Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1995)

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge was a pet project for Halle Berry, who spent six years trying to get the biopic made. The result is a high quality, heartfelt tribute to the woman who became the first African-American to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and in doing so blazed a path for many to follow.

 

Through a convoluted framing device that has Dandridge reminiscing on the phone with her former sister-in-law, the film’s flashback pauses at that Academy Award ceremony before travelling back further in time to The Cotton Club. From this point on the film sequentially charts Dandridge’s life story, returning to the phone call whenever the story needs to progress. Not that the film ever has much of a chance to lag.  

 

Yet the film’s real strengths lies in its depiction of the racism Dandridge faced during her life. Despite being a club’s headline act, off-stage she suffers the same discrimination as other African-Americans, forced to enter venues via the servant’s entrance, barred from using public toilets and encouraged not to mix with the paying customers. One particularly potent scene has a pool being emptied and scrubbed because Dandridge had the gall to dip her toe in it.

 

A few years after this movie, Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar. In her acceptance speech she tearfully acknowledged, amongst others, Dorothy Dandridge.

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20th Century Fox’s Carmen Jones (1954) was not the first major studio movie to feature an all-black cast. In 1929 Fox produced Hearts in Dixie and MGM produced Hallelujah. Seven years later Warner Brothers made The Green Pastures, and then in 1943 MGM produced Cabin in the Sky and 20th Century Fox produced Stormy Weather.

Biopic does a fabulous recreation of the cafeteria scene from Carmen Jones as well as a comical scene recreation from Tarzan's Peril. Also depicted is a rehearsal for a specialty number from Sun Valley Serenade, in which Dorothy performs with her future husband, Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers.

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