Palcy achieved many historic firsts as a black female director


A report from Caribbean News Now.

On June 15, 2019, at a gala event in Hollywood, California, the Caribbean heritage organization is paying special tribute to Martinican film director Euzhan Palcy with its Trailblazer Award.

The celebration caps the June 10-14 CaribbeanLens International Film and Art Festival, which will also be the first Euzhan Palcy week. Of particular note, a restored version of Palcy’s award-winning film “Rue Cases-Nègres” (“Sugar Cane Alley”) will make its American premiere on the festival’s opening night in Hollywood’s historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, followed by questions and answers with Palcy.

Born in Martinique and an avid student of literature, theatre, art and film, Palcy is a pioneering film director, writer and producer and “Sugar Cane Alley” was her breakthrough feature film, a portrait of native life in Martinique under French colonial rule in the 1930s. Released to great acclaim in 1983, it won a 1984 César Award (the French equivalent of an Academy Award) for Best First Feature Film, a first for a woman and for a black director and more than a dozen other international prizes, including the Silver Lion (Best First Film) and Best Lead Actress awards at the 1983 Venice film festival, more firsts for a black director.

In fact, Palcy has achieved a great many firsts in her storied career, perhaps most notably as the first black female director of a film produced by a major Hollywood studio (MGM). The film, “A Dry White Season,” explores the injustice and exploitation of apartheid in South Africa. At great risk to Palcy’s life, it was partially filmed undercover in apartheid Soweto. The cast includes Donald Sutherland, Susan Sarandon and even Marlon Brando, whom Palcy coaxed out of retirement and directed to a 1990 Best Supporting Actor nomination. This made Palcy the only woman filmmaker ever to direct Brando and the first black director (now joined by Spike Lee) to guide an actor to an Oscar nod.

Although “A Dry White Season” was banned in South Africa, it earned Palcy a devoted international following and the 30th anniversary of the movie’s release will be commemorated at CaribbeanLens with a showing June 13, also at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and proceeded by questions and answers with Palcy.

Euzhan Palcy week will close with the screening of her third feature film “Simeon” June 14 at the Writer’s Guild Theatre. Hailed by The Los Angeles Times as “’one of the funniest and most charming ghost stories ever told” Palcy’s lively and colourful Caribbean musical comedy fairy-tale had audiences dancing in the aisles.

Palcy has guided many other notable and lauded projects, most of which focus on history and social justice and have earned her numerous peer and political tributes – not least the French Legion of Honor – as an iconic humanitarian and cinematographer.

“Euzhan Palcy is a shining example of the creative and dynamic spirit of Martinique and its people” states Karine Mousseau, Martinique tourism commissioner. “We’re thrilled to see her receive such well-deserved recognition. Congratulations as well to the Caribbean Heritage Organization for putting together this remarkable event where the Caribbean gets its due place.”

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