The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
The Department of Afro American Research, Arts, and Culture's Archive is a subdivision of DAARAC that digitally preserves Afro American films. On this website, you may browse our archive that consists of film posters, screenshots, and movie synopsis. All information provided here is for research and reference purposes. We do not host full-length films on this website.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1979, TV Movie)















































"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1979) is a CBS made-for-television movie based on Maya Angelou's biography under the same title. The film features a stellar cast that helps tell the story of Ms. Angelou's trials, trauma, and perseverance in her young life. Unfortunately, the young star of the film, Constance Good, who played Maya, did not have any additional roles after this movie.

"Caged Bird" was part of several TV movies released by primetime network companies like NBC, CBS, and ABC. However, by the late 1970s, the blaxploitation craze was ending, and there was a slight uptick in black TV dramas, especially after the success of "Roots." In an interview by Esther Rolle, who played Maya's grandmother in the film, she said, "she could not understand the scarcity of black drama on television. People act like blacks can't do dramatic roles, and if they did, nobody would want to see it anyway. I've always said good work is good work." Rolle continued, "Producers, directors, and everyone else tells you there's no market for black dramas. To do anything, you have to do a musical. They had a heck of a time selling the first 'Roots.' You see blacks dancing, singing, and comics; the general assumption is that's all they can do. I thought 'Roots' put that old wives tale to rest, but it didn't." I just read that entire quote in Ether Rolle's voice. 

While CBS produced the film based on Angelou's book, the story still needed to be put into a script in which Leonora Thuna worked with Angelou to achieve this. As a result, those who read the book will notice differences between Angelou's book and the film's character development. CBS chose "Caged Bird" as part of the Reading in the School project back in 1979. They distributed the TV scripts to schools so students could follow along and compare them with the book.

Overall, the movie is a significant artwork inspired by an all-time author. It explores the challenges a young black woman faces, from the racial prejudice of her small town to her abandonment issues from her parents. In addition, the film examines a young woman's psychological trauma when people she trusted violated her innocence. Finally, the film represents how the decisions of the people close to you can become your consequences, which you must learn to overcome the side effects.

Director: Fielder Cook
Writers: Maya Angelou (book), Leonora Thuna (teleplay)

Starring Esther Rolle, Diahann Carroll, Constance Good, John Driver, Ruby Dee, Roger E. Mosley, Madge Sinclair, Sonny Jim Gaines, Art Evans, Paul Benjamin

Storyline
This film adaptation of Maya Angelou's autobiography focuses on the author's complicated youth. Young Maya (Constance Good) lives at her grandmother's (Ether Rolle) in Arkansas. Life is hard for the little girl, but a genuinely dark turning point comes when she is raped by her mother's boyfriend (Paul Benjamin). After she identifies her rapist, her uncles murder him. Overwhelmed with guilt and confusion, Maya becomes mute for years, struggling to come to terms with her trauma.

Available on YouTube and VHS.

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