Starring: Diahann Carroll, Rosalind Cash, Irene Cara and Dick Anthony Williams
Rated: Not Rated Drama
Set during the late 1970s in a rural North Carolina town, Sister, Sister is the story of the three Lovejoy sisters, Carolyne (Diahann Carroll), Frieda (Rosalind Cash) and Sistina (Irene Cara). Daughters of a supremely conservative pastor and Pullman porter, his influence has had differing impacts on each woman.
For the oldest, Carolyne, “Papa” was an icon of piety and greatness, worthy of immense praise and reverence. Middle child Frieda felt their father was oppressive and cruel. Twenty-year old Sistina, who is called “Sissy”, has little memory of her father or mother, as both died when she was very young. Much younger than her older two sisters, she was reared by Carolyne; Frieda, considered to be a “wild child” left their family home under suspicious circumstances.
Carolyne models the demeanor of her father and carries on the Lovejoy legacy. A school teacher, she is active in the community and church, which is pastored by Reverend Richard Henderson (Dick Anthony Williams). Carolyne emphasizes to Sissy the enormous importance of Black pride, race responsibility and education. However, Sissy’s primary concern is becoming a professional ice skater.
Their strained relationship becomes even more contentious when a divorced Frieda returns, with her twelve-year old son, Danny (Kristoff St. John), in tow. For thirteen years, they have been impoverished while living in the ghettos of Detroit. Worse still, Danny is a juvenile delinquent who has already had run-ins with law enforcement.
As the sisters try to construct their futures, they quickly learn that secrets of the past and mysteries of the present have their own ways of being revealed. Will the Lovejoy sisters be able to acknowledge truths … and who will be left standing? Viewers will definitely want to see this thrilling drama!
Written by best-selling and acclaimed author and poet Maya Angelou, Sister, Sister was produced by John Berry. Although it was filmed in 1979, it did not premiere on NBC until 1982. This was made possible when Grant Tinker, who recently had been made president of the national network, allowed its original productions to be aired. Sister, Sister had been shelved by the previous president, Fred Silverman, who felt that dramas featuring middle-class Blacks would not appeal to its White viewers. Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner wrote in Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002, that the film was “the Black version of family-tv drama, eloquent, if not especially dynamic.”
Although the story’s plot is set in North Carolina, it was actually filmed in Alabama. Much of Sister, Sister occurs in the home and church. Scenes in the Lovejoy home were filmed at the Dr. J.W. Darden House in Opelika. Constructed in 1906, this would become the residence of the only Black physician in Opelika in the early 20th century. Dr. John Wesley Darden also ran his practice from his home. In 2009, the Dr. J.W. Darden House was installed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Those segments featuring the church were filmed at Old Ship African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Montgomery. Established in 1852, it is the oldest African American church congregation in Montgomery.
Acclaimed, Sister, Sister won two Image Awards of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It won “Outstanding Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie” and Irene Cara won “Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special”.
Because the film is a television network production, Sister, Sister is rare to see. However, it has become a favorite for many who are fortunate to view the film. It has received even more praise in the years since its release.