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Compensation  /  Dark Exodus

Compensation (1999)
December 14, 2011 - 7:30 pm
Zeinabu irene Davis, Iverson White.

Directed by Zeinabu irene Davis

Director Zeinabu irene Davis’ first feature depicts two Chicago love stories, one set at the dawn of the 20th century and the other in contemporary times, featuring a deaf woman and a hearing man. Played by the same actors (Michelle A. Banks and John Earl Jelks), both couples face the specter of death when the man is diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early story, and the woman with AIDS in the contemporary one. Inspired by a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (who died of tuberculosis in 1906, at the age of 33), the film considers the ephemeral nature of love and life, while illustrating the enduring challenges of race, and racism, over the course of a century. At the same time, Arthur and Malindy/Malaika and Nico confront intraracial differences across lines of gender, class, education and ability, emphasizing the diversity of Black experience and the necessary work of building meaningful lines of communication within the Black community.

One of the most striking aspects of Compensation is its unusual narrative approach.  Upon casting deaf actress Banks, Davis and screenwriter Mark Arthur Chéry modified the film to incorporate sign language and title cards, making it accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences. The film’s relative silence and use of ornate title cards also function as an homage to Black filmmakers of the silent era, to whom Davis nods when she sends Arthur and Malindy to the movies to see William Foster’s The Railroad Porter (1913), thought to be the first fiction film by a Black filmmaker. Davis’ re-enactment of this long lost film, as well as her extensive use of archival photographs and a ragtime score by Reginald R. Robinson, make visible the creative efforts required to reconstruct and understand the under-documented Black past. —Jacqueline Stewart

Wimmin with a Mission Productions. Producer: Z. i. Davis, Marc Arthur Chéry. Screenwriter: M. Arthur Chéry. Cinematographer: Pierre H. L. Désir. Editor: Dana Briscoe, Z. i. Davis. Cast: John Earl Jelks, Michelle A. Banks, Nirvana Cobb, Kevin L. Davis, Christopher Smith. 

16mm, b/w, 90 min.

Preceded by:

Dark Exodus (1985)

New print!

Directed by Iverson White

Subjected to Jim Crow laws and an overtly racist white population that still sees Blacks as property, an African American family in the South sends its sons away to a better life. Visualizing the migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban, industrial North in sepia tones, Iverson White’s period film captures the atmosphere of early 20th century America. —Jan-Christopher Horak

Screenwriter: Iverson White. Cinematographer: Lindy Laub. Cast: John Jelks, Harold House, Jeffrey Dixon, Geraldine Dunston, Starletta DuPois, Neal Jimenez. 

16mm, b/w, 28 min.

New print struck from the original 16mm b/w negative A/B rolls and the original 16mm track negative.