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, December 19, 2013

J.T. (1969)


J. T. Gamble, a shy, withdrawn Harlem youngster, shows compassion and responsibility when he takes on the care of an old, one-eyed, badly injured alley cat days before Christmas and secretly nurses it back to health.

"J.T" is a simple, hour-long story of a young boy living in a New York ghetto, but it tackles some weighty issues. Kevin Hooks is an amazing, natural actor; he feigns indifference to everything in his life, but in his eyes you see his true feelings when he mentions the sick and abandoned cat he has found. Ja'Net Dubois is also great as his worried, exhausted mother, who is firmly mired in poverty, despite working many hours at a store day after day. She sees her son sliding hopelessly downhill into a life of crime, when he comes home with a radio he's stolen. This stolen radio provides the catalyst for the heartache that follows. Theresa Merritt plays Mama Meley, who arrives from down south to visit her daughter and grandson for Christmas, and she's so warm and down-to-earth that her voice can sooth any ill. Merritt was a wonderful actress, and a very under-appreciated one; she gives this show a very real and loving center.

J.T. builds a paradise for the cat, when his mother won't let him bring the animal home; he creates an oasis of comfort for his pet in an abandoned tenement, showing that he still has a huge capacity for love despite his harsh surroundings. This is also a story of a mother's struggle to be independent and support herself and her son, and how such a life can blind her to the suffering her own child is enduring. There is a small subplot with a kind local grocer and his wife; he provides the wonderful surprise at the end of the story, and his actions show that ghetto life has not broken his optimism. He still has hope, and through his gift he gives hope to J.T. and his mother. She sees at last just how hard she's been on the boy and is ashamed.

Everyone who watches this will have tears in their eyes at some point, but that's okay because "J.T." is, in the end, an upbeat film that will make you feel good. It isn't shown on TV much; the last time was 1987 on CBS when they were still committed to showing programs that meant something to young people. If you can find it, don't pass it up; it's marvelous at Christmastime.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Slaves (1969)

Ossie Davis and his family have long been the trusted slaves of kind master Sheppard Strudwick. Although he hates the system and has vowed never to sell a slave, Strudwick is forced to sell Davis to pay a debt. On the auction block in New Orleans, Davis is bought by crafty plantation owner Stephen Boyd who lives in splendor with his alcoholic slave mistress, Dionne Warwick. Warwick is attracted to Davis’ fire and pride, but he rejects her in the cotton fields. Boyd is being courted by a married neighbor (Eva Jessye) who shocks her female friends with her outspoken opinions about slavery and southern womanhood. Davis steals liberation papers from Boyd and plans to escape, as does Miss Warwick. The elaborate plot fails, and Davis is flogged to death by an angry Boyd. A faithful servant in the plantation house then sets fire to the cotton sheds, allowing Miss Warwick to make good her escape with the aid of Miss Jessye.