Killing Time #2: Eve’s Bayou

Killing Time is a series devoted to savaging deconstructing Richard Corliss’ list of the 25 Most Important Movies on Race.

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve chosen 25 movies to honor the artistry, appeal and determination of African Americans on and behind the screen. The films span nine decades, and reveal a legacy that was tragic before it was triumphant. At first, blacks were invisible; when they were allowed to be seen, it was mostly as derisive comic relief. The 1950s ushered in the age of the noble Negro, in the imposing person of Sidney Poitier — the Jackie Robinson of movies. Only when Hollywood realized that a sizable black audience would pay to see films more reflective of their lives, whether funny, poignant or violent, were they given control of the means of production. Sometimes. The fact remains that of the 25 films here, chosen to cover the widest range of black films, fewer than half were directed by blacks.

It is difficult to express how much easier it was watching Eve’s Bayou than it was watching Madea’s Family Reunion. If you have seen both, then perhaps I don’t need to say a whole lot.

While I appreciate that Richard Corliss liked Eve’s Bayou, I don’t necessarily understand his rationale in putting this movie on the list.  As He says:

From the opening voice-over — “The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old” — writer-director Kasi Lemmons‚ debut film weaves a spell of magnolia and menace. The 10-year-old is Eve (Jurnee Smollett), second daughter of Dr. Louis Batiste (Samuel L. Jackson) and his elegant wife Roz (Lynn Whitfield). Louis pushes charm as much as pills, and the local ladies swoon at his touch. “To a certain type of woman,” he notes, “I am a hero. I need to be a hero.” Eve and her 14-year-old sister Cisely (Meagan Good) need him to be one too, and when he proves a sinner, they are devastated. His crime may have been that he didn’t dance with Eve or that he danced too close to Cisely. But since Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) tells fortunes, Eve is a voodoo priestess once removed. Her curse on her daddy could be fatal.

In rural Louisiana in the ’60s, and in the humid swamps of the Southern Gothic imagination, tenderness and terror are first cousins destined to marry. Eve’s Bayou showed writer-director Kasi Lemmons invading Faulkner-McCullers territory and made it her own. This is a woman’s film, and a showcase for superb actresses, with Morgan outstanding as a sorceress whose gift runs away with her. There are a few visual and character cliches, and we wish that, just once in movies, a fortune teller’s dire prophecy would not automatically come true. But the folks here believe in its power, and they compel the viewer to abandon skepticism, to hide with Eve in the Batiste closet, where skeletons whisper vengeance. An indelible tale of childhood wonder and terror, and one of the finest works by a black filmmaker, Eve’s Bayou has a fierce poise that left me grateful, exhausted and nourished. For the restless spirit, here is true soul food.
Uh, Yeah.
I am glad he liked it.  But I am not exactly sure what it is that prompted him to add it to the list.
For my money, it adds a depth to the view of the Black Female, as there are various archetypes in several generations on  full display, along with the misogyny built into our culture.
But Richard Corliss wouldn’t know anything about that, since apparently he was too busy admiring the voodoo and the swamp.
Eve’s Bayou is one of the most underrated and unheralded Black Movies of the modern era precisely because of the fact that it is a distinctively Feminine Movie and the overall Black culture is uncomfortable with the notion of their world through a Black Woman’s eyes.
To Wit: Eve’s Bayou garnered SEVEN NAACP Image Award Nominations….it won exactly ZERO, Losing Best Picture to Soul Food.
But that wasn’t the true tragedy.
The TRUE tragedy was Jurnee Smollett losing to the kid in Soul Food.
Then again, if the NAACP image award panel can’t see it, how can we expect Richard Corliss to?

3 comments

  1. deesha

    Great points. The NAACP also persists in giving Statutory R. Kelly Image Awards, so their credibility is shot with me.

    “Eve’s Bayou” was a haunting film. Interestingly, I never heard it criticized for black-male-bashing the way “The Color Purple” was, and SLJ’s character was a scoundrel.

  2. tjsthings

    Great post!! Won’t get into the image award panel, but they suck. Eve’s Bayou wasn’t the best movie I’ve seen in my life but it was much better than Big Mama’s House Soul Food. Oh well.

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