Euzhan Palcy

  • Euzhan Palcy
Film director, Producer, Screenwriter, Director of photography (d.o.p.), Associate producer
Principal country concerned : Column : Music, Theater, Cinema/tv, Dance

Born in 1958 in Martinique.

For many she is one the most influential filmmakers in the world. Critics at The Black Scholar, The New York Times and The Washington Post have commended her outstanding work. She made her mark with Rue Case Nègres/Sugar Cane Alley (1983), her first major release. Her second film, A Dry White Season/Une Saison Blanche et Sèche (1989), which describes the atrocities of apartheid, brought her more recognition. It earned the late Marlon Brando an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and upset the government of South Africa so much that it was initially banned from the country's theatres. This film also secured Euzhan's place in history as the first Black woman to direct a film for a major American film studio. She won many awards for her outstanding achievement in the film industry. In 1994 she was awarded with the distinction of the Chevalier de L'Ordre National Du Mérite (Knight in the National Order of Merit) by French President Francois Mitterand. In 1997, a movie theatre in Amiens, France was named Cinema Euzhan Palcy. At the debut of her TV film for Disney, The Ruby Bridges Story (1998), President Clinton presented the introduction.
In most press releases Euzhan is described as a woman with the mission to represent Black people in films. For instance, after her struggle to finance Sugar Cane Alley(1983) then Siméon (1992) her third feature, she expressed her views in Panorama (1992, French magazine) about how Blacks should develop their own film industry: "we have to find ways, we Blacks of the Diaspora to do films, to construct bridges, a beginning of film industry for us to be able to produce without being cut from the rest of the world". After her first feature film she created SALIGNA Production as she was "fed -up" that Black were either absent or not adequately represented in film production.
Furthermore, in an interview with Lynn Whitfield at the first Jamerican Film & Music Festival (26th Nov. 1999) she talked about her fight to not let Hollywood exploit her by usurping her vision. In August 2000 when interviewed by Karani Marcia Leslie (American vision 2000: "Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy - A Palette of Passion"), Euzhan revealed how she willingly turns down many projects out of concern that her ability as a director was recognised only if a story's theme was political: "I didn't want to be stereotyped, nor did I want to be used, putting my name on everything to advance someone else's agenda. That's why I don't have a lot of films". During this interview, Euzhan talked also about her plan to go back working with Hollywood studios and she ended on an optimistic tone: "?sometime it is not a question of racism. They go like robots, straight by the book. Someone of colour needs to be in the room to say what about a black actor here? Sometime they just never thought about it. They need to be reprogrammed. So I am working with them, maybe we'll each learn another way to go".

Euzhan Palcy's passion, determination and constant battle to do the stories that she wanted, are inspiring for young people who want to work in the film industry. Euzhan was born in the French overseas Department of Martinique. In the interview with Lynn Whitfield (26th Nov. 1999) Euzhan recalled that very early, by the age of 10, she was determined to become a filmmaker to do stories to give Black people a voice. She remembered the anger she felt at the portrayal of Blacks in movies from the United States and said: "? when there was a film with a Black character, it would always be a degrading part. My fellow Martinicans will be laughing at this character, thinking it was about him and not about us. Because of its negative role, we would distance ourselves from the character. I did not and I would question my parents, asking them why there were no films with positive role for Black people". At age 17, she had distinguished herself as a popular mystery and poetry writer for a monthly publication in Martinique. She had also written, directed and acted in a drama La Messagère/The Messenger (1975) for the island's television station. According to Euzhan, it was the first time that people in Martinique saw themselves on screen speaking Creole. Usually the TV station was a place to show the news from France; Black people were on screen only when involved in criminal incidents or as entertainers. During this period she wrote the first script of Rue Cases Nègres.


In 1975 she went to Paris to pursue her undergraduate studies (French Literature, Art and Archaeology) at the Sorbonne. She passed the very competitive entrance examination at the Louis Lumière School of Cinema and went on to earn a photography degree. It is in Paris that she met with such as Ousmane Sembène and Med Hondo. She also met French Director François Truffaut who encouraged her and helped her to develop Rue Cases Nègres (Sugar Cane Alley). The film turned out to be a huge success and won over 17 international prizes. After Rue Cases Nègres (1983) Euzhan was called by Hollywood despite the fact that very few Black directors worked for the studios (Euzhan Palcy by Ally Acker: www.reelwomen.com).


Filmography:
- La Messagère/The Messenger (1975)
- L'Atelier du Diable/The Devil Workshop (1982)
- Rue Cases Nègres/Sugar Cane Alley aka Black Shack Alley (1983)
- A Dry White Season/Une Saison Blanche et Sèche (1989)
- Siméon (1993)
- Aimé Césaire'Une Voix Pour l'Histoire'/Aimé Césaire'A voice for History' (1994)
- Ruby Bridges (1997)
- The Killing Yard (2001)


References:
- "An Interview with Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy": www.tbwt.com/views - Lynn Whitfield, 26th Nov.1999;
- Panorama: 1992 (French Magazine);
- American vision 2000: "Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy - A Palette of Passion" - Karani Marcia Leslie- Aug. 2000;
- Director Euzhan Palcy official web site: www.euzhanpalcy.com;
- "Euzhan Palcy" by Ally Acker: -www.reelwomen.com - 2002.


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