This Valentine's Day, FOX will air the NAACP Image Awards. The show now in its 39th year recognizes movies and TV programs that are in line with the organization's philosophy of equal opportunity for minorities of all kinds.
Every year, the Image Awards nominates a nickel's worth of independent movies, also in line with that philosophy. This year, two films were nominated, produced by Codeblack Entertainment, significant because Codeblack Entertainment is the only movie company cited this year by the NAACP that is owned and operated by African-Americans.
No, the company isn't as big as Warner Bros, and, no, the actors in their films don't get $20 million paydays like Will Smith, but its movies do cater to a niche group of African-Americans who yearn for material that simply depict African-Americans in their everyday lives, dealing with everyday problems, in other words, movies that air black people's dirty laundry.
Bill Cosby, in the past couple of years, has been speaking and writing about airing the dirty laundry of black folks, meaning he wants to talk about those things that we as black people don't want to talk about, or don't want others outside our immediate circle to know. Cosby was focusing his attention on the deplorable condition of black families in urban areas and how that's resulted in deplorable, grander, social problems, a lot of it directed at disconnects in parenting.
DIRTY LAUNDRY, the film, written, produced and directed by Maurice Jamal, speaks to that parental disconnect that often is passed along from one generation to the next, like a hand-me-down, an old worn piece of clothing given from one family member to another.
Despite the fact that Loretta Divine's character screams at a family dinner, "This ain't Soul Food and we ain't the Cosbys," Jamal uses the same technique that Cosby utilized time and time again to broach social problems and family issues, and that was with humor. With some great setups, pitches and deliveries, Jamal incorporates the great comedic instinct and timing of Loretta Divine, who had me dying of laughter with every single line she uttered.
In a plot similar to Disney's The Game Plan, Rockmond Dunbar plays Patrick, a magazine writer who is surprised when a 10-year-old boy named Gabriel arrives on his doorstep, claiming to be his son. Patrick takes the boy back to where the boy came from and the boy leads Patrick straight to the house of Patrick's mother, Mama Davis, played hilariously by Loretta Divine.
Patrick tells her that he has no children, especially no sons. Mama Davis adamently tells him, yes he does, as Patrick adamently denies, no he doesn't. Who's right? Who's wrong? In that exact moment, I was too busy laughing my head off, watching Mama Davis chase Patrick around the kitchen table with her cornbread pan because Patrick took the Lord's name in vain.
But, that's the kind of woman Mama Davis is. She's stubborn, stubborn to a fault, what some might call hard-headed, but she's loving, tough loving, and Jamal succeeds by simply allowing Divine to fully embrace that. He unleashes her in a story where the force and essence she brings can flourish. Her one-liners could seem ridiculous, but I couldn't stop laughing at them. And, a lot of the times I laughed because in these down-home, Southern situations, a lot of her comments are the same comments that most people have in their minds, but are too scared to put on their lips.
And, just as Bill Cosby was criticized for airing "dirty laundry," so might people criticize this movie, but Cosby was only saying the things that needed to be said. We shouldn't be scared or embarassed to say them because in the end, they're true things, and it's only through the truth that we as humans can heal and do better in our lives.
It's how parents can heal and certainly do better in the lives of their children. That's the core message of this film, along with we as a people also need to listen and try to understand and accept that which necessarily may not be totally like us, because even in our differences, one may find there are similarities that still link us.
In the film, Patrick doesn't want to see those similarities. He doesn't want to believe that that link exists, and in many ways, this story is about him discovering that link, that connection, even in all his crazy family members. Why does Patrick think this 10-year-old isn't his son? Why does he feel no connection to his family?
We learn rather unceremoniously that Patrick is a gay man and his family comes from a highly religious, traditional Southern group. In terms of dirty laundry, homosexuality in the black community is one of the ultimate untalked about subjects. It's led to a lot of estrangements, bitterness, anger and depression within many families, as is witnessed in this movies. Many in the black community feel homosexuality is a sin, or that it's disgusting. They rarely see the love.
That's why this movie is so winsome. With humor, crafted around heartfelt characters as well as cliche characters who even in their triteness set the proper tone, Jamal is able to get us to laugh our way into compassion and relating.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1hr. and 40 mins.