Starring: Halle Berry, Michael Ealy, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Ruby Dee
Rated: Not Rated Drama
Their Eyes were Watching God is based upon the eponymous, award-winning, classic African-American novel (1937) by legendary Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. Centered upon the protagonist Janie Crawford (Halle Berry), it is essentially a tale of her self-discovery and determination to define her own life.
The film begins with Janie reminiscing on the trials and triumphs, albeit small but significant, she has experienced in her forty-plus years of living. She discusses her origin of being mulatto, brought about when her Black grandmother, Nanny (Ruby Dee), had been raped by the White man who owned her. Her daughter, Leafy also became a victim of rape by her teacher, producing Janie. Leafy, unable to deal with the traumas of the violation, abandons Janie, leaving her to be reared by a stern Nanny.
Wanting Janie to be taken care of because she won’t live much longer, a pragmatic Nanny accepts the offer of farmer Joe Killicks (Mel Winkler) to marry teenage Janie. Joe is an older farmer who is not in love or even willing to love Janie; he simply wants someone with who will work his farm with him.
The marriage soon fails, as do her two following unions, the second with Jody “Joe” Starks (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and the third with Vergible “Teacake” Woods (Michael Ealy). Two men of different means and mindsets, the one thing they have in common is their intense will to dominate and control Janie.
As Janie strives to come into her own, wanting respect and especially desiring genuine love, viewers must tune in to see how she ultimately fares!
Produced by Harpo Productions, a company of Oprah Winfrey, the film received mixed views by critics. A major point of dissension was that the film did not deeply present issues of race, patriarchal oppression, domestic violence and gender norm expectations. It is surmised that this is due to two reasons. The first one is because Their Eyes Were Watching God was a television film of ABC (American Broadcasting Company) and it had to be appropriate for its viewing audience. The second reason for this editing of certain content is because it could be offensive to many viewers who were White women, a great deal of the audience of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.
However, the film became a hit with many viewers and inspired them to read both the novel as well as other books by Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God was based upon aspects of her life, notably the relationship of Janie and Teacake were rooted in her personal relationship with Percival Punter. Actors who starred in this film also include Lorraine Toussaint, Terrence Howard, Gabriel Casseus and Nicki Micheaux.
Winfrey, who also hosted the film’s broadcast, was accompanied by award-winning legends, including Darnell Martin, Misan Sigay and Suzan-Lori Parks, in creating this film. Nominated for numerous awards, Terrence Howard won “Breakthrough Artist Award” of the Austin Film Critics Association and Michael Ealy won a Black Reel Award for “Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries or Movie” for their roles in Their Eyes Were Watching God.