Kaitlyn Greenidge on Cane River and Stories About Black Love
In Conversation with Mychal Denzel Smith on the Open Form Podcast
Welcome to Open Form, a new weekly film podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie they love, a movie they hate, a movie they hate to love. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A brand-new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed by them bringing it up.
In this episode, Mychal talks to Kaitlyn Greenidge about the 1982 film Cane River, directed by Horace Jenkins.
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From the episode:
Mychal: There’s a clear divide on the color line here, and the colorism that we’re experiencing in the class divide as Peter’s family, the Montoyas, were landowners and at some point, even though Peter maybe doesn’t believe that they had enslaved people, they had owned slaves. There’s so much history there for them to come up against to be able to make this union happen. It’s exactly what you’re saying in terms of people’s desires for Black art and Black film now to address social issues directly and head on.
Kaitlyn: Yeah. I’m on Twitter all the time. It’s an illness; it’s a real problem. It’s such a great distraction when you’re a writer. It’s a big Candyland distraction. But one of the things I notice is this perennial request that people make, and it gets a thousand likes and retweets: “Why can’t they just make Black films that are just about us and about falling in love? Where are those films? Where are those books? Where’s that media?” I both understand that, but it also always irks me, because people out here have been creating and are creating that content. It’s happened for decades and will be for decades more. It’s this weird desire to rush to erase the history of that.
The more pointed—and, I think, accurate thing—would be, how come only a very limited type of talking about Black life gets award recognition from white audiences? Not that this stuff doesn’t exist, because that’s just simply not true. What I love about this film is it’s doing all those things that so many people say they want, which is these two people falling in love. The central conflict is not them coming up against white supremacy or whiteness. The central conflict is these two people are trying to figure out how much of their family background are they bringing into this relationship, and how much of it is just them finding love as individuals? They’re also trying to contend with how much of history actually matters in our personal life, both history with a capital H and personal history.
Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, was one of the New York Times Critics’ Top 10 Books of 2016 and a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times and the features director at Harper’s Bazaar, and her writing has also appeared in Vogue, Glamour, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Substack, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Greenidge lives in Massachusetts. Her second novel, Libertie, is available now.