×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dancing in September

"Dancing in September" is the decorous and conventional version of "Bamboozled." This critique of the racial images that blacks themselves choose to serve up on television has a few pertinent things to say, but does so in such a bland and sometimes incredible way that the message has little force.

With:
Tomasina "Tommy" Crawford - Nicole Ari Parker George Washington - Isaiah Washington James - Vicellous Reon Shannon Rhonda - Malinda Williams

“Dancing in September” is the decorous and conventional version of “Bamboozled.” The directorial debut of Reggie Rock Bythewood, who wrote “Get on the Bus” for Spike Lee, this critique of the racial images that blacks themselves choose to serve up on television has a few pertinent things to say, but does so in such a bland and sometimes incredible way that the message has little force. Pic debuts on HBO on Feb. 3, following its world preem at Sundance.

Even if Lee’s approach in “Bamboozled” was too fractured and extreme, his placement of many recent black-themed TV programs and entertainment modes in the insulting and caricatured tradition of minstrel shows was highly provocative. Bythewood’s approach is downright polite by comparison, as he analyzes the commercial pressures on TV creators to be entertaining at all costs while weaving through it a perfectly agreeable but unexceptional love story.

One of the film’s refreshing angles is that it’s filtered through the experiences of a woman in the male-dominated TV world. Tomasina “Tommy” Crawford (Nicole Ari Parker), inspired by her memory of “Roots” having brought her fractious family together like no other event in her childhood, is determined to express truthful depictions of contempo African-American life in her writing. Fired from one show for shooting off her mouth during a story meeting, Tommy is thrilled when George Washington (Isaiah Washington), the lone black exec at a startup minority-slanted network, responds to her pitch for a grounded-in-reality show, “Just Us,” and puts it in development.

Tommy is equally thrilled when she finds James (Vicellous Reon Shannon) to star as the teenager in the series. A kid she first sees selling candy on the street, he proves to be an amazingly quick study in his audition and an absolute natural as an actor. Since James looks rather younger than his stated age of 18, it’s a surprise to learn that he’s got an estranged girlfriend, Rhonda (Malinda Williams), and a little daughter he’s required to pay to see. Despite his general good nature, James is also a manic depressive who needs constant medication.

Completing the happy picture for Tommy is a romance with George that goes through its own long development phase before taking off. But after a brief taste of life at the top, the show begins going sour, dragging the love affair with it; when the ratings decline, Tommy willingly complies with pressure to cater to lowest-common-denominator tastes, transforming a show that initially held to its promise to “keep it real” into a pandering sitcom drenched in embarrassing caricature and exaggeration. A climactic awards gala gives a shaken and repentant Tommy the opportunity for a very public mea culpa.

Despite Bythewood’s own background on such shows as “A Different World” and “New York Undercover,” numerous plot points feel false and contrived, none more so than the tragic fate awaiting one of the major characters. For some reason, both Lee and Bythewood felt compelled to climax their otherwise nonviolent pictures with guns and bloodshed, an incongruous choice that distracts from the themes otherwise developed. It’s also unclear why George is promoted at the struggling new network when the show he personally nurtured tanked so badly.

In the end, the film’s greatest pleasure is the opportunity it affords to watch Nicole Ari Parker sustain a serious lead performance. One of the sexiest young actresses on the scene today, she compellingly projects headstrong confidence as well as a certain vulnerable wariness as her character picks up speed on her way to crashing into a glass wall.

By contrast, Washington seems to follow his character’s lead by playing his cards very close to his chest, leaving George without much dimension or depth. Young Shannon is quite engaging until his character begins carrying the film’s unduly heavy burden of tragedy.

Pic began life as a personal production financed by Bythewood, his wife Gina and numerous black entertainers and execs. In the wake of work-in-progress screenings at last year’s Hollywood Black Film Festival (reviewed March 20, 2000 in Variety) and other fests, HBO came on board, after which further shooting, editing and music scoring were done.

Dancing in September

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

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Bill Dill; editors, Kevin Krasny, Joel Plotch; additional editor, Padraic McKinley; music, Camara Kambon; music supervisor, K.C. Saney; production designer, Sue Chan; art director, Robert W. Neves; set decorator, Paul Roome; costume designers, Bernie White, Germaine Hill; sound (Dolby Digital), Matthew Nicolay, Richard Lightstone; sound designer, Dessie Makovsky; supervising sound editor, Emile Razpopov; line producer, Molly M. Mayeux; associate producers, Wayne Middleton, Paul Garnes; assistant directors, Michael K. Devaney, Tony Mariani; documentary/second unit camera, Mark Taft; casting, Kim Williams. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 20, 2001. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: Tomasina "Tommy" Crawford - Nicole Ari Parker George Washington - Isaiah Washington James - Vicellous Reon Shannon Rhonda - Malinda WilliamsWith: Jay Underwood, Michael Cavanaugh, Mel Jackson, Jenifer Lewis, Marcia Cross, Estelle Harris, Juanita Jennings, Royale Watkins, Chi McBride, Markus Flanagan, Dan Martin, Constance Marie, James Avery, LeVar Burton, Anna Maria Horsford, Peter Onorati.

More Film

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays

    Narendra Modi Wins New Mandate in Indian Election and Divides the Film Industry

    India has returned the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to power for a second term, with a huge mandate. In doing so, it polarized the film industry. The NDA won 351 seats out of a total of 542. The biggest democratic exercise in the world, more than 600 million Indians voted across six weeks. [...]

  • Director Dean DeBlois and online game

    'Dragon' Director Dean DeBlois and PUBG's CH Kim to Keynote 2019 VIEW Conference

    Dean DeBlois, director and executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” and PUBG Corporation CEO CH Kim are the first keynote speakers announced for the 2019 VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy, in October. Since it began 12 years ago, VIEW, which stands for Virtual Interactive Emerging World, has continually [...]

  • 'The Cordillera of Dreams' Review: Poetic

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Cordillera of Dreams'

    Rounding out his sublimely meditative, deeply personal documentary-essay trilogy on time, memory and the relationship of Chile’s breathtaking landscapes to its troubled human history, Patricio Guzmán delivers “The Cordillera of Dreams,” a haunting and allusive exploration of the cultural impact of the country’s most spectacular geological feature: its snowcapped mountain spine. Coming after the exploration [...]

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo' Review: Abdellatif

    Cannes Film Review: 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo'

    A simple but somehow atypical shot opens Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film: a serene closeup of a young woman’s face, as seen through the camera lens of Amir, a budding photographer still finding his perspective. Her expression is ambiguously tranquil, her long hair lightly rustled by a humid breeze, all softly lit by a sinking afternoon [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content