Miss Juneteenth

miss-juneteenth-2

When she was a teen, Turquoise Queen won the Miss Juneteenth beauty contest. Now she’s a single mom and her daughter is old enough to compete in the contest. The high point of Turquoise’s life, which hasn’t turned out how she expected. She had such promise, but here she is approaching middle age, working at a restaurant, cleaning toilets, no glamor, no excitement.

If her daughter were gung ho about the pageant that would be one thing, but Kai doesn’t care that much about becoming Miss Juneteenth and she’s outright against her mom’s idea for the talent portion of the competition.

The film is a slice of life and offers a touching, geniune relationship between a mom and a daughter. I saw the film at Sundance. You can find this film on Amazon Prime. It’s great for family viewing.

In the Heat of the Night

in-the-heat-of-the-night-film

In rural Mississippi a local businessman, the most prosperous one in the city, is murdered. The first suspect is a black man waiting for a train. Who’s more vulnerable than an outsider with dark skin in the rural South in the early 1960’s? Thus there’s plenty of drama in In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, is waiting for his train. He’s brought in to the station and treated like the prime suspect till the police chief (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is a leading homicide detective in Philadelphia. As much as it bugs the chief, he realizes that his force can’t solve the murder. They just don’t have Tibbs’ expertise. So he gets the Philadelphia Police Department to make Tibbs work with Chief Gillespie and his force.

The film shows the hostility and violence towards an African American whom the locals feel has risen above his station. The mystery is authentic and keeps the audience guessing. Of course, Poitier and Steiger give sterling performances. It’s an excellent portrayal of racism in the early 60’s.

Imitation of Life

imitation_of_life_1959_family

Lana Turner, whose name I knew, though I’ve never seen her films, stars in Imitation of Life (1959), which shows the life of Lara Meredith a widow with a young daughter who aspires to become an actress. One day while at the beach, Lara loses Susie, her daughter. Frantic, she meets Steve, a photographer who helps her find Susie. I turns out Susie’s been with Annie, an African American woman with a fair skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, who befriends Susie.

Since Annie and Sarah Jane are homeless, Lara takes them in. Although Lara’s struggling too, she shares her home with Annie, though not exactly equally. Annie becomes Lara’s nanny/housekeeper, which made sense in the era. One storyline is Lara’s career success. She (almost unbelievably) rises to the highest level of the film world. Because she is so busy with her career, she has no time for Steve, the handsome photographer who’s so good with Susie, Annie and Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane and Annie

Sarah Jane and Annie

Another, more compelling storyline is Sarah Jane’s life. She distances herself from her mother from her youth. She refuses to go to school when her peers learn her mother’s Black. As a teen, she secretly dates a boy and hides her mother’s race from him. Sarah eventually runs away telling her mother not to look for her because she wants to live as a white person, which breaks her mother’s heart.

The film’s pretty good, but dated. I found the acting rather stilted, but certain directors have their actors speak in a very stately, stagey way, which we don’t see in contemporary films. For some reason in Imitation of Life I noticed this more.

N.B. This film was a remake of a 1934 film with Claudette Colbert.

the help

A fine film about a horrible time when the middle and upper classes of Mississippi were blind to the hideousness of the racism that kept their households running. (If they weren’t blind, they’d taken denial to new heights.) Based on the best selling novel, the film follows an aspiring journalist who after getting a job as a columnist writing about house cleaning decides to expose the inequity inherent in a society where African American women raise white people’s children, cook all their meals, and keep their homes immaculate, yet can’t use the same restrooms not just in town, but  in the homes where they work. It’s a look at a society that is starched and genteel, where asking a few questions about the injustice all around them is sure to get you in trouble, big trouble.

Skeeter, the journalist, doesn’t really belong in pink and poofy Jackson, Mississippi as the civil rights movement begins. She’s smart and hasn’t rushed into marriage as all her friends have. She wants a job and respect. This frustrates her Southern Belle mother to no end. Her goal is to write about “The Help.”  The hard part is convincing the housekeepers to participate. Most know that in this society where vengeance is swift and severe.

The film is touching and often humorous, though there were a couple parts I didn’t quite by. I do think anyone would detect the smell or consistency or something about the special ingredient the housekeeper she fired added. Yet that was a small matter. I liked the film, though I hated Mississippi. I just kept thinking “How can anyone stand living here?” Even in the days of Jim Crowe, Mississippi was considered the most racist state.

What’s interesting about the plot of the book is that while the action develops, there isn’t much change in the characters. Skeeter becomes moderately successful, but she never was a racist. Her beliefs were just confirmed. The housekeepers, Aibileen and Minny, become a bit braver, but it’s not like they’ve gone under a major change. They were always strong, smart women. None of the racists change. So much for scriptwriting rules — and that’s okay by me. This was more plausible. I’ve grown tired of the same old narrative structure and its rules.