FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
On Thanksgiving Day, after the football game and a big dinner and the heated debates, it could be time to sit down and watch a movie. If you can't decide what film to watch, never fear. Film critic Ernest Hardy joins us now to tell us about some Thanksgiving classics. Hi, Ernest.
Mr. ERNEST HARDY (Film Critic): Hello. How are you?
CHIDEYA: Doing great. So what makes a good Thanksgiving family flick?
Mr. HARDY: I think it's those films which sort of deal with family - family issues, family strife, but then end on a note of hope or uplift.
CHIDEYA: So we're going to go through a few of them. and rather than, you know, go deeper into the issue, I'm going to go ahead and start with one of the classics: 1974, "Claudine." Diahann Carroll. She's working under the table as a maid so she can qualify for welfare. And James Earl Jones plays a garbage man who falls in love with her. But can he deal with her cynical kids?
(Soundbite of movie "Claudine")
Mr. JAMES EARL JONES: (As Roop Marshall) Hi, sugar. Ms. Claudine Price live here?
Ms. YVETTE CURTIS: (As Patrice Price) Yeah. Who are you?
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) My name is Rupert B. Marshall. What's yours?
Ms. CURTIS: (As Patrice Price) Patrice.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) Patrice? Oh, yeah, like Patrice Le Mumba(ph).
Ms. CURTIS: (As Patrice Price) No, like Patrice Price.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) Oh, yeah, right. Thats a pretty name. Your mama home?
Ms. CURTIS: (As Patrice Price) No.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) Where is she?
Ms. CURTIS: (As Patrice Price) I don't know.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) You mind if I come in and wait for her?
Ms. CURTIS: (As Patrice Price) Mama said never let nobody in when she ain't home.
CHIDEYA: Well, there you go. It's the grand old rule of being a child with the key, all done, sped up. And if the kids can't keep Claudine and her love interest apart, poverty and their own past might.
(Soundbite of movie "Claudine")
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) Holy Christ. How'd you wind up with six kids?
Ms. DIAHANN CARROLL: (As Claudine Price) Well, haven't you heard about us ignorant black (bleep), always got to be laying up with some dude, just grinding up, having babies for the taxpayers to take care? I get 30 bucks a piece for them kids. You know, I'm living like a queen on welfare, you know.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) You're jumpy.
Ms. CARROLL: (As Claudine Price) Well, my kids are fine. You don't need to be worried about my kids.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) I'm not worried about your kids. It's not my problem.
Ms. CARROLL: (As Claudine Price) I get that (bleep) all the time from the welfare, always asking me to apologize for my kids. You know what, I don't have to explain that to nobody. Now, you just pushed the wrong button.
Mr. JONES: (As Roop Marshall) I was just asking.
CHIDEYA: Well, not holding back.
Mr. HARDY: No, not at all.
CHIDEYA: What does this movie say about how people were discussing things at the time? Is it an accurate - I mean, you know, film is always kind of, you know, either a hyped-up or stylized version of reality. But what relationship did it have to the reality of the times?
Mr. HARDY: One of the reasons that I love that film is that when she falls in love with the garbage man, it not only complicates her own emotional inner life but it also reshapes the dynamic of her household with her children. And it also endangers her government assistance. So the film captures all of that, and it does it in a way - you know, the language, the cadence, the vocabulary of the early '70s. And black film was made then was very different than what we see now.
One of the things that I love about Diahann Carroll is that when she's playing this part - and it was a part that many people thought she could not play because of her own persona, you know...
CHIDEYA: Her glamour.
Mr. HARDY: Very glamorous and very regal and very aloof. Those qualities, when she brought them to this character, it made the character more resonant and more layered than the expected single black mom living in a poor neighborhood. Because there are black women who live in poverty and who live lives of struggle that are dignified and that are classy and that are intelligent. And having Diahann Carroll bring those qualities to this character, not only did it help her expanse her image but it also broadened what people thought of this kind of character.
CHIDEYA: Well, we're going to take a little bit of a leap through history. You know, you go from "Claudine", 1974, and this is just a decade later but it's culturally miles away. And every movie needs a tagline. For your next pick, the tagline goes like this: The beat of the streets is the dance explosion of the '80s. Push it to pop it. Rock it to lock it. Break it to make it for the break of your life. What are we talking about?
Mr. HARDY: "Breakin'."
(Soundbite of music)
CHIDEYA: So people who watched this film as children now are old enough to have children themselves. And what was once avant-garde is now kind of, you know, something that people look at as, you know, this playful, old-school, out-of-date but in a loving way.
Mr. HARDY: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: You know, what role do you think it has to people now?
Mr. HARDY: You know what? It's a very charming film. I mean, that's one of the reasons that I put it - recommended it on the list. It's a very charming, fun film, and it reminds us that, you know, this was before gangster (unintelligible), before people felt that you had to have violent bloodsoaks to tell us from the hood in order to be authentically hip-hop. And so this is a reminder that hip-hop is much more varied and much more dynamic and that there is a musicality and playfulness with language and with image.
