Kings of the Evening
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
“…When a man can stand up to the mirror, he can stand up to life…”
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The 14th Annual Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video has a host of movies available for every film lover’s palate; from local and international, high budget and low budget, drama, comedy and documentary, among other genres.
One such movie, set in the Great Depression era, has model/actor Tyson Beckford as its co-executive producer. The film stars Black movie legends Lynn Whitfield, Willard E. Pugh, Glynn Turman and Lou Meyers, among others.
Kings of the Evening is a study in what ultimately makes a man feels as if he’s worth something. The expression “clothes make the man” holds much weight in Kings of the Evening.
Kings of the Evening is set in the Deep South, somewhere in Georgia it’s presumed, and the local entertainment, other than drinking at the neighborhood bar, is a weekly “swanking” contest, which involves poor men getting dressed in their Sunday best, whether they have to beg, borrow or steal it, in order to strut or “swank” around to the audience’s delight. In the end, the winner takes home a grand prize of $5. But the ultimate grand prize, for the man who wins, is to be King of the Evening; an honor that most times comes with female companionship and the envy of the other men. The event is based on a South African culture made famous by the Swenkas of the Zulu tribe.
Homer Hobbs, played by Beckford, has recently been released from jail and returns to where he once lived to find not only his mother has moved, but he’s low on just about everything else, money and friends included. He meets Benny Potter, a hustler by trade, who longs to relocate to Florida where he says, “a man doesn’t have to work.” He at least helps Hobbs find a job at a cement factory and a cot to “flop” on at Ms. Gracie’s boarding house; for a small finder’s fee of 25 cents. Gracie is played by Whitfield, a woman who’s seen happier times and has all her hopes and treasures tied up in her home that’s been a refuge, as well, to many others in the past. One of Gracie’s better lines in the movie, as she tries to make sense of all the “strutting” is, “Now ain’t that just like a man, spending all his earnings on clothes, so he can be the best-dressed man in the soup line.”
Nobody really has any money; Lucy works as a seamstress who’s holding on to her job by a thread, because she has problems with punctuality. Gracie cooks and cleans for the lot of them, while trying to keep a house that’s not only physically clean but morally as well, since she forbids drinking, having company of the opposite sex, gambling, etc.
The story, while set in the early ’30s, could just as well have been set in contemporary times. Each of the cast members has pride, and all the men work at their respective hustles to make sure they are self-reliant. And when they dress and compete in the “swanking” contest, they could very well be regular brothers on an urban street on any Saturday night. They all possess what the young brothers now call “swagger.”
Lucy, played by University of Chicago graduate Linara Washington, has a secret that catches up to her and threatens to ruin everybody’s life. And then there’s Clarence—played by Turman—an old man, with low self-esteem, whose only reason for rising each day seems to be to wait on his government relief check. While Clarence’s back story isn’t evident, one can assume it’s probably filled with early accomplishments. But later in life as he has exhausted his fortunes, he feels useless; not being able to secure a job or a woman. But toward the end of Kings of the Evening, Clarence is vindicated and finds an unlikely match in Gracie.
Kings of the Evening won the Audience Award at the recent San Francisco Black Film Festival and Best Film at the San Diego Black Film Festival. Based on a true story, the movie takes the audience back to a simpler time, albeit a time of struggle for all involved. It’s a story of a group of strangers living in a home who manage to become family, with all pulling together to make the best of the upcoming Christmas season; where a big can of peaches is a pretty big deal!
Kings of the Evening was directed by Andrew P. Jones, and screening is set for August 16 and 21.
The 14th Annual Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video runs through the month of August; and screenings are at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
Other offerings include film critic Elvis Mitchell on August 5 for an advance screening of HBO’s The Black List, Vol. 1, which features insightful portraits of influential African Americans. A special advance screening follows on August 6 of Trouble the Water, a documentary set in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Highlights also include a panel discussion with five Black Harvest directors providing insight on How to Get a Movie Made, which will be held on August 9; The Party Line; Caught in the Game and Subtle Seduction, as well as two films featuring the talents of Gary, Indiana’s West Side Theatre Guild: The Ballad of Sadie Hawkins and The Gilded Six-Bits, among other great screenings and panel discussions.
For more info: visit www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a writer, editor, journalist and film critic in Chicago.
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