In 1966, the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene made his first feature-length film, "La Noire de..." - better known in America as "Black Girl" - a powerful social drama about a young African girl demoralized and driven to thoughts of suicide when her job as a maid for a French family relegates her to slave status.
You can't say enough about this film. It's become more precious since Sembene died last June.
But there was another "Black Girl," one almost as good. Based on the searing play by J.E. Franklin and directed by actor Ossie Davis (his third), this "Black Girl" is a terrificly acted family drama achored by the bravura turns of the wonderful Louise Stubbs, the legendary Claudia MacNeil and Ruby Dee, and the always-underrated Leslie Uggams. The virutally all-female cast gets a potent shot of testosterone in the form of the imposing, towering Brock Peters.
Franklin's material is touchy stuff, dealing with a racial self-hatred that materializes during the ugly tug-of-war over a young woman's affections and her future. The debuting Peggy Pettit, plays Billie Jean, a teenager whose desire to be a dancer are misunderstood and unappreciated by her family - a clueless mother (Stubbs) and two angry older sisters (Gloria Edwards and Loretta Green, both excellent).
There's a fourth sister, Netta (Uggams), who is adopted, light-skinned and educated - three qualities that make her a pariah and an outsider in this family. Netta's encouragement of Billie Jean's ambitions strips everyone naked as the major characters claw into each other and generally numb Billie Jean. McNeil plays the family matriach, the grandmother; Dee is Uggams' mother, and Peters plays the father of Billie Jean and her two spiteful sisters.
Considering its cast of major African-American players, it's a mystery that "Black Girl" has been lost for more than 30 years now. Has it ever been telecast? It certainly isn't available on home entertainment and never has been.