In Honor of Grown Black Women's Stories
on February 26, 2018
“Who cares?” Every storyteller inevitably confronts this question, whether from our own inner voice or external sources. In the documentary world, grant organizations, festival programmers, and other partners pose the “Who cares?” question as follows:
Why is this film important, timely, urgent, or relevant?
I thought I’d share part of my response to that question for LOVE IS A SENSATION:
Women’s voices, lives, and stories are always important.
Unfortunately, senior African American women like the Unusual Artist Ms. L.V. Hull, suffer from a cinematic triple curse: Sex, Race, and Age.* In fact, if not for two female characters portrayed by men – Tyler Perry’s Madea and Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma – most of us would never see African American women over age 60 as onscreen protagonists.
Documentaries fill the void somewhat with films about prominent Black women like Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. At times, filmmakers also make sensitive issue-based works featuring senior African American women.**
However, examples of feature-length documentaries that spotlight mature largely-unheralded Black women for their own sake rather than as part of an issue or problem are few and far between. ***
“Ain’t I a woman?”****
Sojourner Truth’s question continues to be relevant, and the triple curse mentioned above means that a woman like L.V. rarely takes center stage. The only way to counter this curse is to give audiences a chance to see those who are typically overlooked.
LOVE IS A SENSATION provides this opportunity by presenting a senior African American woman as the star of her own story. That story unfurls from her point-of-view, implicitly recognizing the vitality of a woman’s dreams at any age.
But why now?
For many of us, the world is in upheaval, so it might be tempting to defer stories about overlooked women until the current political rancor subsides. But I asked myself, “If not now, when?”
The U.S. and other nations have seen cycles of turmoil and relative quietude before, but I have not yet discovered an era in film history when stories with senior African American female protagonists were deemed timely or urgent. “Grown Black Woman Self-Actualization” is not a genre that suddenly becomes “hot” from time-to-time, but we have the power to make “now” the time for these stories.
Also, 2018 will be the 10-year anniversary of L.V.’s death. I often jokingly refer to her as the “second most famous woman from Kosciusko, Mississippi;” however, she, like many talented and uncompromising women, did not receive much recognition while she was alive. Perhaps the most famous example for African American women is Zora Neale Hurston whose work was resurrected by Alice Walker 13 years after Hurston’s death and almost 40 years after Hurston wrote what is now her most well-known book, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD.
This milestone 10-year anniversary is a natural moment to share L.V.’s example of art as a way to love ourselves, access the “highs” in life, resolve the “lows”, and care for each other.
*Inspired by abolitionist Robert Purvis’s comments at an 1869 National Women’s Suffrage convention in Washington, DC. Purvis, a Black man, wished for his daughter to have the right to vote first, before himself or his son, so that she would have a voice in overcoming the double curse of sex and color. See https://www.jstor.org/stable/20093103?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.
**See both WILHEMINA’S WAR, June Cross’s intimate look at the fight against HIV through the eyes of Wilhemina Dixon and her granddaughter, Dayshal, and I’M CAROLYN PARKER, Jonathan Demme’s affectionate look at Mrs. Parker’s efforts to rebuild her home and reestablish a sense of community after Hurricane Katrina.
***One exception that proves the rule is THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF DORIS PAYNE, a riveting portrayal of jewel thief, Doris Payne, who was in her 80s during filming. For a lovingly-crafted short documentary, check out Mickalene Thomas’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, a tribute to her mother and muse, Sandra Bush.
****Sojourner Truth’s speech at the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. See https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp.