On Martin Luther King Day day at our annual WTI gathering, we watched “To Sleep With Anger,” a 1990 film directed by Charles Burnett. The film is about a black family residing in South-Central Los Angeles. One day, an old acquaintance (Harry, played by Danny Glover) come to visit the Gideon and his wife Suzie. Harry seems to be a good old friend, but always seems to stir up trouble. The family already had some conflicts but they seemed to get worse when Harry was there.
Eventually, Gideon has a stroke, and Babe Brother, the younger son, is heavily influenced by Harry. Babe Brother is about to leave his wife. The older brother, Junior, confronts Babe Brother before he departs and a fight erupts – with a knife. The mother tries to break it up and her hand gets cut, and they rush her to the hospital.
The incident brings many of the family’s conflicts to the forefront, and seems to unite them in a positive way once all recognize the negative influence of Harry, as Harry is asked to go.
To me, “To Sleep With Anger” is a classic film, full of the issues that any family faces. Indeed, much of this reminded me of my semi-dysfunctional family with our many failures and some successes.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, I went to a viewing of this film where Mr. Burnett was there to talk to the crowd and answer questions. It was a wonderful event. I’d already seen the movie but was compelled to see it where I could talk to the writer and director.
I asked him about some of the little details, like the young boy trying to play the horn, and the boy who fed the pigeons. These were little details that added a depth to the movie, though they had nothing to do with the plot. Mr. Burnett told me that that boy represented him, which made me smile. Watch the movie, and see how the boy and his horn practice somewhat frames the movie.
And Harry – who does he repesent? You have to see it and figure it out for yourself.
The movie won several awards, but I had never heard of it before a friend pointed it out to myself and Dolores back in the mid-90s.
“I think this is a great movie,” I told Mr. Burnett. “So why do you think it’s gotten so little attention?” Burnett’s answer was quick, and initially surprised me.
“Because there are all black actors,” he said matter of factly. “Really?” I said. Well, in fact, there were a few token whites in the movie, like one of the paramedics. Still, the movie was so good, capturing “family-ness” so well, that I just naturally assumed people would be color-blind and go see it and enjoy it and benefit from it.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it can be rented or purchased at video places. I hope you view it and enjoy it like I did.