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a u s t
i n c h r o n
i c
l e
. c om
JULY 25, 2014
T H E A U S T I N C H R O N I C L E
37
38
wounded: the battle back home’
54
film listings
ScrEEnS
Golden Girl
In ‘Boyhood’ and Beyond, austIn
natIve Zoe Graham acts naturally
by CindyWidner
Like many good things, it started with a rock & roll band.
Around 2010 or so, word around Austin was that director
Spike Jonze (
Adaptation
,
Her
) was in town and looking for
punky teenagers to appear in his
Over the Edge
(1979) hom-
age, “Scenes From the Suburbs” (2011), a short film that
would accompany Arcade Fire’s masterfully orchestrated
release of its album
The Suburbs
.
Award-winning, local, all-girl rock band Schmillion – for
which Zoe Graham was a guitarist – answered the call.
Graham didn’t know who Jonze was, really, but Schmillion
drummer Sienna Blau invited “interesting” friends to her
house to audition for the film by telling a funny
story, she says. Graham and Blau made the cut,
Jonze eventually won an Oscar, and Arcade Fire
continued to bedazzle OCD fans with its promo-
tional gamesmanship.
In the meantime, Graham embarked on a slow, almost
casual acting career. An Austin native with creative-class par-
ents who, until departing for college at the Maryland Institute
College of Art last year, spent her life in the same Hyde Park
house, she embodies some kind of eternal Austin mojo.
After “Scenes,” she played a character dubbed Wants to
Leave Country in Karen Skloss’ segment of
Slacker 2011
,
and at the age of 15 nabbed the part of Sheena, the high
school girlfriend of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) in Richard
Linklater’s
Boyhood
. Next up is a small part in
Rudderless
,
William H. Macy’s directorial debut.
A beautiful blonde beloved by the camera – she is espe-
cially luminous in
Boyhood
– Graham is both goofy and
The Racial Divide in Movies
the austIn FIlm socIety peeks BehInd the sepIa screen
by Louis Black
@AcScreens
unapologetically political in person. Wearing impressive
snakeskin boots and a disarming unflappability at Flightpath
Coffee House during a recent interview, Graham was present-
ed with the prospect of being a golden girl, kind of like
Jennifer Lawrence, but more overtly feminist. Pointing out that
Lawrence’s readiness to discuss her bodily functions repre-
sents a certain kind of feminism, she moved quickly to
amend the record.
“Because I go to art school,” says Graham, who also works
at Austin’s STEAM camp during the summer, “I have a very
broad definition of feminism. I think the only valid definition
is to say that I’m a feminist because I believe in equality
between men and women. Talking about poop and butts and
farts and all that is liberating to some extent. It helps take
away the power – little kids love talking about that because
they know it makes grownups so upset. That a woman would
say this provides a kind of fun shock that I think is valuable.”
At the same time, Graham uses her strengths to her
advantage; she fully embraces the “girlfriend” roles she’s get-
ting with a view toward the long game. “I’m excited to get
cast in all these movies, but I would love to be a main char-
acter,” she says. “I’m not necessarily advocating for better
female parts but for better directing positions for women.
Everything else will follow.”
Graham takes a similarly nuanced view of
Boyhood
and its
women characters, particularly in Patricia Arquette’s role as
Mason’s mother. “I read a review that said that one place
that it doesn’t work out is the character develop-
ment of the women, and I thought, ‘Were you
watching the movie?’ You see her so much grow
up as a mother and as a person.”
At the same time, Graham is vulnerable to the
inevitable vagaries of growing up, somewhat, on film. “I didn’t
come to understand Sheena’s character until yesterday,” she
says. “Throughout filming, I was thinking, ‘Oh, this girl’s so
much more mature than Mason.’ And then they break up, and
I’m like, ‘He’s being such a dick.’ He was being so horrible to
her and she just moves on, she’s trying to be nice.
“Now I think in that last scene with him, I am such an annoy-
ing brat! It’s impressive that [Linklater] could make us both feel
that we were right. It’s important, and an example of why he’s a
great director. … When I first saw it, I was talking to Ellar, and I
was like, ‘That’s so weird, I changed!’ and he was like, ‘Oh
yeah, I bet [seeing yourself age onscreen] was really weird for
you.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, fine, I get it: 12 years.’”
n
See Film Listings, p.54, for
Boyhood
review and “The
Time of Their Lives,” July
18, for more on the film.
When I was growing up in Teaneck, N.J.,
just across from NYC, my dad owned a liquor
store on 145th Street in Harlem. Occasionally
my mom would bundle up my sister and me
to drive to Harlem to drop my dad off or pick
him up from work. Those times were memo-
rable. Harlem was a very different world from
suburban New Jersey. Besides the most obvi-
ous and overwhelming racial difference,
every ad, window display, and visual media
of any sort sold products that were not
encountered anywhere else. Talking to my
mom about this one time, she told me that
there were all-black movies made for all-
black audiences. “A lot like
Blondie
but with
black people” is how she put it.
Fascinated, I began a lifelong quest for any
information on these films and niche films in
general (there were American-based Yiddish
and Ukrainian cinemas, among other things).
Beginning in the Thirties and through the
Fifties there was an all-black film industry.
These were films that didn’t just feature black
actors but had all-black casts, and some-
times there even were black creatives work-
ing behind the camera in significant roles.
A lot of these movies were very faithful
genre films – Westerns, detective films, musi-
cals, and comedies – and the conventions
were upheld although the color of the actors
changed. But a surprising number of socially
conscious films were also produced.
In 1983, in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas, a
stash of old, mostly nitrate films was found,
which included 22 black film titles, the larg-
est collection of such films discovered in
decades. These ended up as the Tyler
Black Film Collection in the G. William
Jones Film and Video Collection at
Southern Methodist University.
Importantly, a number of the most interest-
ing titles in this collection, including
The
Blood of Jesus
(1941),
Dirty Gertie From Harlem
U.S.A.
(1946) and
Juke
Joint
(1947) were pro-
duced by Sack
Amusement Enterprises
in Dallas, primarily an
exploitation, indepen-
dent, and all-black film
distributor. These titles
were all shot around
Dallas and were directed
by Spencer Williams,
who would go on to TV
fame as the cigar-chomp-
ing Andy in
The Amos ’n
Andy Show
.
Beginning on July 27,
the Austin Film Society
will be offering an occa-
sional series at the
Marchesa, highlighting
films from this archive. Included in this first
program are “The Vanities” (1946), which is
a short film of a nightclub performance that
features impressionist Charles Keith.
Dirty
Gertie From Harlem U.S.A.
was shot in
Dallas and directed by
Williams (who also
appears in it). It stars
the incandescent
Francine Everette as
Gertie LaRue, who brings
her troupe of singers
and dancers to the
island of Rinidad.
Produced by William D.
Alexander,
Souls of Sin
(1949) is generally
regarded as the last all-
black film with a black
producer. Famous for her
recording of “I Want to
Be Loved,” Savannah
Churchill stars as the
femme fatale.
Admittedly sometimes
crude and always low-bud-
get, these films help illu-
minate the mundane realities of America’s
segregated past.
n
The Sepia Screen plays on Sunday, July 27, 2pm, at
the Marchesa Hall & Theatre. Louis Black is a member
of the Austin Film Society’s board of directors.
z a k c h a p o