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    Jewelle Gomez – 2.25.21

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    I’ve always loved movies and television. When I was a kid, I even did my homework while I watched television, figuring that if I couldn’t get the classwork done during the commercials there was something wrong with me. (I don’t recommend it for parents today.) 

    My great grandmother, Grace, and I watched anything from the original Start Trek to Perry Mason. One of my great tragedies as a young child was that my bedtime was 9 pm. I think I saw the first half of the film Mildred Pierce maybe four times before I was sent to bed! I had read the James Caine novel on which the movie was based by the time I was 10 years old, but I was bereft that I couldn’t see little Vida get her comeuppance. And I could never get enough of wisecracking Eve Arden. 

    My crush on Arden would have alerted me that I was a lesbian if I didn’t already know it. I kept hoping that it would be revealed in the second half of the movie that she rescued Joan Crawford from her conniving, two-timing boyfriend and they lived happily ever after, baking pies in their Post Warm roadside restaurant. I finally bought my own copy of the film so I’d never be left hanging again. Spoiler alert: Eve and Joan don’t end up together.

    The pandemic shutdown has given me the time to watch almost all the TV and movies I could possibly want, including a relaxed evening with Mildred Pierce, which I’d already seen about 40 times. But everything looks so good on a giant TV screen! 

    There have been some extraordinary new things too. Yes, I binge watched Watchman—who can resist the way it reveals some real and devastating Black history? Who can resist Regina King in a mask?

    And yes, I swallowed Lovecraft Country, almost whole, kind of like the scary, multi-armed succubus it features. Our own Cheryl Dunye (Watermelon Woman) directed episodes of the show, so I was going to watch it even if the succubus sprang out of the TV at me. The series amplified what we learned about the difficulty of travel for African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s. It features characters who create the “Green Books” that informed Black folks where they can eat or sleep safely when travelling. Of course, the book didn’t point out supernatural beings!

    I’ve wanted to go to the Sundance Film Festival since I was in college and understood that movies were like going to church for me. This year I was able to “go” … online. But the virtual visit was just fine; I avoided the mile-high snow drifts. The Festival featured a couple of amazing films that I’m assuming will be seen streaming soon.

    One extraordinary film is Passing, based on the novel by Nella Larson published in 1929. It is the story of African American women whose skin color might allow them to “pass” for white. Two childhood friends are featured—one does, another doesn’t.  How such decisions can twist and taint the path of life is patiently revealed and embodied by two amazing actors: Ruth Negga (Loving) and Tessa Thompson (Creed). 

    Most significant is that the film is also directed by Rebecca Hall who acted in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and who identifies as biracial. Hall, who is British, has in interviews discussed rooting out her ancestry through her African American mother. Her own story is cinematic. She and her cinematographer, Eduard Grau, capture the vibrant beauty of Harlem in the 1920s in the textured black and white film in ways one wouldn’t believe possible. 

    And it’s wonderful that the film’s appearance in 2021 allows for Hall’s exploration of the erotic tension between the two women characters that, needless to say, wasn’t encouraged when the novel was published. Even when the novel was rescued by the Black Arts movement in the 1960s, there was no recognition of that erotic connection between the two main characters. Of course, there is no way that oversight happens today. The film is one long caress. 

    I have a couple of other things from Sundance I’ll save for later.

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

    Published on February 25, 2021