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
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Thursday, August 3, 2023

To Sleep with Anger (1990)

"To Sleep with Anger" (1990) is a drama film written and directed by Charles Burnett and features an all-star cast, including Danny Glover, Paul Butler, Mary Alice, Vonetta McGee, Carl Lumbly, Richard Brooks, and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Burnett comes from a group of black filmmakers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who pioneered a new wave of films during the seventies. They were primarily arthouse movies, and Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" (1978) was his most notable work before "To Sleep with Anger."

Those unfamiliar with black arthouse films from the 70s may initially have some challenges latching on to those movies because of the abstractness, but "To Sleep with Anger" is interesting. Danny Glover's character is entirely ambiguous. He randomly appears at his old friend's house after 30 years, but his presence brings subtle discord. I couldn't help but parallel this human dynamic with Newton's First Law of Motion: An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains at a constant velocity unless acted on by an external force. Danny Glover is that external force. Glover's character sets things in place in such an unpretentious way that nobody notices what is happening. He has an assertive presence and a knack for his way with words.

This movie has many layers to dissect and is an excellent example of black filmmaking. Much symbolism and messaging may require multiple viewings to grasp Burnett's details. I highly recommend it for viewing.

Director: Charles Burnett
Writers: Charles Burnett

Starring Danny Glover, Paul Butler, Mary Alice, Vonetta McGee, Carl Lumbly, Richard Brooks, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Reina King, DeVaughn Nixon, Ethel Ayler, Wonderful Smith, DeForest Covan, Sy Richardson, Davis Roberts, John Hawker, Julius Harris

A close-knit family headed by Gideon (Paul Butler) and his matron wife, Suzie (Mary Alice), gets an unexpected visit from a friend, Harry (Danny Glover), whom they haven't seen in 30 years. While old friendships ignite, things change within the family, causing disarray, and Harry invariably seems to be around when something happens.