Nationality: French West Indian. Born: Martinique, France, 1957. Education: Earned degree in French Literature at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1983; attended the Vaugirard Film School; earned degree in Photography, Louis Lumière School of Cinema, 1984. Career:
La messagère ( The Messenger ) (for TV) (+ sc) (doc) (ro)
L'atelier du diable ( The Devil's Workshop ) (for TV) (+ sc)
Rue cases nègres ( Sugar Cane Alley, Black Shack Ally ) (doc)(+ sc)
A Dry White Season (+ sc)
Hassane (for TV) (doc)
Siméon (+ sc, pr)
Aimé Céaire: un voix pour l'histoire ( Aimé Céaire: A Voice for History ) (doc) (+ sc)
Ruby Bridges (for TV) (+ pr)
Wings against the Wind (+ co-sc, pr)
Micciollo, H., "Propos d'Euzhan Palcy." in Cinéma (Paris), no. 298, October 1983.
Linfield, Susan, "Sugar Cane Alley: An Interview with Euzhan Palcy," Cineaste (Berkeley), vol. 13, no. 4, 1984.
Glicksman, Marliane, "Tempest: Euzhan Palcy's Dry White Season ," interview in Film Comment (New York), September-October, 1989.
Johnston, Sheila, "Against the Stream: Director Euzhan Palcy Talks to Sheila Johnston about Her Film A Dry White Season ," in The Independent (London), 17 January 1990.
Gray, John, Blacks in Film and Television: A Pan-African Bibliography of Films, Filmmakers, and Performers , Westport, Connecticut, 1990.
Kuhn, Annett, and Susan Radstone, editors, The Women's Companion to International Film , Los Angeles, 1990.
Acker, Ally, Reel Women, Pioneers of the Cinema 1896 to the Presen t, New York, 1991.
Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey, Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary , Westport, Connecticut, 1995.
Unterburger, Amy L., editor, Women Filmmakers and Their Films , Detroit, 1998.
Unterburger, Amy L., editor, Women on the Other Side of the Camera , Detroit, 1999.
Curchod, O., "L'Epure d'une Memoire Antillaise," in Positif (Paris), no. 273, November 1983.
DeStefano, G., " Sugar Cane Alley ," in Cineaste (Berkeley), vol. 13, no. 4, 1984.
Maslin, Janet, "New Directors/New Films; Sugar Cane Alley , In Martinique," in New York Times , 6 April 1984.
Canby, Vincent, "Film View: Third World Truths from Sugar Cane Alley ," in New York Times , 22 April 1984.
Irvine, L., " Sugar Cane Alley ," in Film Journal (New York), June 1984.
"Rue Cases Negres," in Films and Filming (London), no. 357, June 1984.
Attanasio, Paul, "Palcy's Sweet Sugar ," in Washington Post , 2 March 1985.
Farley, Christopher, "Her Season Dawns: Director Palcy Breaks H'wood Barriers: She Attacks Apartheid with New Film," in USA Today , 19 September 1989.
McKenna, Kristine, "Tough, Passionate, Persuasive: Euzhan Palcy Battled for Five Years to Put Her Vision of Apartheid on Screen, and Then Lured Marlon Brando Back to Work—for Free," in American Film (Hollywood), September 1989.
Infusino, Divina, "Euzhan Palcy: Directing on Purpose: She Sees Her Season as Opportunity to Tell World about Apartheid," in San Diego Union-Tribune , 8 October 1989.
Southgate, Martha, "Euzhan Palcy: The Director of A Dry White Season May Well Be the First Black Woman Ever to Direct a Major Studio Film," in Essence , October 1989.
Easton, Nina J., "New Black Films, New Insights: As Studios Open Their Gates to African-American Filmmakers, Fresh and Powerful Social Messages Are Making Their Way onto the Screen," in New York Times , 3 May 1991.
Easton, Nina, J., "The Invisible Women: In Hollywood's Rush to Embrace Black Filmmakers, Women Directors Are Being Left out, but Some Expect that Picture to Change," in New York Times , 29 September 1991.
Carchidi, Vitoria, "South Africa from Text to Film: Cry Freedom and A Dry White Season ," in Literature and Film in the Historical Dimension: Selected Papers from the Fifteenth Annual Florida State University Conference on Literature and Film , edited by John D. Simons, Gainesville, 1994.
"New Orleans in '60s Comes to Life in Disney's Ruby Bridges : Six-Year-Old Integrates Public School," in New Pittsburgh Courier , 3 January 1998.
Price, Michael H., "Euzhan Palcy: Director of Ruby Bridges ," in Fort Worth Star-Telegram , 13 January 1998.
Koch, John, " Bridges Artfully Traverses '60s Racial Divide," in Boston Globe , 16 January 1998.
Yarbrough, Freda, "French Director Just Wanted to Get It Right," in Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate , 18 January 1998.
In Darkest Hollywood: Cinema and Apartheid , (video recording), 1993.
Filmmakers on Film, Reel Women Videos: The Producer/Director Relationship (video recording), produced by Ally Acker, Reel Women Trust Foundation, Roslyn Heights, New York, 1993.