CHIDEYA: All right, this one might be a little surprising for the holidays. It's all about fractured family, but you know, redemptive. Derek Luke, Denzel Washington, also directed by Denzel. It is "Antoine Fisher."
(Soundbite of movie "Antoine Fisher")
Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) You looking for a discharge, Fisher?
Mr. DEREK LUKE (Actor): (As Antoine Fisher) I'm looking for nothing.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) That's where you're headed.
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) If I want out of the Navy, I'll just leave.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) Unauthorized absence.
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) Yeah, that's what the Navy calls it.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) Running away how you handle your problems?
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) I don't have any problems.
Mr. WASHINGTON (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) Where did you spend your childhood?
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) Cleveland.
Mr. WASHINGTON (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) Your parents still live there?
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) I never had any parents.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) They're deceased?
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) I never had - I never had parents.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) That would make you a medical miracle, Seaman Fisher. Where are you from?
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) From under a rock.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) OK. I want to see you next week.
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) I ain't coming, Doc.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) Why not?
Mr. LUKE: (As Antoine Fisher) Because there's nothing wrong with me.
Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Dr. Jerome Davenport) I agree with you there. See you next week.
CHIDEYA: There has become a whole genre of the kind of the male coming-of-age film but with the psychological twist of the guy finding himself, you know, through counseling of some sort. What does this movie bring to the table?
Mr. HARDY: Well, you know, it's interesting, and I'm really glad that you framed it in that way because when this film was first released, a lot of mainstream critics dismissed it as being simply cliched and simply formulaic. What this film brings to the setup that you just described is that none of the other films deal specifically with the fact that beneath so much of the rage, so much of the destruction that a subset of young black males bring to the table, beneath all of that is depression. Beneath all of that is tremendous sadness.
You know, this film talks about the fact that young black boys are victims of sexual abuse and emotional abuse. That's not a common topic in any film. This is a film that says that beneath the swagger there is a lot of dysfunction that is not the fault of the person who is doing the swaggering. And what it does even more importantly is it shows that there can still be redemption, that there can still be affirmation for the one who is victimized, for these people, for these young men who are brutalized by society by their families; that if we don't just toss them out, if we embrace them, you know, they can be and they still are our family.
CHIDEYA: Now as a final film, we have a tearjerker, "Imitation of Life." Which version are you talking about?
Mr. HARDY: We're talking about the great Douglas Sirk, 1959 version. This is the one that has Lana Turner and Mahalia Jackson doing that amazing version of "Trouble of the World." And the actress, Susan Kohner, who is actually not African-American but she plays a very fair-skinned African-American character who is trying to pass for white.
(Soundbite of movie "Imitation of Life")
Ms. JUANITA MOORE: (As Annie Johnson) Sarah Jane Johnson, you put your clothes on and get out of this place.
Unidentified Actor: Say, honey, who is this character?
Ms. SUSAN KOHNER: (As Sarah Jane) I don't know. Never seen him before in my life.
Ms. MOORE: (As Annie Johnson) Now, quit lying. You tell him you have a respectable job in the library.
Unidentified Man: Hey, what's going on here?
Ms. KOHNER: (As Sarah Jane) She must be crazy. Tell him my name is Judie Brand. Make her go away.
Unidentified Actor: Look lady, why don't you go?
Ms. MOORE: (As Annie Johnson) You'd bet I'd keep out of this, Mister. This girl here is my daughter, and if you don't tell her to go home with me, her mother, I'll have the law on you.
Unidentified Actor: Your mother?
CHIDEYA: Now that's some drama right there.
Mr. HARDY: Absolutely.
CHIDEYA: Loyalty, skin color, culture.
Mr. HARDY: Yeah. And one of the things that I was...
Mr. HARDY: When I talk about this film, I like to point out something that the great film historian, Donald Bogle, wrote when he wrote about this film. And he says that, you know, the character of Sarah Jane doesn't so much want to be white as she wants white opportunities. And I think that's a very crucial distinction to make so that she's not simply cast as a villain. She has the skin tone that according to all of society's rules should ensure that she's a princess. But because she's actually quote unquote of, you know, African-American descent all those doors are shut in her face. So I like would people to bring that to the table when they watch this film and not see her just as this horrible, ungrateful child turning her back on her dark-skinned mother.
CHIDEYA: I want to thank you, Ernest.
Mr. HARDY: Thank you for having me.
CHIDEYA: Ernest Hardy is a film and music critic living in Los Angeles, and you can find his essays, reviews and interviews in his books, "Blood Beats," Volumes I and II. He also writes the blog, Blood Beats, at ernesthardy.blogspot.com.
(Soundbite of music)
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