×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dancing in September

A promising debut from Reggie Rock Bythewood, "Dancing in September" is a handsomely mounted tale of love and compromise set against the backdrop of network TV. Ambitious in scope, pic gives thoughtful treatment to a number of themes, including the representation of African-Americans on television, the conflict between art and commerce and the struggle of upwardly mobile blacks in contempo society.

With:
George Washington - Isaiah Washington Tomasina Crawford - Nicole Ari Parker James - Vicellous Reon Shannon Michael Daniels - Jay Underwood Lydia - Marcia Cross Judge Warner - Jenifer Lewis Mr.Warner - James Avery Harbor - Michael Cavanaugh Rhonda - Malinda Williams

A promising debut from Reggie Rock Bythewood, “Dancing in September” is a handsomely mounted tale of love and compromise set against the backdrop of network TV. Ambitious in scope, pic gives thoughtful treatment to a number of themes, including the representation of African-Americans on television, the conflict between art and commerce and the struggle of upwardly mobile blacks in contempo society. Written and directed by Bythewood (who penned Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus”) with an eye toward making the film accessible to a mainstream audience, the exceptionally well-cast film is likely to snag a distribution deal and, with careful placement, could maximize its crossover potential.

A quick prologue sets up the parallels between Tomasina “Tommy” Crawford (Nicole Ari Parker) and George Washington (Isaiah Washington), creating a sense of inevitability that the two should meet. At a young age, both are shaped by television. Eight-year-old Tommy is riveted by the miniseries “Roots”; it’s one of the few times her parents stop fighting long enough to sit on the sofa. Meanwhile, George uses his church-donation cash to buy a vial of Billy Dee Williams’ sweat, a transgression that prompts a monthlong ban on TV viewing, a punishment George likens to child abuse.

With that seriocomic setup in place, Bythewood segues into the grown-up versions of Tommy and George. Now a network TV exec, George is in charge of programming at the fictitious WPX. Tommy, an aspiring writer, wants to bring challenging, smart programs to TV and pitches the network a semi-serious show called “Just Us,” centering on a juvenile offender adopted by a judge and her husband.

Won over as much by Tommy’s idea as her good looks and uncompromising attitude, George champions the show. An accidental encounter with a talented, scrappy local teen named James (Vicellous Reon Shannon, of “The Hurricane”) leads to a lucky casting break for the show’s key character, Maurice. They shoot the pilot; it tests well. The network approves the show, and soon Tommy and George have that rare commodity, a primetime hit. (Pic’s title refers to a show’s being picked up for the fall lineup.) Against the backdrop of the developing show, George and Tommy fall in love.

But success brings burdensome responsibilities, including the need to appease advertisers, the audience and higher-ups at the network. Tommy, who had initially refused to water down her characters or dialogue, finds herself doing just that. Blinded by her own success, Tommy finds herself branded a sellout.

Somehow, that doesn’t prevent an NAACP-type organization (here called the CPAA) from nominating the show for an image award, one of the few prickly incongruities in Bythewood’s otherwise intelligent script. Though Tommy’s blueprint for “Just Us” portrayed African-Americans in a sensitive, thoughtful manner, the show stoops so low for the sake of ratings that the award nomination ends up seeming like a cheap plot contrivance to facilitate a surprising and poignant conclusion.

Besides the debate over artistic integrity vs. commerce and the struggle of two adults trying to make an intimate relationship work (credibly realized by appealing actors Parker and Washington), the film also tells the story of young James, the neighborhood kid whose quick rise to fame and wealth proves more than he can handle. It’s compelling material, grippingly well performed by Shannon, but this thread turns so dark and violent that you’re left thinking it might have made an interesting movie on its own, rather than a secondary story in what is perhaps an overly ambitious canvas.

But Bythewood’s ambition is worthy of his talent, and this is an impressive freshman effort. Pic could stand a little trimming, but pacing in general is sharp and up-tempo, much like Bythewood’s writing. Bill Dill’s lensing expertly plays up Sue Chan’s production design, whether it’s the slick, minimalist interiors of the network or the faux-reality sheen of the “Just Us” set. Original music, ranging from rap to jazz, is terrific.

