“We don’t have much, but we do have our self-respect — and now they’re trying to take that away!”
When a college-bound basketball star (Jamaal Wilkes) is accidentally shot by two cops (Bernie Casey and Vince Martorano), several witnesses — including a 12-year-old boy (Laurence Fishburne), his cousin Earl (Tierre Turner), and a storeowner (Charles Lampkin) — are intimidated by the police into keeping quiet.
Based on Ronald Fair‘s novel The Hog Butcher (1966), this uneven yet compelling tale of mistaken identities and police corruption in an African-American neighborhood is primarily notable for featuring 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne in his movie debut. Well-acted by most of the cast, and full of believable, intelligent, three-dimensional black characters, Cornbread manages to effectively illustrate racial and economic tensions without simplifying the issue into “black versus white”. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the film’s portrayal of police corruption, which is both heavy-handed and predictable; while I haven’t the slightest doubt that the corrupt bullying of potential witnesses (particularly in lower socio-economic neighborhoods) takes place on a regular basis, it needed to be handled with much more finesse here. Despite its uneven script, however, Cornbread, Earl and Me is most definitely worth a look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Laurence Fishburne as Wilford
- Rosalind Cash as Wilford’s mom
- Bernie Casey as the African-American cop convinced he killed the right man
- Stack Pierce and Madge Sinclair as Cornbread’s parents
- A refreshingly three-dimensional depiction of lower-income African-Americans
- Donald Byrd’s score
No, but it’s worth seeking out. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.