Photo: Euzhan Palcy website

Euzhan Palcy: First Black Woman to Direct a Major Hollywood Film

Her first feature, “Sugar Cane Alley” (1983) won over 17 international awards including the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion, as well as Best Lead Actress Award. It also won the prestigious Cesar Award (the French equivalent to our Academy Award) for best first feature film. Robert Redford hand picked her to attend the 1984 Sundance Director’s Lab, becoming her “American Godfather.”

She brought Marlon Brando back to the screen… Marlon Brando was so moved by her next project, “A Dry White Season” (1989), and her commitment to social change that he came out of a self-imposed retirement, agreeing to act in the film for free. Also starring in the film were actors Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon.

The screenplay was based upon André Brink’s famous novel with the same name. It is set in South Africa, and deals with the subject of apartheid. Brando’s performance in the movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he received the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo Film Festival.  

For her outstanding cinematic achievement, Palcy received the “Orson Welles Award” in Los Angeles. A few months after the release of the film Miss Palcy had the great privilege to be welcome by Mr Nelson MANDELA in South Africa.

Euzhan Palcy | Select Filmography

Born in Martinique, Euzhan Palcy grew up studying the films of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles.  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 Lumiere School of Cinema.

It was in Paris, with the encouragement of her “French Godfather,” Francois Truffaut, that she was able to put together her first feature, “Sugar Cane Alley” (1983).  Shot for less than $1,000,000, it documents through the eyes of a young boy the love and sacrifice of a poor black family living on a Martinique sugar cane plantation in the 1930’s.  

“Sugar Cane Alley” won over 17 international awards including the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion, as well as Best Lead Actress Award.  It also won the prestigious Cesar Award (the French equivalent to our Academy Award) for best first feature film.

After seeing Palcy’s impressive work, Robert Redford hand picked her to attend the 1984 Sundance Director’s Lab, becoming her “American Godfather”. Marlon Brando was so moved by her next project, “A Dry White Season” (1989), and her commitment to social change that he came out of a self-imposed retirement, agreeing to act in the film for free. 

Also starring in the film were actors Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon.  

Palcy adapted “A Dry White Season” from the novel by South African writer, Andre Brink. 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 entering undercover in South Africa. Dr Motlana, Desmond Tutu’s personal physician, introduced her to the people of Soweto township while she lured the South African secret services posing as a recording artist, to research the riots.

Brando’s performance in the movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he received the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo Film Festival. Palcy became the first black female director produced by a major Hollywood and for her outstanding cinematic achievement, received the “Orson Welles Award” in Los Angeles.

Then, in May 1995, she was invited by the newly elected President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who granted her an exclusive interview.

By 1992 Palcy veered away from the serious subject matters of her previous films to show the spirit and liveliness of her native Martinique with “Simeon” (1992), a musical comedic fairytale set in the Caribbean and Paris, the first French film with French made CGI special effects and the three-part documentary, “Aime Cesaire, A Voice For History” (1994) about the famed Martinique poet, playwright and philosopher.  

Both garnered numerous awards and international critical acclaim. Other works include for Disney/ABC Studios, Palcy directed and produced “Ruby Bridges” (1998) the compelling, moving story of the little New Orleans girl who was the first to integrate the public schools, immortalized in the painting by Norman Rockwell. President Clinton and Disney President, Michael Eisner launched the film from the White House to the American audiences.  

For Paramount/Showtime Studios, she directed “The Killing Yard” (2001), starring Alan Alda and Morris Chestnut.  The drama is based on the true events surrounding the 1971 Attica prison uprising which had an indelible impact on the American prison system and jury process.

 

Source: article 'Euzhan Palcy' in La Martinique