"Memory is a selection of images. Some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain."
|My absolute favorite image from the film|
A veritable symphony of virtuoso performances, Eve's Bayou certainly boasts one of the most talented (and sadly under-utilized) cast of actors in Hollywood.
First-time film director Kasi Lemmons (working from her own screenplay) provides her cast with the kind of substantive, dimensional roles that are extremely rare for African-American actors. Case in point: the film's biggest star, Samuel L. Jackson, is also the film's producer. Meaning that he had to essentially become his own employer in order to be offered something other than the usual "professional badass" role which has become his trademark. Take a look at some of the glowingly beautiful, expressive, and dynamic faces below and then ask why most remain unknown or are rarely visible on movie screens.
Samuel L. Jackson as Louis Batiste
Debbi Morgan as Mozelle Batiste Delacroix
Jurnee Smollett as Eve Batiste
Meagan Good as Cisley Batiste
Diahann Carroll as Elzora the Fortune Teller
Vondie Curtis-Hall as Julian Grayraven
Roger Guenveur Smith as Lenny Mereaux
Branford Marsalis as Harry
|Whispers and Secrets|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
As a fan of film and an African-American male, one of the biggest frustrations I have with the medium I love so much is that when I want to see a film about African-American life (of which there are precious few), far too often I have to sit through films (well-meaning, all) telling me about how hard it is to be black. Well, that just isn't my experience. There is nothing intrinsically hard about being black. In fact it's quite wonderful. It's racism that's hard, but too many filmmakers fail to realize that to make films about racism isn't the same as making films about African-American life. Based on the image presented of the black experience as reflected in Hollywood films, I think it would come as a surprise to many people to learn that most African-Americans do not link their identities to, define ourselves by, nor rule our lives by the racist social structure on which America was built. It impacts every facet of what happens within this society, but it is not the definer of who we are. That subtle difference is why there have been so few black human beings in movies, but plenty of images and symbols.
|When you come home and find out you've been the topic of conversation|
But what is perhaps most pleasing to me about Eve's Bayou is that, in being a film authentically about real African-American life (focusing as it does on family, love, loss, betrayal, pain, and growth), it does what every good film does, regardless of the race or sex of its protagonists; it illuminates something universal about what we all share and encounter while struggling with that which is called the human condition.
Jurnee Smollett as Eve, the girl from whose perspective the entire film is told, gives an amazingly sensitive performance for one so young. Indeed every actor in the film is quite remarkable and several give the best performances of their careers (Lynn Whitfield). But Debbi Morgan as aunt Mozell, Eve's no-nonsense, psychic aunt with the tragic history, gives one of the finest performances by an actress in a film EVER. And that's not hyperbole. As the mystical, poetic voice of the film, she achieves tiny moments of greatness.
|Mozelle, who fears herself cursed in love, mourns her three deceased husbands|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
A child's world is a world in which the real and the magical unquestioningly coexist. Not a lot adds up (things aren't fair, bad things happen to good people), but there's precious little that doesn't seem possible. The moment one learns that the world of adults is no less mysterious, yet infinitely more painful and prone to disappointment and consequence, is the moment of maturity. Eve's Bayou does a marvelous job of giving us a child's-eye-view of the mysteries of life.
"Life is filled with goodbyes, Eve. A million goodbyes. And it hurts every time."
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
There's no getting past the fact that much of Eve's Bayou resonates so deeply with me because it recalls so much of my own upbringing. I was 5 years old in 1962. Like Eve, I had a dashingly handsome father who was philanderer; and, as with all children, especially boys, I believed my mother was "The most beautiful woman in the world." Like the Batistes, I was raised to address my elders as Mr. & Mrs., and to respond to questions with "Yes, ma'am" or "No, sir." I remember happy times with nosy grandmothers and bossy older sisters, games played, adventures shared, and the loving moments that were exclusively ours. I also recall what it felt like to be awakened at night by the sound of parents arguing in the next room. I know about whispered secrets between siblings, and the deep ties of love between us that feel so strong yet sometimes make so little sense.
How much of remembering is as it really was, and how much is merely what we wished it to be?