There Are No Children Here" gives an unflinching look at a world in which children feel they have little control, where death's presence is felt daily and where there is too much month left before the next welfare check arrives. This two-hour telefilm provides a gritty and dramatic commentary in its portrayal of life in Chicago's inner-city Henry Horner Homes.

There Are No Children Here” gives an unflinching look at a world in which children feel they have little control, where death’s presence is felt daily and where there is too much month left before the next welfare check arrives. This two-hour telefilm provides a gritty and dramatic commentary in its portrayal of life in Chicago’s inner-city Henry Horner Homes.

LaJoe Rivers (Oprah Winfrey) is raising her children in essentially a war zone, with her husband (Keith David) living there just enough to get her disqualified for welfare.

Son Durrell (Reliques Devar Webb), trapped in the gansta lifestyle, awaits sentencing in jail for robbery; LaJoe knows it’s going to take a Herculean effort to keep her other boys out of the gangs.

The two young sons still at home — the sometimes defiant 12-year-old Lafayette (Mark Lane) and sweet, sensitive, stuttering Pharoah (Norman Golden II) — are each other’s best friend and protector.

But as Lafayette becomes increasingly frustrated by events and resents his father’s presence, he concludes that gangs are the only way, which creates a deep rift between the formerly close brothers.

Director Anita W. Addison and scripter Bobby Smith Jr. (adapting Alex Kotlowitz’s book) make some good choices as they juxtapose childhood innocence with urban menace, hope with fear, and victory with failure.

Lane balances nascent manliness with the defiance of a preadolescent developing his own sense of self; Golden demonstrates palpable desperation as someone clinging to remnants of childhood.

Winfrey’s fluid portrayal is tempered with intelligence and passion. Though she seems at times uncomfortable in more romantic scenes with David, her performance is generally modulated and strong. Maya Angelou, as the grandmother, infuses her role with an earthy wisdom that crackles with power.

Carol Winstead Wood’s production design lends an almost tactile quality to the look of the film. Several shots by d.p. Mike Fash are beautifully framed, including one through the latticework of an iron gate and two-shots using reflections.

The telefilm is poignant and disturbing. It’s nice to see television exploring what it means to be black, poor and faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges of living in urban centers across the nation.

This film is meant to offer hope — presumably, Pharoah and Lafy get out, relatively intact. But it never lets you forget that those who do escape the traps of the inner city are the exception, not the rule.

Abc Theater There Are No Children Here

(Sun. (28), 9-11 p.m., ABC)

Production

Filmed in Chicago by Do We Inc. under Harpo Prods. Inc. and LOMO Prods. Inc. Executive producer, Debra Di Maio; producer, Kate Forte; director, Anita W. Addison; writer, Bobby Smith Jr., based on a book by Alex Kotlowitz.

Crew

Camera, Mike Fash; editor, John Duffy; production designer, Carol Winstead Wood; sound, Scott Smith; music, Harold Wheeler.

Cast

Cast: Oprah Winfrey, Keith David, Mark Lane, Norman Golden II, Maya Angelou, Vonte Sweet, Crystal Laws Green, Ellis Peal, Eric McNeal, Reliques Devar Webb, Ashley K. Magby, Tiffany A. Magby, Phillip Edward Van Lear, Earl Johnson, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Nancy Sheeber, Evan Lionel, Johnny Lee Davenport, Brian P. Weddington, Alvin Ross, Carole Gutierrez, Kyra Calhoun, E.J. Murray, Saundra Leigh, Mia Ogburn, Darnell King, Sean Hutchinson, Phillip E. Johnson, Bobby Smith Jr., Michael Jordan.

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