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Euzhan Palcy
Euzhan Palcy in 2023
Born (1958-01-13) 13 January 1958 (age 65)
Martinique, France
Alma materUniversity of Paris
École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière
OccupationFilmmaker
Years active1975–present
Notable workSugar Cane Alley
A Dry White Season
Websiteeuzhanpalcy.net

Euzhan Palcy ([ø.ʒɑ̃ pal.si]; born 13 January 1958) is a French film director, screenwriter, and producer. Her films are known to explore themes of race, gender, and politics, with an emphasis on the perpetuated effects of colonialism. Palcy's first feature film Sugar Cane Alley (1983) received numerous awards including the César Award for Best First Feature Film. For directing A Dry White Season (1989), she became the first black female director to have a film produced by a major Hollywood studio, that being by MGM.[1]

Palcy also directed the independent film Siméon (1992). She has since moved towards directing documentaries and television projects such as Aimé Césaire: A Voice for History (1994). She then directed the television films Ruby Bridges (1998) and The Killing Yard (2001), as well as the documentary The Journey of the Dissidents (2005) and the miniseries The Brides of Bourbon Island (2007).[2]

Throughout her career, Palcy has explored various genres, often breaking ground being the first female black director to do so. She is the first black director to win a César Award and the Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion, both for Sugar Cane Alley (1983).[2] In 2022, she was given the Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to cinema.[3]

Early life and education

Euzhan Palcy was born in Martinique, an overseas department and region of France. Palcy grew up studying the films of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles.[4][5] She decided at the young age of ten to become a filmmaker, largely due to the imprecise depictions of black people in film and television, and her desire for a more accurate portrayal.[6] She has said: "I’m a mixed blood person, I have African blood, European blood, Asian blood, but the one that I cherish most is the African one, because it is the one that is the most degraded, most insulted on the screen and all walks of life... I understood early on I must take my camera to restore the roots and heal the wounds of history, bring life back."[7] Euzhan went to college at home in Martinique, and eventually found work at a local TV network. When she was a teenager, her success as a poet and songwriter led to her being asked to do a weekly poetry program on local television. It was there she wrote and directed the short film La Messagère, and began her filmmaking career. The drama, which centers on the relationship between a girl and her grandmother, and which explores the lives of workers on a banana plantation, was the first West Indian production mounted in Martinique.

She left for Paris in 1975 to earn a master's degree in French literature, in theater, at the Sorbonne, a D.E.A. in Art and Archeology and a film degree (specializing in cinematography) from renowned Louis Lumière College.[8] Palcy soon began her first film, Sugar Cane Alley – an adaptation of Joseph Zobel's 1950 La Rue Cases-Nègres (also translated as Black Shack Alley), a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the struggle for change with shifting race relations. Palcy has said: "I discovered the novel when I was fourteen. It was the first time I read a novel by a black man, a black of my country, a black who was speaking about poor people."[9] As she became acquainted with members of the French film community, Palcy received encouragement from New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut and his collaborator Suzanne Shiffman.[8] In 1982, the French government provided partial funding for the film in the form of a grant.[8][10]

Career

Early work

It was in Paris, with the encouragement of her "French Godfather", François Truffaut that she was able to put together her first feature, Sugar Cane Alley (1983).[8][11] Shot for less than $1,000,000, it documents life on a Martinique sugar cane plantation in the 1930s through the eyes of a young boy. Sugar Cane Alley won more than 17 international awards, including the Venice Film Festival Silver Lion,[12] as well as the Coppa Volpi (Volpi Cup) for Best Lead Actress Award (Darling Legitimus).[13] It also won the prestigious César Award (the French equivalent to an Academy Award) for best first feature film. Among the firsts, it won the Special Jury Award at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival and the first Public Award at the Fespaco pan-African film and television festival.[14] After seeing Palcy's work, Robert Redford handpicked her to attend the 1984 Sundance Director's Lab (Sundance Institute), becoming her "American Godfather".[15]

A Dry White Season

Main article: A Dry White Season

In 1989, Palcy wrote and directed A Dry White Season, an American drama film directed by her and starring Donald Sutherland, Jürgen Prochnow, Marlon Brando, Janet Suzman, Zakes Mokae and Susan Sarandon. It was written by Colin Welland and Palcy, based on South African writer André Brink's 1979 novel A Dry White Season. It is set in South Africa in 1976 and deals with the subject of apartheid. She is also the only woman filmmaker to have directed Marlon Brando, whom she brought back to the screen after a gap of nine years.[1][16]

