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To Sleep With Anger

To Sleep With Anger (1990)
Director: Charles Burnett
35mm, color

Director Charles Burnett’s first feature to be widely released by a major distributor enjoyed universal critical acclaim, with stellar reviews appearing in the Chicago Reader, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker and Variety.  Despite a virtually nonexistent studio marketing campaign that led to disappointing box office, the film received a significant number of prestigious accolades, including several top honors at the Independent Spirit Awards, a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and a National Society of Film Critics Award for best screenplay.

Featuring a highly accomplished ensemble cast headed by the film’s executive producer, actor Danny Glover, To Sleep With Anger concerns a transplanted African American family’s metaphorical and metaphysical tug-of-war between their comfortable life in Los Angeles and the age-old superstitions and cultural traditions native to their former home in the South.  The catalyst for this mortal conflict is a beloved family friend from back home, Harry Mention (Danny Glover), a “trickster” who arrives unexpectedly with a twinkle in his eye and a soul-rooted connection to the more sinister aspects of Southern folklore.  As Harry’s initially charming, but ultimately devilish, conjuring gradually infiltrates three generations of the family unit, deep-seated fractures in their interrelationships are forced to confrontation.

A wholly original work that draws closely from Burnett’s personal ties to the South (the director was born in Mississippi) and to South Central Los Angeles where he grew up, To Sleep With Anger is a singular artistic achievement that transcends categorization, seamlessly incorporating elements of family drama, dark comedy and magical realism.   Within this densely layered framework, Burnett incisively, yet subtly, examines the complexities of modern middle-class Black life amid the challenges of reconciling the past with the present.  The result is an indelibly humanistic fable, rich in poetic symbolism and firmly grounded in a recognizable reality.

Mark Quigley

Film Credits

Individual Role(s)
Charles Burnett Director
Caldecot Chubb Producer
Thomas S. Byrnes Producer
Darin Scott Producer
Walter Lloyd Cinematographer
Nancy Richardson Editor
Danny Glover Cast
Paul Butler Cast
DeVaughn Nixon Cast
Vonetta McGee Cast
Sheryl Lee Ralph Cast
Carl Lumbly Cast