Help a Guilt-Ridden TV Critic: Watch This Zora Neale Hurston Documentary
I intended to review a most excellent PBS documentary on famed Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston airing at 9 p.m. tonight on WEDU-Ch. 3. But for various time management reasons, I never really got it together to get something in today's newspaper, and the documentary was developed over 18 years by a local producer, Kristy Andersen.
Jeff Klinkenberg did produce a wonderful Floridian feature on Anderson's quest you can see here.
I rooted around on WEDU's web site, however, and realized that Andersen's American Masters special Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun, is airing in late night several more times this week. Besides airing at 9 tonight, it also airs at 1 a.m. Thursday, 3 a.m. Friday and 3 a.m. Monday on WEDU.
Why should you set your TiVo? Because Andersen's $1-million film is a 90-minute look at one of the most contradictory, controversial, accomplished African American writers and folklorists in Florida history. Raised in 1900's-era Eatontown, Fla., the first town incorporated by black people, she grew up the daughter of a philandering pastor, sent off on her own as a teen after her mother died.
Eventually, Hurston would write amazing novels and plays which captured the spirit of working class black Southern black folk, such as Their Eyes Were Watching God. An iconoclast with a knack for survival, she had no qualms about revealing the weaknesses of her black characters if they felt authentic, or playing to the prejudices of white patrons to get funding for her work.
She was a blazing star of the Harlem Renaissance who alienated legendary poet Langston Hughes by usurping full ownership of a play they developed together. She was a proud, independent black woman who signed a letter to one white patron "your pickaninny." She was the first black graduate of Barnard College and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship who delighted in telling off-color jokes and boasted of being the queen of the black intellectual "niggerati."
Andersen brings her contrary history to life by interviewing a wealth of sources, from Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates to novelist Alice Walker and former neighbors from Eatontown. She also recreates a radio interview Hurston gave in 1943, using an actress to bring the writer's self-confidence and offhand style to life.
So take a little time and check out Jump at the Sun -- if only to make me feel a little better for trying to rectify a disappointing oversight.