×
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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • “Facing It,” an eight-minute 30 second

    U.K. Short 'Facing It' Takes Top Prize at 2019 VIEW Awards

    “Facing It,” a claymation/live-action film about how relationships mold people, has won the 2019 VIEW Conference Award for best short film. The film was written and directed by Sam Gainsborough and co-written by Louisa Wood and produced at the National Film and Television School’s Beaconsfield Studio in Beaconsfield, U.K. The VIEW Awards are an offshoot [...]

  • THE CINEMA' 'FRAILTY AT LAEMMLE' FILM

    Laemmle Theatres Arthouse Chain No Longer Seeking Buyer

    Los Angeles-based arthouse chain Laemmle Theatres has stopped seeking a buyer, four months after putting itself on the sales block amid slow sales. Greg Laemmle, president of the 81-year-old exhibitor, announced the development Thursday. He told Variety that discussions with an unidentified buyer had reached an advanced stage but fell apart and that there has [...]

  • Morgan Freeman Lori McCreary Gary Lucchesi

    Film News Roundup: Morgan Freeman's Revelations Teams With Gary Lucchesi for Production Venture

    In today’s film news roundup, Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi are teaming up; Zolee Griggs, Sara Rue and Ed Quinn are cast; and “Clementine” finds a home. JOINT VENTURE Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelations Entertainment is teaming with former Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi for a joint production venture. Popular on Variety [...]

  • 'When Lambs Become Lions' Review: A

    Film Review: 'When Lambs Become Lions'

    “For us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants,” says Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in a televised statement, shortly before several vast hauls of severed elephant tusks — ornately piled like sacred shrines — is ceremoniously set ablaze. It’s a confiscated collection that, Kenyatta tells his audience, is worth $150 million, literally going [...]

  • Shannon Hoon

    Live Nation Productions Boards Danny Clinch-Helmed Blind Melon Doc 'All I Can Say'

    Live Nation Productions and Double E Entertainment have signed on as executive producers of “All I Can Say,” the documentary film featuring footage shot entirely by the late Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. The film’s title is taken from the opening lines of Blind Melon’s instantly recognizable 1993 smash, “No Rain.” Culled from Hoon’s archives, the [...]

  • Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers

    How Mr. Rogers Influenced the Pacing of 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'

    Fred Rogers was an icon to many. Everyone who met him and knew him says, “He really was like that.” He spoke in a soft voice and he was kind. He believed in doing good to others. He spoke to children in “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” in a soft voice, helping them to process complicated emotions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content