Impressed by Palcy's commitment to social change, Marlon Brando came out of retirement, agreeing to act in A Dry White Season (1989) for free. Palcy was also the first black director to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination[1] Also starring in the film were actors Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon. In Palcy's film adaptation of A Dry White Season, the story focuses on the social movements of South Africa and the Soweto riots, and was heralded for putting the politics of apartheid into meaningful human terms. Palcy was so passionate about creating an accurate story depicting the reality of apartheid that she risked her life traveling undercover to South Africa. To research the riots, she was introduced to the people of Soweto township by Dr Motlana (Nelson Mandela's and Desmond Tutu's personal physician), while she eluded the South African secret services by posing as a recording artist.[2]

Palcy became the first black female director produced by a major Hollywood studio and is the only black filmmaker who succeeded in making in the U.S. a narrative feature against apartheid on the silver screen during the 27 years of Nelson Mandela's incarceration.[7][17] The late Senator Ted Kennedy supported the filmmaker.[citation needed] Brando's performance in the movie earned him his 8th and last Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he received the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo Film Festival.[2] For her outstanding cinematic achievement, Palcy received the "Orson Welles Award" in Los Angeles.[2] For the first anniversary of his election Mandela welcomed Euzhan Palcy in South Africa and granted her an exclusive interview that has yet to be seen.[2]

By 1992, Palcy veered away from the serious subject matter of her previous films to show the spirit and liveliness of her native Martinique with Simeon (1992),[18] a musical comedic fairytale set in the Caribbean and Paris, featuring Kassav.[19] Palcy remained in France to create her first feature three-part documentary, Aimé Césaire, A Voice For History (1994) about the famed Martinican poet, playwright, and philosopher, whom she has described as her "first godfather".[7]

She then worked for Disney/ABC Studios, directing and producing an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney entitled, Ruby Bridges (1998), the story of Ruby Bridges, the little New Orleans girl who was the first to integrate the public schools, immortalized in the painting by Norman Rockwell. President Bill Clinton and Disney President, Michael Eisner introduced the film from the White House to American audiences.[citation needed] Palcy’s film won four awards, including The Christopher Awards, The Humanitas Prize, the National Educational Media Network Gold Apple and best performance Young actress award Young Artists Awards.[citation needed] For Paramount/Showtime Studios, Palcy directed The Killing Yard (2001), starring Alan Alda and Morris Chestnut. The drama is based on the true events surrounding the 1971 Attica prison riot, which had an indelible impact on the American prison system and jury process. The film won a Silver Gavel Award for "Best Film About Justice" from the American Bar Association.[19]

Later career

In 2005, Palcy returned to the documentary to direct Parcours de Dissidents ("The Journey of the Dissidents"), narrated by Gérard Depardieu. The film tells the story of the forgotten history of “dissidents”, the men and women of Martinique and Guadeloupe who left their islands between 1940 and 1943. In 2007, Palcy wrote and directed Les Mariées de I’isles Bourbon ("The Brides of Bourbon Island") (2007), a romantic historical epic adventure.

In 2006, she wrote and directed the documentary Parcours de Dissidents (The Journey of the Dissidents), narrated by Oscar-nominated and French actor Gérard Depardieu, about the unknown odyssey of the men and women from the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe (FWI) many of who were trained at Fort Dix, New Jersey, during WWII and fought throughout the liberation of France.[20] On June 18, 2011, Palcy's The Journey of the Dissidents (Parcours de Dissidents) was screened at the French Military School at the invitation of the French Minister of Defense and the Minister of Overseas Territories. A National Exhibition (La Dissidence en Martinique et en Guadeloupe 1940–1945), based on her film, was launched at the French National Staff Headquarters on July 7 and is currently exhibited simultaneously in everyone of the 101 Prefectures (equivalent of our Federal government building of every counties) along with the screening of her film.

Palcy wrote and directed the French three-hour period piece set in the 17th century, Les Mariées de I’isles Bourbon (The Brides of Bourbon Island) (2007). It tells of a romantic, historic epic action adventure where three women survive a harrowing ocean voyage from France to forcibly marry French expatriates on the island of Réunion.

Palcy’s drive for the life and compassion for humanity inspire each and every project with which she is involved. Her passion spills into all areas of cinematic lexicon to include the animation, thriller, comedy and action genres. For Fox Studios, Palcy developed an animated feature, currently entitled Katoumbaza. She is actively developing a feature film, on Bessie Coleman,[21] for which she recorded the very last witness of the first African-American woman aviator journey in France,[15] and an action comedy set in Los Angeles and Paris. Palcy has chosen Teaching Toots, a comedy drama on illiteracy – a project close to her heart – to be her next film to co-produce and direct. Her interest in humanitarian work and supporting the younger generation has been known for years. Her last production has been Moly, a biographical short on young disabled one-legged Senegalese filmmaker Moly Kane. The film was screened in Cannes to rapturous public acclaim.[22] Palcy announced on stage that Moly Kane would receive the prosthetic leg of his dreams so that he could be free to film with his camera.[citation needed]

