“A spiritualist told me that a child that wasn’t mine was gonna make me happy one day!”
An aspiring dancer (Peggy Pettit) is pressured by her bullying sisters (Gloria Edwards and Rhetta Greene) into mistreating a visiting foster sister (Leslie Uggams) who is idolized by their mother (Louise Stubbs).
This hard-hitting family drama — based on a play by J.E. Franklin — is graphically authentic in its representation of family dysfunction spiraling through generations. Full of profanity and cruel mistreatment, it’s a challenging but oddly refreshing viewing experience — much like August: Osage County (2013) (also based on a play). Pettit and her two half-sisters — all high school dropouts, living in a cramped apartment with their mother, grandmother (Claudia McNeil), and grandmother’s boyfriend (Kent Martin) — are deeply embittered by their mother’s overt dismissal of their own potential, and understandably furious that Stubbs turned to foster parenting in an attempt to salvage her own reputation as a supportive mother. Uggams — who’s gone away to a “white person’s college”, and whose own mother (Ruby Dee) had a nervous breakdown — adores “Mama Rose”, but feels conflicted about the effect her own success has had on her foster siblings.
An early interlude involving a visit from Stubbs’ first husband (Brock Peters) — biological father to Edwards and Greene — reveals quite a bit about Stubbs’ history and crushed dreams. He arrives waving $100 bills around, demonstrating his enduring power over the household years after he cheated on Stubbs and left for Detroit; he only half-jokingly withholds money from Pettit, who has borne the burden of different paternity her entire life. To that end, she clearly represents an opportunity to escape — if she can manage the wrath of her envious sisters, who are desperately trying to hold her back along with them. While not a true literary masterpiece like Lorraine Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun, Black Girl remains worthy viewing for those interested in fearless exploration of family dynamics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Louise Stubbs as Mama Rose
- Good use of outdoor locales
- A hard-hitting script
No, though it’s strongly recommended if you can stomach it.