Black Girl (1972 film)

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Black Girl
Black Girl (1972 film).jpg
Directed by Ossie Davis
Produced by
  • Robert H. Greenberg
  • Lee Savin
Screenplay by J. E. Franklin
Based on Black Girl
by J. E. Franklin
Music by
Cinematography Glenwood J. Swanson
Edited by Graham Lee Mahin
Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • November 9, 1972 (1972-11-09)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Black Girl is an American family drama film directed by Ossie Davis based on a play written by J.E. Franklin. The film explores issues and experiences of black womanhood in the 1970s, including how black women were depicted and common stereotypes of the period. According to Melvin Donalson in Black Directors in Hollywood, "Black Girl is a film that explores the intricate and sometimes painful connections between mothers and daughters."[1]


A family drama about a young woman who defies the low expectations thrust upon her and pursues her dream of becoming a dancer. The story begins in Mama Rosie's rental house where she lives with her three teenage daughters, her mother, and her mother's boyfriend. The youngest daughter, Billie Jean, desperately wishes to avoid the fate of her sisters, Norma and Ruth Ann, who are unmarried mothers. Billie Jean dreams of becoming a successful dancer but her mother and sisters belittle her attempts to better herself. Mama Rosie compares her daughters unfavorably with Netta, a former foster daughter, who has achieved success in her education and has a promising career and who is resented by the daughters. Netta comes to visit and is treated with hostility by Norma and Ruth Ann, but nevertheless has plans for Billie Jean to finish high school and to apply for college, which neither her mother nor her sisters ever envisaged. The film ends with Billie Jean leaving home to attend college to pursue her dreams despite much protest from her mother and sisters.



Davis was not afraid to focus on realistic and sometimes uncomfortable issues. A central theme of his was the depiction of black women in that time period. Black Girl was released "against the backdrop of the resurging feminist movement in the early 1970s".[2]

In Davis's film he explores the emerging women's liberation that followed the Black Power movement through the characters' stories, especially that of Mama Rosie as a single black mother struggling to support her family while refusing to allow her ex-husband to save her. "Davis gave notice that working-class black women—who were not prostitutes, drug users, or gun-toting heroines—had stories to tell that were provocative and relevant."[3]

The role of black women in films was changing. "The role of black women in films, always previously confined to servant roles, with only white-looking women being allowed to be sexually alluring (and sinful), did not reflect their status in the black community."[4]


Blaxploitation films in the 1970s exploited the stereotypes of African Americans in the roles they played. The genre promoted popular images of black men and women using traits of extraordinary cool, sexuality, and violence. Black Girl embraces some of these traits, in depicting the sexuality of the older sisters, and in a violent scene where the oldest sister pulls a knife on Netta, the foster sister.[5] Roger Ebert stated that in Black Girl "we see a black family with more depth and complexity than the movies usually permit"[6]


Melvin Donalson wrote: "Studios were perhaps unenthusiastic about marketing a film that explored emotional and psychological dimensions of black womanhood, and perhaps audiences were still hungry for the trendy black urban action films that dominated the period."[7] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated it three out of four stars and wrote, "Black Girl is a movie so filled with things it wants to say that sometimes the messages are lost in a confusion of story lines. A more disciplined movie might have been made by eliminating some of the material and organizing the rest, but I'm not sure it would have been a better movie, or a more moving experience."[8] Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote, "I suspect that the real difference between the successful play and the failed movie lies in Ossie Davis's direction, which ranges from pedestrian to downright helpless."[9] Variety quoted their own review, which called it "the best study of Negro family life since Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun".[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donalson, Melvin. Black Directors in Hollywood. 
  2. ^ Donalson, Melvin. Black Directors in Hollywood. 
  3. ^ Donalson, Melvin. Black Directors in Hollywood. University of Texas Press. p. 29. 
  4. ^ Null, Gary. Black Hollywood the negro in motion pictures. Citadel Press. p. 216. 
  5. ^ Donalson, Melvin. Black Directors in Hollywood. University of Texas Press. p. 45. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Black Girl". 
  7. ^ Donalson, Melvin. Black Directors in Hollywood. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (1973-02-06). "Black Girl". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  9. ^ Greenspun, Roger (1972-11-10). "Black Girl (1972)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  10. ^ "Lee Savin". Variety. 1995-01-29. Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  • Donalson, Melvin. Black Directoris in Hollywood. University of Texas Press. pp. 25–30,45,204. 
  • New York Times Movie Review by Roger Greenspun
  • Hooks, Bell. Ain't I a Woman black women and feminism. South End Press. p. 161. 

External links[edit]