Today was the closest that I’ve come to not making my goal for the day as part of this project. I had to work a couple hours late tonight, and afterwards I was struggling to focus on anything at all. It wasn’t until 8pm until I forced myself to start looking for a movie to watch, and I was immediately reminded of how difficult it is to find a film by Black voices. I mentioned that briefly yesterday, but the fact that most films in streaming services’ Black History Month sections are directed by white people is appalling. I don’t want to use this as an excuse, and I will endeavor to watch as many Black helmed films as possible this month, but it was just an added frustration to a day that was already going rough. Regardless I found a film that met my criteria and then some and finally sat down to watch it.
Cane River (1982, Dir. Horace Jenkins)
While it took me a while to find a Black made film, the one I found was one of the most Black made films possible. Cane River was made not only by a Black director, Horace Jenkins, but by an all Black crew. The film itself has a very low budget, made-with-your-friends-in-the-backyard feel to it; that doesn’t make it a bad film in anyway, it just requires some recalibration in viewing. The less than stellar sound mixing is to be expected without a major studio to edit the excessive diegetic sound out but dismissing the film because of that is nothing but gatekeeping Black creators out. Instead of fixating on those deficiencies, I choose to evaluate the film on the aspects that were in its control.
What Cane River is, is a tightly crafted romance between two young people in a Romeo and Juliet influenced story. Peter (Richard Romain) comes from a wealth Black family that may or may not have been slave owners while Maria (Tommye Myrick) comes from a working-class family. Despite the different upbrings, the two quickly fall for each other. While love at first sight stories can frequently seem farfetched, Romain and Myrick have a natural chemistry of individuals who love each other but must be guarded in their feelings, a perfect match for the story.
A unique aspect to Cane River is that it has an almost musical quality to it. While the actors themselves never sing and the music is strictly non-diegetic, when a song comes on the plot is paused and the music is brought to the forefront. Each song is played nearly as a music video and less a continuation of the film, but in a movie so dedicated in portraying a Black story, highlighting Black New Orleans singer Phillip Manuel makes sense with the film’s exploration of Black culture.