Black Girl
Review By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs

Year Released: 1972
Running Time: 107
Production Company: Cinerama Releasing Corp.
Directed by Ossie Davis
Director of Photography: Glenwood J. Swanson
Screenwriter: J.E. Franklin
Recently I was channel surfing and landed on the TV One Cable station. First of all, if you haven't discovered this new, lifestyle and entertainment channel, you're missing out on some great television shows.

TV One features an assortment of urban programs. There's the ultra-hip cooking show, "Turn up the Heat" with host, G. Gavin. (Doesn't this guy look like he could be related to LL Cool J?)

Your favorite celebrities and producers are profiled on shows such as "Quiet on The Set." And if it's comedy you're looking for, you can check out the old school 1970s and 1980s hits, "Good Times," "227" and "Martin."

But what caught my attention was the station's "Fade to Black" movie segment which featured the 1972 film, "Black Girl." I had actually forgotten just how good this movie was until I caught the last 45 minutes of it on the station.

It also reminded me that I loaned my personal copy of the tape to my brother who never gave it back. But that's another story. Fortunately, the station replayed "Black Girl" and I caught all of it. "Black Girl" was originally a play by J.E. Franklin that debuted off Broadway in 1971. I never the saw play, but I love the movie.

"Black Girl" is another one of those good little films that seemed to get overshadowed during the blaxploitation boom. However, the film, which was directed by the late actor, Ossie Davis is equally as compelling. "Black Girl" features some stand out performances from its stars Leslie Uggams, Ruby Dee and the late, Brock Peters.

Billie Jean--(Peggy Pettit) who the film title is named after--is a high school dropout living at home in a Southern suburb with her mother Mama Rose (Louise Stubbs) and a soft-spoken older man named Herbert (Kent Martin) who helps out around the house.

Billie Jean still has big dreams of being a ballet dancer. She has the skills to make it happen but lacks the confidence and support of her family, especially her mother and her two older half-sisters, the evilest one of all, Norma (a riveting performance by Gloria Edwards).

Mama Rose shows her tough love to her family in rather unconventional ways. She does seem to have a very warm spot in her heart for the neighbor's daughter, Netta (a great performance by Leslie Uggams).

Netta is everything that Mama Rose wishes her girls could be. She's in college, ambitious and plans on doing more constructive things with her life. Needless to say, the half-sisters can't stand Netta and her "uppity college-educated ways."

Tensions flare when Netta decides to come home from school and pays a visit to the neighborhood folks. A visit to Mama Rose's house almost turns out to be a disaster. Netta discovers that Billie Jean wants to go to college.

Netta is pleased and eager to help her along the way. But the half-sisters want to keep Billie Jean away from Netta and keep her from exploring her dreams and goals. Their thinking is that they didn't go to college so why should Billie Jean.

Of course much of this is due to sheer jealously and the fact that they know that Billie Jean would do much better in life than they have.

There are several social, economic and even racial issues--including black on black racism with the light skinned vs. dark skinned controversy -- in "Black Girl" that bubble beneath the surface of its main story line.

This makes the movie all that more intriguing. But you wish that the movie would explore this area more than just the family college conflict.

Still, the acting in "Black Girl" by Netta (Leslie Uggams), Billie Jean (Peggy Pruitt) and Norma (Gloria Edwards) and Earl, (Brock Peters) is above par and what makes the films such a stand-out.

The soundtrack is straight up '70s soul. If you can get your hands on it, you'll have quite a find. Fantasy Records' Ed Bogas and Ray Shanklin had the honors of creating a soulful and jazzy instrumental soundtrack performed by singers and musicians such as trumpeter, John Hunt ("Power"), and "Black Girl Cue: Mother's Day Song II" performed by saxophonist Sonny Stitt).

The title track is sung by Betty Everett and the song "Get Me To The Bridge" and "I Am Your Mailman" both are performed by Oakland's own Rodger "She's Looking Good" Collins.

There have been several urban plays, notably, "Friends & Lovers, which stars Leon Robinson ("Get Rich or Die Tryin'" and "Waiting to Exhale") that are playing to packed houses throughout the country.

It would be interesting to see, if "Black Girl"--which originally was a stage production--could be updated and revived into a more contemporary urban play. Depending who is cast, it could be a pretty dynamic production.

And while copies of "Black Girl" are hard to find at most video stores, you can also check on line at Amazon.com to order the movie. Or simply tune in to TV One where you're likely to catch a replay of "Black Girl" as part of its "Fade to Black" movie series.

"Black Girl" is an Old School Video pick worth checking out.

For more information on the TV One network and its shows, log on to www.tv-one.tv.com