Sarny, a 12-year-old slave girl in the ante-bellum South, faces a relatively hopeless life. Then Nightjohn arrives. A former runaway slave who bears telltale scars on his back, he takes Sarny under his wing and, in exchange for a pinch of tobacco, secretly begins to teach her to read and write, a crime punishable by death. “Words,” he says, “are freedom. Slavery is made of words: laws, deeds and passes.” –IMDb
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on April 13, 1944, Charles Burnett moved with his family to the Watts area of Los Angeles at an early age. He describes the community of having a strong mythical connection with the South as a result of having so many Southern transplants, an atmosphere which has informed much of his work.
Burnett first studied as an electrician but soon became bored with the idea of making this his career and went to UCLA, where he earned his Masters of Fine Arts in Filmmaking. There, he was greatly influenced by professors Elyseo Taylor—creator of the Ethno-Communications department—and Basil Wright—the English documentarian famous for Night Mail and Songs of Ceylon. He became fast friends with fellow future greats like Haile Gerima (Sankofa), and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), collaborating with them and others on a number of projects. Burnett cites Jean Renoir, Satyajit Ray, and Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker) as important influences.
In 1988, Burnett… read more