* * *
"The power of the film is incredible to change people's minds, open their eyes, their vision of the world," explained Euzhan Palcy in an interview in American Film in 1989. Her words describe her own effect on film; she is rapidly creating a legacy to the history of film as an artist, vanguard, and pioneer filmmaker.
Palcy was born on the French West Indian island of Martinique. From all accounts, Palcy was a precocious and artistically gifted child, encouraged in large part by her father. "I grew up in a cultured, artistic environment. We weren't rich but there were painters, writers and intellectuals in my family." Palcy wrote stories, poetry, short dramas and—while still a teenager—produced and directed La messegère (1974), a 50-minute drama about a grandmother who works on a banana plantation. The work stands out as probably the first of its kind to be produced in Martinique specifically for West Indian television.
Like many film artists, Palcy admits to having been captivated by movies at a tender age. "I loved the movies from the time I was a little girl," she reveals in American Film , "by the time I was 10, I wanted to be a filmmaker." Because the filmmaking industry of Martinique was all but non-existent, she instead was raised on a steady diet of American-produced fare and influenced in large part by the style of some revered directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Fritz Lang. The films Palcy watched included such marginalized, conventionalized, and stereotyped imagery that she was inspired to take a camera into her own hands."The desire to be a director came out of rage, anger, she noted in Film Comment. "I was so upset when I would see all those stupid portrayals of black people in American movies."
At the age of seventeen, and to the consternation of her father, Palcy decided to become a filmmaker. "It is as if your child today would say, 'I want to be a cosmonaut," Palcy explained in an interview with Ally Acker.
She left Martinique for Paris, studying art and French literature at the prestigious Sorbonne and earning a degree in photography at the equally prestigious Louis Lumière School of Cinema. While in Paris she continued work on her screen adaptation of Joseph Zobel's book Rue cases nègres , a novel that Palcy reveals profoundly effected her. She earned a grant from French television and even won the support of French film luminary, François Truffaut, who became part mentor, part godfather.
In 1981, she directed the film L'atelier du diable (The Devil's Workshop) a piece derived largely from the story she would pursue in Rue cases nègres. It took some three years to raise the $800,000 for the production of Rue cases nègres. The film examines the 1930s sugar-cane plantations of the French West Indian island of Martinique. Striking are the scenes of crushing poverty and cruel exploitation: children go without shoes and marvel at the thought of sharing the taste of a found egg. We see the alleys, lined with the shacks that serve as dwellings for the indigent cane-cutters, and watch as a worker has his already tiny pittance docked simply because he stopped work to relieve himself.
Seen through the eyes of a personable young adolescent boy named Jose, Rue cases nègres is a tale of colonialism, exploitation, and hope. Jose's grandmother M'Man Tine, sacrifices her own wellbeing so that he may have the benefit of an education and need not follow her into a life as a sugar cane field worker. The success of Rue cases nègres earned Palcy international attention and a number of awards, including the French César.
In the space of a few years, Palcy carved a unique place for herself in film largely unbeknownst to women of color. Yet, her story had only just begun. In 1989, she burst into the public eye with the production of the film, A Dry White Season. The legacy of this film is multi-layered. First and foremost is the film's unflinching depiction of the cruelty of the system of apartheid in South Africa. A few filmmakers had sought to do this, most notably Richard Attenborough's production of Cry Freedom (1987). Palcy's film adaptation of the André Brinke novel pulled no punches. The brutality and violence of the system is laid bare. Viewers witness the legacy of institutionalized racism and indifference: a severe lashing given a young boy by police leave his buttocks bloodied, children are gunned down in the streets, and other torture is shown. Critical reviews of the film were abundant and overwhelmingly positive. "No other contemporary mainstream film takes us so deeply, so unflinchingly into the tragically divided heart of South Africa," noted Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times. The film earned heightened interest because of its high-powered cast. Donald Sutherland played the Afrikaner school teacher Ben du Toit, whose well-ordered and seemingly ideal life is slowly and inexorably shattered by the realities of the brutal and unfair system that he has somehow managed to ignore of for most of his life. In addition, Palcy managed to lure the services of the reclusive and semi-retired Marlon Brando, who took on the role of a sensitive and supportive South African barrister, receiving scale wages and an Oscar nomination for his appearance. Most significantly, the film positioned Palcy as the first black woman director of a feature film for a major Hollywood studio.
Palcy continued her success in 1992 when she directed the internationally acclaimed Siméon , a music-filled ghost story about a young Martinican girl who holds the dream of bringing her native music to the world. In 1994 she produced Aimé Céaire: un voix pour l'histoire (Aimé Céaire: A Voice for History) , a three-part study of the life of the celebrated Martinican author.
The end of the century saw Palcy's work take on a slightly different focus. In 1998, she directed the made-for-television movie Ruby Bridges , the poignant story of the little black girl who helped to bring racial integration to the all-white New Orleans school system. She has turned her attention to the production of Wings against the Wind , a tale of the life of Bessie Coleman, black America's first female aviatrix and has plans for an adaptation of the story of Haitian military leader Toussaint L'Overture.
—Pamala S. Deane