A compelling saga of love, film and family secrets.
In her third venture, Southgate (The Fall of Rome, 2001) braids a multigenerational tale of the loves and ambitions of mothers and daughters. In the mid-1950s, Mildred is a middle-class black housewife in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with an open love of movies and a secret love of the town’s film projectionist. Film provides fascination and solace for Mildred, who slips away from a haunted family past to meet her lover in the darkened Dreamland Theater. In the ’70s, Mildred’s daughter Angela also falls for film, leaving her seemingly stable future in Tulsa for life as an actress in Los Angeles. Yet after running headlong at her career, she finds herself typecast in the nudie bits of blaxploitation films, and her relationship with Mildred grows strained. After an unplanned pregnancy, Angela leaves the limited world of bit-part acting to raise her daughter Tamara. In the ’80s, Tamara grows up watching her mother on film. Movies, the vestiges of Angela’s former life, help kindle Tamara’s interest in film, but as her interest in serious filmmaking grows, Tamara becomes ashamed of her mother. She sets out for New York, where she enrolls in a directing program, and cuts herself off from Angela. Yet when illness calls Angela and Tamara back to Tulsa for the first time since Angela’s pregnancy, Tamara takes her camera and uncovers a past she didn’t even know she was missing. Suddenly the private desires, hidden secrets and life struggles of mothers and daughters come into sharp and rich focus. Like the documentary film that Tamara eventually makes, Southgate’s record cuts and jumps back between the three plotlines, which the author deftly weaves into a richly textured whole.
Art conquers all: Family mysteries are solved, and sassy, determined women triumph.