The Academy’s history of ignoring significant African-American cinema simply can’t be redressed with one movie, but Kasi Lemmon’s “Eve’s Bayou” provides a strong chance for a start in the right direction. Rather than treating Lemmons’ debut feature with gingerly hesitation, Trimark Pictures boldly ushered this film of mysticism in the swamps and internecine family warfare with a wide release pattern, ensuring that it screened in high-profile, commercial theaters in Los Angeles and New York and avoiding the more predictable art-house route. This kind of counter-marketing may prove as alluring to Oscar voters as the film and performances themselves.
“Eve’s Bayou” isn’t just one of the few major releases this season written and directed by a woman, but it boasts women across technical categories, from Amy Vincent’s cinematography and Karen Wagner’s period costumes to Terilyn A. Shropshire’s editing.
Playing against the urban, smack-running character which he has made his own, producer-actor Samuel L. Jackson will receive more attention for this quiet performance than his work in this year’s educational tanker, “187.” Debbi Morgan’s commanding role as a “seer” aunt is the kind of startling, showy work the Academy loves, as is young Jurnee Smollett as Eve.
Classic Oscar credentials: 5 (No epic sweep, but rich period atmospherics)
Cause celebre: 7 (Free of big issues, but one of the few Oscar-serious African-American movies out there)
Vanity elements: 3 (Jackson’s hip)
The David vs. Goliath Syndrome: 10 (A potent small film with even more potent outsider status)
The feel-good movie of the year: 2 (Tragedy and earned emotions, with no happy ending)
The unavoidable, inexorable buzz: 6 (Good buzz with a small but passionate group of supporters)
Idiot savants have more fun: 2 (Suggestions of incest)
Timing is everything: 5 (Early November opening is good but not great, and wide release can’t be sustained for long)
O.Q. total: 40