In 2022, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to present Palcy, alongside Diane Warren and Peter Weir, with an Honorary Oscar, citing her as "a pioneering filmmaker whose groundbreaking significance in international cinema is cemented in film history".[23][21]

Style and themes

The geographical setting varies from project to project, yet Palcy's focus on Black culture remains constant. Her films stress the themes and issues that are continuous across the physical space that separates Martinique from France, from South Africa, from America.[24]

Themes of colonialism are present in Sugarcane Alley, A Dry White Season, and many of her other works. "Euzhan Palcy's two films Rue cases negres / Sugar Cane Alley (1983) and A Dry White Season (1989) share a set of thematic equivalences that represent postcolonial perspectives on Pan-African identities and experiences. In both instances the films focus is on the experiences of black communities and the atrocities they have suffered at the hands of their enslavers or oppressors."[25]

Palcy often uses non professional actors in her films, and works with them to ensure a feeling of authenticity is maintained. In Sugarcane Alley, many actors were actual workers from the sugarcane plantation, and Palcy had them live on set for two months prior to the shooting date. Palcy explains, “We did the shooting in the middle of a sugarcane plantation, we built that set, so I asked the people all around, the sugarcane workers, to bring their pigs, their cattle, to bring everything there, and I asked everyone to live in the house on the plantation. So for two months in advance they were there every day. They were there having fun barbecuing, playing.”[26]

In A Dry White Season Palcy wanted to get people from South Africa who were actually living in apartheid to act in these scenes. However, in order to get people from South Africa into Zimbabwe, many legal hurdles had to be leapt, since South Africans were not allowed to cross into their neighboring country with conventional methods.[citation needed] Palcy decided to go the extra mile to fly the cast from South Africa to London on an “artist” visa, then from there fly the cast to Zimbabwe. Palcy explains the difficulty: "We couldn't let any journalists get in because of all the South African actors we had, we had to make them go to England, take them from England, bring them back to Zimbabwe, because the Black South Africans didn't have the right to have a passport, so in order to get a passport you had to be an artist… They said they had a deal to be in a play, so that was how they got their passports."[26]

Filmography

Film

Year Title Director Writer Producer Note
1979 O Madiana No No No assistant director
1982 The Devil's Workshop Yes Yes Yes Short film
1982 Bourg-la-folie No Yes No
1983 Sugar Cane Alley Yes Yes No
1984 Dionysos No Yes No
1989 A Dry White Season Yes Yes No
1992 How Are the Kids? Yes No No Documentary; segment: "Hassane"
1992 Siméon Yes Yes Yes
2009 Zachry No No Yes Short film
2011 Molly No No Yes Short film

Television

Year Title Director Writer Producer Note
1975 The Messenger Yes Yes Yes Television movie
1994 Aimé Césaire: A Voice for History Yes Yes Yes Documentary series; 3 episodes
1998 The Wonderful World of Disney Yes No Yes Episode: "Ruby Bridges"
2001 The Killing Yard Yes No No Television movie
2006 Parcours de dissidents Yes Yes No Television documentary
2007 The Brides of Bourbon Island Yes Yes No 2 episodes

