Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

 
Rise and fall of talented star documents racism, sexuality.
EmmyGolden Globe
  • Review Date: August 5, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1999
  • Running Time: 115 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Dorothy Dandridge's courageous efforts to break the entertainment world's color barrier during the 1940s and '50s prove the value of demanding respect and equal treatment for all.

Positive role models

While defiant and strong in her desire for racial justice, Dandridge is frequently victimized or exploited by family members, lovers, and business colleagues. She never develops a capacity for survival under difficult circumstances and ultimately is unable to save herself. Parental figures are shown as negligent and/or abusive. White bigotry and discrimination against African Americans is shown throughout.

Violence

In one harrowing sequence, a very young Dandridge is viciously assaulted (with sexual implications) by a female guardian. She later suffers a brutal and bloody beating at the hands of a husband. A discussion of rape.

Sex

There are numerous sexual scenes which include passionate kissing, some fondling of breasts, undressing, seduction, and an implied lesbian relationship. A lengthy sequence takes place on Dandridge's wedding night when she is nervous and unable to respond to her husband's gentle advances. Though there's lots of revealing clothing, provocative behavior, and talk of sex, there's no actual nudity or overt sexual activity.

Language

Occasional swearing including: "f--k," "s--t," "stick it to you," "drop our panties," and "a--hole."  Set in the 1940s and '50s, African Americans are called "negroes" and "colored" throughout.

Consumerism

Coca Cola.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Considerable social drinking, occasional drunkenness (some featured characters are portrayed as alcoholics), smoking, and abuse of prescription pills.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Dorothy Dandridge, an accomplished African-American singer-actress of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s is a tragic figure and this film attempts to track her downward spiral by following the events, circumstances, and characters who impacted her life. Racial discrimination and exploitation of a talented and beautiful woman are primary elements in this story. Scenes between Dandridge and her only child, an autistic daughter, are heartrending and sad. There is an intense early sequence in which Dandridge is viciously assaulted in the guise of an examination by sadistic guardian and a later scene in which she is beaten by a husband. Characters consume alcohol throughout, and her eventual dependence on prescription drugs plays a significant part in the story's resolution. There are occasional obscenities, including "f--k," "s--t," and African-Americans are referred to as "colored" or "negroes" throughout.

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What's the story?

Young, talented, and beautiful Dorothy Dandridge (Halle Berry in an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning turn) wants to be an actress, a singer, and a star. Most of all, she wants to be loved. But 1940s Hollywood is hard to negotiate for a young African-American woman, especially one with an autistic daughter as well as scars from her own damaging childhood. But Dandridge, with the help of a loyal and committed manager (Brent Spiner), makes it almost all the way to the top, including an Academy Award nomination for her leading role in Carmen Jones. Along the way, however, a series of devastatingly bad relationships, episodes of racial prejudice, and encounters with men eager to use her for their own self-interest combine to make her success short-lived and threaten her life.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

In INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE, Halle Berry brings the tragic singer-actress to life. The story and most of the characters are familiar -- show biz hopeful struggles and meets with some success -- but the additional element of the racial boundaries which contained Dandridge's rise to near-stardom, provides a little-seen picture of prejudice in even the uppermost levels of mid-20th century society.

There's a certain irony to the fact that though Dorothy Dandridge was the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award as leading actress, it wasn't until a half-century later that Halle Berry was the first to win the award for her performance in Monster's Ball. Dorothy Dandridge is not a household name, still she merits this earnest look. Older teens will probably appreciate the "rags-to-riches-to-rags" story.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the many films about entertainers that have a tragic ending. What can we learn from these stories? What, if anything, sets these movies apart from day-to-day media gossip and celebrity-bashing?

  • Dorothy Dandridge's story introduces the audience to the racial discrimination experienced even by famous African Americans before the civil rights movement. Which minorities do you think are subject to discrimination in today's culture? What films have you seen that illustrate that discrimination?

  • How did the filmmakers treat Dandridge's relationship with her autistic daughter? In what ways do you think both the media and our communities have changed over the years with respect to acceptance and treatment of special needs children?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 21, 1999
DVD release date:February 8, 2000
Cast:Brent Spiner, Halle Berry, Klaus Maria Brandauer
Director:Martha Coolidge
Studio:HBO Home Video
Genre:Drama
Run time:115 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language and sexual content
Awards:Emmy, Golden Globe

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