent film for the deaf and hearing alike. In the few scenes where sync sound is used the film's dialogue is subtitled. It is probably one of the first modern films (since the advent of sync-sound) whose implicit design is intended to communicate equally with both deaf and hearing audiences.

Davis and Chéry are to be commended for creating a beautiful film. Ironically, _Compensation_ makes an important step forward in the development of the film medium by taking a step backward into film history and re-examining the nature of the medium and the many ways in which it can be used to communicate.

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