Tim Reid's wonderful film about life in the black neighborhood of Glen Allan, Mississippi, from the mid-'40s to the dawn of the civil rights movement, is thick with terrific, inspired actors and possessed of a mature, limp... more »id visual style. The story is told from the point of view of a young boy raised by his stalwart grandfather and his kind aunt. But the collective tale of a community coming to terms with the risks it must take to fight racism and achieve political rights is equally important and compelling. Beautifully written (based on the autobiographical novel by Clifton Taubert), Reid's vision is rich in scenes of ritual and community that have rarely, if ever, been revealed on film. This is more than just a good movie; it's a watershed event in this nation's cultural history. --Tom Keogh« less
"Step back in time to 1946, to a place called Glen Allen, Mississippi. Racial discrimination is at an all time high, and hate groups like the KKK parade in the streets. African Americans are forced to use different bathrooms, and different water fountains, and Clifton Taulbert is born in a cotton field right in the middle of it all. This horrible time to be African American is where Once Upon A Time...When We Were Colored takes place. The movie spans a total of 16 years, beginning when Cliff was born, and ending when he is seventeen. The character of Clifton Taulbert was played by three different actors (age 5, age 10 through 11, and age 17). Charles Earl Taylor Jr. (who played Cliff at age 5) did a superb job, as well as Damon Hines (Cliff at age 17). Ray J (who played Cliff at ages 10 through 11), I believe, could have played his part in the movie better by adding a little more expression in his voice. On the whole, all of the other actors in the movie performed wonderfully. The theme of racial discrimination is evident from the beginning birth scene in the cotton fields where the white owner of the fields refused to give the mother of Clifton a full days pay because of his inconvenient birth in the middle of the cotton crop. The movie then moves on to a scene where Cliff (age 5) needed to use a restroom at a gas station. It was marked "white only" and the gas attendant stopped him before Cliff had a chance to use it. His Uncle Cleave (played by Richard Roundtree) then showed young Cliff a "W" and a "C" and explained to him that he could only use things marked with a "C" (for colored). Cliff's Uncle Cleave, who delivered ice for the people who owned iceboxes in Glen Allen, was a major roll model in Cliff's life. Cliff's Uncle always told him to get a good education so he could move away from Glen Allen when he was older. Perhaps the scene with the most evidence of racism is when Cleave takes Cliff into town and they see the KKK in white hooded robes marching down the street. This movie receives four stars out of five from me because of the disappointing acting from Ray J (Cliff Age 10 through 11) that in my opinion could have been played much better. Also throughout the movie there are scenes that clearly show the local color of the town of Glen Allen. A church scene, where the people of Glen Allen gathered together to worship god and have a picnic, showed the great sense of family in the town. Other scenes (like one of a dace club) help us get a feel for what life was like living in Glen Allen. I think that these scenes were a very good addition to the movie. All in all, with its wonderful directing, fantastic cast, and a good moral, Once Upon A Time...When We Were Colored was superbly made. The fact that it was a true story is stunning in itself because of the abundance of racial discrimination that happened in these times. Once Upon A Time...When We Were Colored is a must see movie for anyone who wants to learn more about racial discrimination."
Clifton Talbert's powerful prose
Charlotte Ann Hu | Arizona, USA | 05/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Al Freeman does great justice to Clifton Talbert's powerful novel. Clifton inspired me as an author. He used the first person narrative in such a humble manner. I have heard it said that only arrogant, self-glorifying people employ a literary style center with the word, "I." Yet, Clifton does so with such a sense of humility. His "I" illustrates the power being there, but in his work, virtually every person he describes is made to seem more bold, virtuous and sincere than the author himself. In Al Freeman's adaptation of this excellent literary work, the humble and sincere sense that imbued Clifton's novel comes to life. Genuine, sublime, personal and powerful, this is a movie guaranteed to touch your heart."
THIS MOVIE CAN INFLUENCE PEOPLE OF ALL AGES
On'Draya Green | Westland, MI United States | 01/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"IF THERE WAS A TEN STAR RATING, THIS MOVIE WOULD DESREVE IT, IN MY OPINION IT WAS JUST AS GOOD AS THE COLOR PURPLE. THIS IS A MOVIE FULL OF THE TRUTH, AND THE ACTORS AND ACTRESSSES DELIVER AN PERFORMANCE THAT WILL BE HARD TO MATCH. THIS IS HOW THINGS TRULY WERE IN THE SOUTH. I'M GLAD SOMEONE IS FINALLY REVEALING THE WHOLE STORY."
A special film, heartfelt, soft spoken.
John Cobb | Austin, TX | 03/25/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tim Reid has not been `that guy from WKRP' for some time now. And no, he wasn't Isaac on The Love Boat either. He still finds himself in too many schlocky TV movies, and weak situation comedies. One must pay the rent, and no one can argue with that.More and more a champion of black film, he has been careful, deliberate in his choice of projects to produce. Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, elevates him, appropriately, as a serious filmmaker, black, white, or otherwise.This is not a `new' film, but it is a different approach. An insightful look into Afro-American existence during turbulent times, the focus is on the community, rather than the oppression, the individuals rather than the cause. The result is every bit as effective in getting the message across. `You get more flies with honey...'Al Freeman Jr. gets a well-deserved opportunity to show that he's not just some kind of TV Morgan Freeman. His portrayal of Poppa, the family patriarch is wonderful and slighted unfortunately by the Academy. Even the Image awards overlooked him, preferring to bestow honor on the over-cooked and under-talented Phylicia Rashad, one of the only weak links in this strong cast. Bernie Casey and Richard Roundtree both play well against their macho-type.Don't expect to be hit over the head with the ideas of this film. Just let it ease you on down the road, and, take a look around, every so often as you do."
Few screen portrayals of Afrian Americans ring as true.
On'Draya Green | 08/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While parts of this film are a bit saccharine, on the whole I would say that this is one of the best portrayals of African American family life that I have ever seen. The characters' concerns and fears ring true, as do their support mechanisms in difficult situations. The movie made me lament things that African Americans have lost as we have moved to cities and away from our traditional communities."