I'm not sure how I stumbled on this film, but I know it was over a year ago that I did so. Maybe even 2. I finally bought the DVD and watched it. This movie is a film everyone should see. The writer/director Tina Mabry does an excellent job, as do the actors.
This movie follows the story of a family in rural Mississippi beginning in 1986 and then continuing in 1998. At the center of the film is the Peterson family. Junior, Delores, Leigh and Kari are all members of a larger extended family who all live within a few miles of each other. Junior has a gambling problem while his wife Delores is a hard woman from years of dealing with her husband's lying about where their money is going. Their oldest daughter Leigh is gay and struggles with what that means to her family, but also to her own identity and the youngest child Kari has a talent for music that might be her ticket out of hell.
We also closely follow the stories of Delores's two sisters, Anna and Charlie. Anna has an emotionally abusive husband, Tyrone. Anna struggles with potential sterility in the early part of the film. In combination with her husband being unable to find work, their marriage suffers exponentially. Meanwhile, Charlie is an alcoholic who lives with a cheating boyfriend. Her only son Sammy is an excellent ball player, but his mother's alcoholism and tendency to focus more on her boyfriends than her son, puts him in some unfortunate situations. Eventually Charlie finds herself in her own life or death situation.
I've always been interested in family dynamics and this movie gives me all the functional dysfunction I can handle. I see my own family in this family and I see some of the societal ills that I wonder how we'll ever get around, play out in this film.
For example, there's a theme of power through sex that runs through this film and in some very uncomfortable ways. We see one character who feels powerless attempt to exert power on another character, using sex. Their relationship, unsurprisingly, never recovers -- and the ways they relate to one another after the fact provides insight into just how much sex is often not at all about sex.
There's also the theme of sacrifice. What do we give up for our family -- even though we may not like them very much. One character sacrifices her way out of the misfortune and dysfunction, only to have another character sacrifice absolutely everything to give it back to her.
One thing is certain: this movie is HEAVY. I took several breaks during the almost 2 hour film. There were moments where I thought "Jesus Christ -- is there any light at the end of this tunnel?" And there is -- but it is most certainly at the very very end. Even with all that, though, I would watch this movie again and again -- it's that good.
The only place I've found this film is at the film's website -- but it is 2014 and this is the internet. If you can find it somewhere, anywhere, please watch it. Even if you don't purchase the film, I bet after seeing it, you'll want to.
One more clip. In this scene, the women's mother (who lives with Anna) is confronted by Charlie over things that happened when she was a child. It is very well acted and so true to the experience many survivors of abuse experience when they try to bring up what happened to them. But you don't really experience Charlie's pain as much as you experience the mother's. She's denying any responsibility, but you can sense that her words and her true feelings don't really match up. It doesn't hurt that their mother is portrayed by one of my favorite "little-known actresses" Dr. Tonea Stewart.