My grandmother, Geneva Wright, in the 1950s in Syracuse, New York.
I grew up hearing a story.
My grandmother was a cleaning lady for a white family that kept the fingers and toes of black people in a jar on their mantle. No, this was not slavery. This was 1940's South Carolina. When I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler, I thought of my grandmother's experience, and how one can endure and somehow withstand dehumanization on a daily basis, only to survive, and love after it all.
At long last, the movie that brings us Nicole Kidman taking a piss on Zac Efron is available for your viewing pleasure (in NY and LA, with select cities this Friday). But this is not just the movie of the tinkle heard across Cannes. This subplot-ridden movie straddles a fine line between exploitation and melodrama, with mixed results. It's filmed in a grainy style that's supposed to reference the '60s and '70s exploitation genre, but rather than stay with a simple, schlocky detective plot to make a human story out of the tumultuous times, we meander through enough sexual, racial, and gender issues to weigh the film down with a sense of gravitas. It isn't pretty, and the movie sinks under the numerous cumbersome subplots. Is there a way to make heads or tails of this icky cinematic mess?
Several years ago, I read the novel Push written by performance poet, Sapphire. I remember climbing into bed one night to read it and finishing it at about 5 AM. Several times I had to put the book down for a few minutes, just to get myself together, to breathe. Once I put the book down for the final time, I still couldn't sleep: I was emotionally wrung out and deeply disturbed. It's hard to recover from a book that opens with: "I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver..."
Big news from the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend: for only the third time in the festival's 25-year history, the Sundance jury and the audience awarded their top honors to the same film. Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire (a title designed, no doubt, to distinguish the film from the sci-fi action film of the same name starring Dakota Fanning that hits theaters later this year) won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award. Comedienne Mo'Nique also received a Special Jury Prize for Acting for her dramatic performance in the film. Push is an adaptation of author and performance poet Sapphire's powerful story about a young African-American woman who struggles to overcome incredible obstacles, including illiteracy and a harrowing history of abuse. The film's star, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is receiving rave reviews, as well as her co-stars Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, and Lenny Kravitz. Unfortunately, all of this momentum may not translate into a chance at the box office.