Dancing in September

Production: A Weecan Films presentation in association with StarRise Entertainment. Produced by Reuben Cannon, Don Kurt, Reggie Rock Bythewood. Co-producers, Ligiah Villalobos, Tammy Garnes. Directed, written by Reggie Rock Bythewood.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Bill Dill; editor, Kevin Krasny; music, K.C. Saney, Kurt Farquhar; Kwame, Mark Sparks; music supervisor, K.C. Saney; production designer, Sue Chan; costume designer, Germaine Hill; sound (Dolby), Dessie Markovsky; line producer, Molly Mayeux; casting, Kim Williams. Reviewed at Hollywood Black Film Festival, Feb. 24, 2000. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: George Washington - Isaiah Washington Tomasina Crawford - Nicole Ari Parker James - Vicellous Reon Shannon Michael Daniels - Jay Underwood Lydia - Marcia Cross Judge Warner - Jenifer Lewis Mr.Warner - James Avery Harbor - Michael Cavanaugh Rhonda - Malinda Williams

More Film

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Expands Suit Against Agencies With New Fraud Allegations

    The Writers Guild of America has bulked up its lawsuit with additional fraud allegations against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. The WGA amended its suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the claim that CAA, WME, UTA and ICM partners have engaged “constructive fraud” by allegedly placing their own interests ahead of their clients [...]

  • 'Heroes Don't Die' Review: A Peculiar,

    Cannes Film Review: 'Heroes Don't Die'

    Just when you think modern cinema has exploited the found-footage conceit from every conceivable angle, along comes a tragicomic mockumentary tracing Bosnia’s recent war-ravaged history via the travails of a young French film crew getting to the root of a reincarnated identity crisis. Aude Léa Rapin’s first narrative feature “Heroes Don’t Die” is nothing if [...]

  • Mediapro, Complutense, NFTS Team On Screenwriting

    The Mediapro Group Launches Master’s Program at Madrid’s Complutense University

    Madrid-based production hub The Mediapro Studio has announced finalized details of an arrangement with Madrid’s Complutense University (UCM) and the National Film and Television School of London (NFTS) on a new Master’s program designed to develop new screenwriting talent. Mediapro general director Juan Ruiz de Gauna, UCM dean of information sciences Jorge Clemente and Irene [...]

  • Argentina, A New Member of Co-Production

    Argentina Joins European Co-Production Fund Eurimages

    CANNES – Argentina will join the European Council’s co-production fund Eurimages as an associate member starting  on October 1 2019, it was officially announced Monday at the Cannes Film Market. The agreement was unveiled by Ralph Haiek, president of Argentine agency Incaa, Eurimages executive director Roberto Olla and the president of global producers assn. Fiapf, [...]

  • "Black Coal Thin Ice" in Berlin

    Chinese Director Diao Yinan Drills Down on 'The Wild Goose Lake'

    Diao Yinan is the only Chinese director with a film in the main competition this year at Cannes. He’s already a known entity on the arthouse circuit having won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2014 for his hardscrabble coal-blackened detective thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” Now he makes the leap to the Croisette with [...]

  • Blaise Harrison On Cannes Directors’ Fortnight

    Switzerland’s Blaise Harrison on Directors’ Fortnight Player ‘Particles’

    Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison is bringing his fiction feature debut to this year’s Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Known for his documentary work, Harrison was selected for competition at the 2013 Locarno Festival for his film “Harmony,” about a marching band in the small French town of Pontarlier. “Particles” follows P.A., a teenager [...]

  • Constantin Film AG, Feilitzschstrase 6, Muenchen.

    Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz on a New Market Realism (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES  —  2019’s Cannes  hit the floor running. Even after just two days of business, major sales companies were fielding offers from much of the world on top titles. After four days, quite a few were pretty confident they’d sell much of the world. Some of those deals are now being confirmed. Martin Moszkowicz, executive [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content