Beyond the intention of a life story to present a narrative account of the events in one’s existence in this world is its main purpose to convey messages and lessons which are worthy of emulation and praise. In fact, the essence of autobiography depends on its impact to people and the society. Life stories come and go but what are remembered are those which have sincerely touched other lives. Since an autobiography is a perfect medium to tell the world of one’s happiness or sorrow, of pleasure or pain, and of success and failure; it clearly and effectively serves it purpose of being a mirror of one’s life.
Surely, a life tale about one’s family, career, love and existence tells so much which manifests that the story teller is in charge of everything. This leads to the perspective that in an autobiography, the author has all the say and is not restricted to tell all. Clear manifestations of the said freedom of expression are the life stories of two African-American sisters who preferred to be tagged as “colored” rather than black women.
In a 1993 book and later in a 1999 television-movie titled “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” centenarian sisters Sarah and Elizabeth Delany, assisted by reporter Amy Hill Hearth, opened to the world the successful lives of two strong-willed women. Both the film and book told of the stories of the sisters who battled their ways against racism, sexism and how their quest for education and eventual attainment of respectable positions in the society, have ultimately redeemed their lives.
Emily Mann’s teleplay is based from the book written by the Delany sisters themselves in collaboration with New York Times Reporter Heart, played by Amy Madigan in the movie. As established by the book, the teleplay told the more than 100 years each stories of sisters Sadie, played by actress Diahann Carroll and Bessie, played by actress Ruby Dee based from their testimonies to Heart and own recollections of the events in their respective lives.
The teleplay is just like the book which revealed how the Delany sisters, along with their other eight siblings, were raised by their father, who was a former slave but eventually became the first black Episcopal bishop in the United States and their mother, who came from a mixed yet free race. All of the Delany children had college education and succeeded in their respective professions during a period when black people of African-American race are barely anticipated to get even a diploma from secondary school. Of the ten children, it was Sadie and Bessie who gained much prominence.
Sadie, being the elder of the two protagonists became the first “colored” woman who had a teaching profession and eventually allowed to teach in New York while Bessie was the second African-American woman to practice her dentistry profession. Somewhat different from the written work where the stories were directly told by the Denaly sisters, the teleplay showed how actress Carroll and Dee effectively gave life to the characters of Sadie and Bessie who deals with their respective ordeals and misfortunes which they experienced in a span of century of their lives (“Having Our Say” Motion Picture, 1999).
The success of the movie is attributed to the book itself which established the foundation of the stories of the Delany sisters. It was not an easy assignment for reporter Heart as the Delany sisters were withdrawn at the start but after eighteen months of story-telling, Sadie and Bessie were delighted as they were finally given the opportunity to have their say.
Important accounts of history, as told by the Delany sisters, were not only conserved by the words “Having Our Say” but it later prospered into a best-selling book, eventually an award-winning teleplay under the production of Camillle Cosby, Jeffrey Grant and Judith James as well as s Tony-award nominated play in Broadway by Mann. The book was empowered by the details of the doubled just like when the feisty Sadie stated that no one can censor or edit what she likes to say. She goes on to say, “I’m a hundred-and-one years old and at may age, honey, I can say what I want!
” (Delany, Delany & Heart 11). The teleplay, on the other hand, was an absorbing drama as performed by Carroll and Dee. While the performances tend to manifest into a caricature-like, Carroll and Dee succeeded in portraying the Delany sisters’ harmonizing prowess and most essentially their distinct relationship (“Having Our Say” Motion Picture, 1999). An emphasis on the movie’s themes, motifs and symbols are the components from which this critical review is to be based. The film is significant for its authority derived from name-calling or naming.
The Delany sisters noted how their parents called each other and how it was imparted to all of them that black Americans like them are better off when not called only by their first names and rather by their family names as this implies respect. Additionally, the Delany sisters’ search for education or college degrees allowed them to be pioneers in various higher education facilities where their educational achievements earned them their needed respect in the society. Another theme is the dominance of sexism and racism during that period.
It was successfully shown in the movie how the Delany sisters fight racial and women discrimination as manifested by several measures and people. Their determination to fight for their rights, battle to achieve something while faced with odds and their eventual triumph are the very essence of “Having Our Say. ” It was also evident in the film how the race colors of white and black were exploited. As they did not allow to be called black Americans, the Delany sisters’ efforts to insert color distinction, as depicted by their preference to be called as “colored,” are also notable.
Equally important are the images of the Rebby Boys and seating arrangements which have escalated the sisters’ concern over racism. Lastly, the symbols like the Delany home representing order and security, the painted China Doll indicating forward movements and the Halley’s Comet ultimately manifesting the passion and commitment of the Delany sisters to emerge and succeed contrary to the conventional existence of black Americans during that era.
“Having Our Say,” therefore is more than just personal version of American history because the public was demonstrated by the Delany sisters on how to live to tell the tale, succeed and accept life despite hindrances along the way. Work Cited Delany, S. L. , Delany, A. E. & Hearth, A. M. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 years. New York, New York: Dell, 1999. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 years. Dir. Lynne Littman. Perf. Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee. CBS, 1999.