Awards and nominations

Legacy and recognition

References

  1. ^ a b c d Verhoeven, Beatrice; Reid Nakamura (8 March 2019). "Women's History Month: 17 Women Who Revolutionized Hollywood (Photos)". TheWrap. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "ABOUT | Euzhan Palcy | Director, Screenwriter, Producer". euzhan-palcy. Retrieved 2021-12-05.
  3. ^ a b Hammond, Pete (November 20, 2022). "Oscars: Governors Awards Presented To Diane Warren, Euzhan Palcy, Peter Weir, Michael J. Fox At Inspiring Ceremony". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  4. ^ Bahr, Lindsey (16 November 2022). "Trailblazing director Euzhan Palcy returns for Oscar honor". The Independent.
  5. ^ West, Joan M., and Dennis West. "Euzhan Palcy and Her Creative Anger: A Conversation with the Filmmaker." The French Review, vol. 77, no. 6, 2004, pp. 1193–203. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25479620. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  6. ^ Gaudry-Hudson, Christine M. M. (2003). ""Raising Cane": A Feminist Rewriting of Joseph Zobel's Novel "Sugar Cane Alley" by Film Director Euzhan Palcy". CLA Journal. 46 (4): 478–493. ISSN 0007-8549. JSTOR 44325179.
  7. ^ a b c Hunt, Aaron E. (20 July 2020). "Misfortunes That Have No Mouth: A Conversation with Euzhan Palcy". MUBI. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d "Palcy, Euzhan 1957(?)-". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  9. ^ "INTERVIEWS: SUGAR CANE ALLEY, Linfield, Susan, Cinéaste (New York, N.Y.), 1984, Vol.13 (4), pp.43–43". ucsc.primo.exlibrisgroup.com. Retrieved 2021-12-05.
  10. ^ Paddington, Bruce (Spring 1992). "Euzhan Palcy: Making Waves". Caribbean Beat. No. 1. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  11. ^ Greenberg, James (Fall 2015). "Director Profile | Euzhan Palcy: A Filmmaker's Journey". DGA Quarterly. Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  12. ^ "Euzhan Palcy". June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  13. ^ Jones, Okla (16 November 2022). "How Euzhan Palcy Continues To Practice Activism Through Her Art". Essence. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  14. ^ a b "Patrons | Euzhan Palcy Biography". African Film Festival of New York. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  15. ^ a b c "Euzhan Palcy | Honoree of the 'Black France/France Noire". France Noire / Black France. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  16. ^ "The Defiant One: Euzhan Palcy | The Feminist Wire". Retrieved 2011-08-22.
  17. ^ Zimmer, Vanessa (18 November 2022). "Get to Know Euzhan Palcy: The Sundance Alum Adding Honorary Oscar to Voluminous Accolades". Sundance Institute. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  18. ^ Free, Erin (31 March 2022). "Unsung Auteurs: Euzhan Palcy". FilmInk. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  19. ^ a b "Regina King on Euzhan Palcy". Repeating Islands. 17 September 2018. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  20. ^ Stromberg Childers, Kristen (2016). Seeking Imperialism's Embrace. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780195382839.
  21. ^ a b Abramovitch, Seth (18 November 2022). "'I Paved the Way, But With My Blood': Euzhan Palcy Opens Up About Her Trailblazing Career". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  22. ^ "Cannes 2011 – Exclusive Interview with Euzhan Palcy". Shadow and Act. 24 May 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  23. ^ "The Academy to honor Michael J. Fox, Euzhan Palcy, Diane Warren and Peter Weir with Oscars® at Governors Awards in November". oscars.org. 21 June 2022. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  24. ^ West, Joan M.; West, Dennis (2004). "Euzhan Palcy and Her Creative Anger: A Conversation with the Filmmaker". The French Review. 77 (6): 1193–1203. ISSN 0016-111X. JSTOR 25479620.
  25. ^ Maingard, Jacqueline (27 November 2019). "A Pan-African Perspective on Apartheid, Torture and Resistance in Euzhan Palcy's A Dry White Season". Black Camera. 11 (1): 201–213. doi:10.2979/blackcamera.11.1.11. hdl:1983/05d89cd1-b856-4fb0-9a94-c8b322cf8f75. S2CID 208619628. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  26. ^ a b George., Alexander (2007). Why We Make Movies : Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Broadway. ISBN 978-1-283-99772-0. OCLC 843029247.
  27. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, p. 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  28. ^ "SAWYER PROVIDES INSPIRATION FOR GLAMOUR". Deseret News. 13 November 1989. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
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  30. ^ "Decree of 10 May 1995". Journal officiel de la République française. 11 May 2013.
  31. ^ "Decree of 31 December 2002". Journal officiel de la République française.
  32. ^ Ishmael, Stacy-Marie (2007). "Horace Ové, Trevor Rhone, Jimmy Cliff – Black Screen Icons". Media & Editorial Projects Ltd. MEP Publishers. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  33. ^ "Euzhan Palcy Receives Unita Blackwell Award". Repeating Islands. 15 October 2009. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  34. ^ Magliozzi, Ron (25 May 2011). "Euzhan Palcy Has Them Dancing in the Aisles". Inside/Out. MoMA. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  35. ^ "Decree of 13 November 2009". Journal officiel de la République française.
  36. ^ "Cannes pays tribute to Euzhan Palcy". Festival de Cannes. 14 May 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  37. ^ "Decree of 10 May 2013 : on the appointment of members of the National Committee for the memory and history of slavery". Journal officiel de la République française.
  38. ^ "'Henri Langlois' Cinema Awards 2013". Getty Images. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  39. ^ "The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo". The Presidency Republic of South Africa. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  40. ^ "Ms Euzhan Palcy – Martinique". The Presidency Republic of South Africa. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  41. ^ "10 Black Women Achievers celebrated in Museum". National Museums Liverpool. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  42. ^ "Tribute to Euzhan Palcy & Jean-Claude Lord". Montreal International Black Film Festival. September 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  43. ^ Black, Sarah-Tai (18 March 2021). "Legendary filmmaker Euzhan Palcy: 'If they won't let us in the door we will come in through the window!'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 16 April 2023.

Further reading