The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman

The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In 1962, when the civil rights movement was hotting up, Jane Pittman (Cicely Tyson) turned 110. A journalist (Michael Murphy) from New York drives down in a dust-flecked Cadillac and wants to interview her.


Copy picture

“You were a slave.”

“There were hundreds of slaves.”

“You are still alive.”

For her, breathing is good copy, despite being so ancient she looks like a stick insect and can’t walk too well, as long as the memory’s still there and her vocal chords haven’t atrophied.

Jane talks to the stranger with the funny recording machine. Considering what she went through at the hands of the Klan, it’s a surprise that she can trust any white man. She figures that she has to tell someone and a Yankee in a cotton suit with no understanding of the South is as good as any. If he uses her story as political fodder in a liberal newspaper to remind folks on the Eastern Seaboard what it was like when the slaves were freed, that’s all right, too. As her son Ned told his people on the banks of the river so long ago, “The enemy is ignorance.” Shortly afterwards he was gunned down by a redneck with a 12-bore in broad daylight down a lonely forest road.

Although the suffering of negroes at the hands of white power has been told better than this – remember Mississippi Burning? – it does no harm to tell it again. There must be young people who have heard the word “apartheid” and felt shame for the Afrikaners on the other side of the world, when less than 50 years ago in the land of the free, black boys were being strung up on trees for looking at a white women.

It is a pity that this film lacks cinematic ambition, or artistic merit. The director was either kidnapped by aliens during the shoot, or left everything to the make-up department. Jane’s story, with its hardship and tragedy, has enough drama to fill the spaces between post civil war ennui and 20th century repression. It sets the scene for what is to come and recognises, without saying as much, the courage of Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violent protest.

Tyson’s performance is exceptional, almost freakish, in that a woman of 41 can imitate, with such detailed accuracy, the emotional and physical attributes of someone so old and frail.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2008
Share this with others on...
The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman packshot
The life of a freed slave in the American Deep South, from the end of the civil war to the black protest movements of the Sixties.
Amazon link

Director: John Korty

Writer: Tracy Keenan Wynn, based on the novel by Ernest J Gaines

Starring: Cicely Tyson, Michael Murphy, Rod Perry, Thalmus Rasulala Odetta, Josephine Premice, Barbara Chaney, Richard Dysart, Katherine Helmond, David Hooks, Valerie Odell, Jerry Green, Joel Fluellen

Year: 1974

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database: