Oprah Winfrey was intimately involved in bringing this novel by Zora Neale Herston to television, which aired March 6, 2005. It follows the life of a young black woman, Janie, (Halle Berry) through her relationships with three different men. She leaves her first husband because he is old and her second husband because he is not sensual and sensitive enough for her. The film was very well acted for a TV movie, though the scripting was poor. Still, for TV, it was above average.
The basic message of the movie, as the tag line of the movie reads, is “a woman searches for self-fulfillment in the 1920’s.” This woman apparently has flashes of insight in which she can see God by communing with nature. She follows her heart above all else as a rule. Her second husband, the mayor of a blossoming all-black town, is not perfect by all means – he ends up treating her atrociously yet she stays with him for 20 years until he dies. Her behavior is indeed virtuous in this, which makes the film all the more compelling. The most dangerous person is the one who is virtuous in everything except the sin they serve. Janie serves herself above all. She threatens to leave her husband, but he convinces her to stay because she won’t have anything to her name if she ran off.
Teacake, the name of the third man in her life is a young guy from out of town, probably half her age. He seduces her with little effort and leaves her by the end. Janie ends the film alone without anyone, yet protests that she and Teacake had “real love.” When real love doesn’t equal marriage, relationships break up and people get hurt. For who can always feel in love?
She inexplicably doesn’t have any children along the way. Nor does she age after 20 years – the 17-year-old Janie looks the same as the 38-year-old one. The aim and end of her life is to pursue her own passion, wherever it leads her. This ends in destruction.
Janie is “cool” because she defies social convention, as if doing so is a virtue in and of itself. The small town is so simple minded that they can’t understand Janie’s sophisticated desires – like doing new things and having sex.
In our culture where the family is torn apart, especially in the African-American community, this movie is exactly what we don’t need. I find it unconscionable that Oprah would endorse a movie with a message that pits self-fulfillment against marriage and the family. Furthermore, the movie was aired during a somewhat family-friendly time: 9pm Sunday.
Despite this review of this film, Oprah and her worldview have already emerged victorious. Those who read this blog don’t need to read a renunciation of the message of it. If I could make an attractive movie, such as the excellent Hallmark film Love Comes Softly, then I would really have something to say. For now, I will pray.