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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Monday, March 6, 2023

Polly (1989, TV Movie)

"Polly" (1989) is a made-for-television musical that aired on NBC's "Magical World of Disney." Disney adapted the movie from the 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter, "Pollyanna," which Disney originally made a version of the novel in 1960 under the same title. The 1989 version comprises a majority black cast, and Debbie Allen is responsible for the film's direction. Due to the immense popularity of "The Cosby Show" during the mid to late 80s, the actors saw remarkable success in roles outside of their norm. So naturally, Cosby kids was a rating boost for any network that featured them in TV movies or shows. But, this time, Keshia Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad led an excellent cast of actors in one of the most underrated musicals.

This film isn't just any type of musical. It's brilliantly performed and well-made. All the leading actors and actresses get to sing and dance. Debbie Allen colorfully illuminates every scene with beauty and grace with her choreography, which the Emmys nominated her for "Outstanding Choreography." Included with Pulliam and Rashad are Dorian Harewood, Barbara Montgomery, T.K. Carter, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Brandon Quintin Adams, Larry Riley, and Brock Peters. Notable guest stars also include Butterfly McQueen ("Gone with the Wind") and Celeste Holm ("Oklahoma"). 

Joel McNeely is responsible for the soundtrack score, which Harold Wheeler ("The Wiz") also supervised. Debbie and her husband, Norm Nixon, composed one of the music numbers called "Stand Up." Some of the tracks are "Shine a Light" (sung by Dorian Harewood and Larry Riley), "Honey Ain't Got Nothin' on You" (Vanessa Bell Calloway), "Something More" (Phylicia Rashas), and "Sweet Little Angel Eyes" (Bandon Adams and TK Carter).

I recommend this movie. The music is excellent, and the attire is beautiful. The story is a cheerful one with many feel-good moments. The actors have experience in performing arts, and many came from Broadway. This film has all the essences of Broadway and then some. 

Director: Debbie Allen
Writers: William Blinn (teleplay), Eleanor H. Porter (novel "Pollyanna")

Starring Keshia Knight Pulliam, Phylicia Rashad, Dorian Harewood, Barbara Montgomery, T.K. Carter, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Brandon Quintin Adams, Ken Page, Larry Riley, Butterfly McQueen, Brock Peters, Celeste Holm, George Anthony Bell, Michael Peters, Vickilyn Reynolds Vickilyn Reynolds

Set in 1955, in times of racial segregation, a mythical all-black Alabama town called Harrington is owned by the non-sense Aunt Polly (Phylicia Rashad). She believes life is a serious matter and frowns upon any joyful noise. However, things change when Polly (Keshia Knight Pulliam) arrives as an orphan from Detroit. She is a ray of sunshine to a stoic Aunt and a town torn between their affliction between each other.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Boogie-Woogie Dream (1944)

"Boogie-Woogie Dream" (1944) is a short musical featuring Lena Horne, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Teddy Wilson, and his Orchestra. Official Films is responsible for the production and distribution of the movie. The film showcases musical talent when Lena sings "Unlucky Woman" and Albert and Pete perform "Boogie Woogie Dreams." Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra provide additional musical numbers while playing for Lena.

Official Films released the movie in 1944, but filming started in 1941, two years before Lena Horne starred in "Stormy Weather" and Cabin in the Sky." So by 1941, Lena hadn't made it into the Hollywood limelight even after appearing in her first leading role in the 1938 film by Ralph Cooper, "The Duke is Tops." In addition, Pete Thomas and Albert Ammons were professional pianists famous for their jazz and boogie-woogie compositions. Teddy Wilson was also a prominent pianist who worked with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Billie Holiday. Wilson formed his short-lived big band in 1939, then led a sextet at CafĂ© Society from 1940 to 1944. 

While the film was short, it received many advertisements in 1944 and 1945. However, Lena's sudden stardom increased attraction in this movie. 

Director: Hans Burger
Writer: Karl Farkas

Starring Lena Horne, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Virginia Pine, Russell Morrison

After hours at a nightclub, the hired help has a jam session, which a couple of overdue customers wanted to hear.

This movie presents the first digital transfer provided by the Department of Afro-American Research, Arts, and Culture. The film was scanned from a 16 mm reel to hi-definition.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

King (1978, Part Three) [TV Movie]

"King" (1978, Part III)  is the third and final installment of the NBC made-for-television miniseries about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. written and directed by Abby Mann.

After the first episode of the miniseries performed poorly in the National Neilson Ratings, there was a slight improvement for the last two episodes. However, NBC had already accepted the fate of the miniseries not achieving the same success as "Roots." Nevertheless, the show received several Primetime Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress for Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson. Mann also received nominations for Outstanding Writing and Directing in a Drama Series. Unfortunately, none were able to earn an Emmy Award.

Paul Winfield gave an excellent performance as Dr. King. While the film suffers in historical accuracy, people can correct the information to fill in the holes. Dick Anthony Williams portrays Malcolm X in an iconic scene between him and King. In the Miami Herald, Wednesday, February 15, 1978, in an article written by Terry Ann Knopf, Mann stated that he obtained information about the meeting directly from King before he died and from Bernard Lee, one of King's aid. But the when and where of the discussion could have been more evident in the movie. Their actual meeting occurred in 1964 in Washington, D.C.

Overall, episode three was an outstanding performance by everyone involved. This movie would benefit many looking to gain some understanding of Dr. King's life.

Director: Abby Mann
Writer: Abby Mann

Starring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, Ernie Hudson, Howard E. Rollins, Al Freeman Jr., Roscoe Lee Browne, Ernie Lee Banks, Ossie Davis, Steven Hill, Lonny Chapman, Cliff De Young, Clu Gulager, William Jordan, Warren J. Kemmerling, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Kenneth McMillan, David Spielberg, Dolph Sweet, Dick Anthony Williams, Art Evans, Frances Foster, Charles Robinson, Roger Robinson, Sheila Frazier, Tony Bennett, Julian Bond, Bill Cobbs

Part two of a three-part biographical portrait of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concludes with his direct involvement in urban housing and unemployment, his meeting with Malcolm X, his stand against the Vietnam War, and his 1968 assassination.