Copyright 1999-2002 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

Bams' review of
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge


Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999)
Rated R (made for cable); running time 120 minutes
Genre: Drama
IMDB site:
Written by: Shonda Rhimes and Scott Abbott (based on the biography by Earl Mills)
Directed by: Martha Coolidge
Cast: Halle Berry, Brent Spiner, Obba Babatunde, Loretta Devine, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Cynda Williams, Tamara Taylor, LaTanya Richardson, D.B. Sweeney, William Atherton, Andre Carthen, Ben Brown, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Darrian C. Ford

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 1999

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

The making of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge was a long time coming; it had been talked about a lot over the past few years, with Halle Berry, Whitney Houston, and other Leading Black Actresses of today [nah, I won't Go There...yet] vying for the role. HBO, which seems to do better than other cable TV services at paying homage to Black history past Black History Month, got there first with this treatment, starring and executive-produced by Halle Berry. But is first, best? Hmmm...

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Just as with the rest of America, Hollywood, in the 1940's, was even more racially divided than it remains to be today; and Dorothy Dandridge, a singer and movie actress, was well-aware of that fact. As one of the Dandridge Sisters singing trio, and the child of a "mammy"-playing actress (Loretta Devine, as Ruby Dandridge), she had a hard row to tow in breaking Hollywood's/America's color barriers (along with the likes of Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Lena Horne) in becoming the first Black woman nominated for an Academy Award. Beautiful, sexy, and talented, Dandridge was still very aware that, after the curtain went down, she was "just a Negro" in the eyes of an audience that could cheer her performance, but wouldn't deign to share a dip in the pool with her. The men who played her like a violin - from Harold Nicholas (Obba Babatunde) of the tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers, to the director, Otto Preminger (Klaus Maria Brandauer), and especially the slimy Jack Dennison (D.B. Cooper) - were another matter entirely: in varying degrees, they cared not about the color of her face, but more about the color of her money.

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge felt like two different movies to me. One movie was about Dorothy Dandridge's personal life, and especially about the various men that came in and out of it; and to a much lesser degree, the other people that affected it - her retarded daughter, her nasty evil "Auntie" (LaTanya Richardson), and her sisters, Vivian Dandridge (Cynda Williams) and Geri Nicholas (Tamara Taylor) - chief among them. This version of the movie didn't do a whole lot for me, primarily since it seemed to be done as a once-over; Berry, especially, seemed unconvincing here.

Unlike another HBO movie that "Introducing..." brings to mind, The Josephine Baker Story, this one just doesn't work on a personal level. The parallels in both Baker's and Dandridge's lives - both came up in the Golden Age Of Hollywood Prejudice [as opposed to the Current Age Of Hollywood Prejudice], both had relationships with White men, both had problems with their children - would make one think that both their personal stories would be treated effectively by HBO. One would be wrong. Whether the fault lies with HBO, or (more likely) with the writers/director - or specifically, Berry herself - I found myself seeing straight through Berry's Dorothy on this level, to the actress, acting, in most scenes; notably, though, when Dorothy was portrayed by Berry as being angry, it actually worked for me. As Preminger said of Dandridge when he came in to direct her in a scene, "Real tears; it's about time."

And Dorothy had a whole lot to cry about. Starting with the abuse she suffered at the hands of Auntie, which affected her marriage to Nicholas, which then impacted on their child, born retarded, which, of course, impacted on her career...Dandridge had a lot on her plate, just with these Issues. Add to that, the (natural) jealousy felt by Dorothy's sister Vivian, and the potential motherlode story of an actress mother being eclipsed by her daughter, and you have the makings of at least a soap opera, if not a more insightful drama. But somehow, these sub-stories were glossed over, weren't explored very well, save one area: that of her bad relationships with men, especially Preminger (and really, where'd that one come from? I didn't notice any chemistry between the two of them at all - but that was between Berry and Brandauer; Dandridge and Preminger may have emitted sparks, the like that would light up New York. Guess we'll never really know). And all I can say is, I'm glad Dennison didn't play an ongoing part in her life until near the end; he was just pure slime, someone from whom Ike Turner could've taken lessons.

Aside from that, biographies always make me wonder, "how'd they know that?", if the biographer wasn't in a "scene" with their target at the time? Of course, some things are common knowledge, known by those who lived within the biography target's sphere of influence, as the biographer (Earl Mills, played here by Brent Spiner of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) obviously did. And yet other things are included, enhanced, and just plain fabricated, under the "poetic license" guise. This, in and of itself, isn't bad; but it makes the voiceover narration of Dorothy speaking on the phone to Geri, ring somewhat false to me. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that conversation, never happened. I am surprised, though, that it wasn't narrated from Mills' viewpoint; as her agent/manager, he gets the best light of all the men in Dandridge's life (whether it was earned or not; it may have been, I don't know), and his end scene makes him come off as almost heroic; so why didn't he make himself the narrator? Of course, he was "just" the biographer; not having read his book, I don't know where his version, and the writers' (Shonda Rhimes and Scott Abbott), parted company, if at all.

Berry did do well in her few dancing scenes, I gotta admit. Her lip-synching left a bit to be desired (Dorothy Dandridge's songs were done by Wendi Williams, who also coached Berry), but she had the moves down-pat. And the glamour of the day went well with her; "elegant" - and "sensual as all hell" - easily describe her portrayal. And she (Dorothy) said it herself early on; "I'd rather be beautiful [than smart]". Me, I'd rather that this movie was Deep, than just beautiful.

Fortunately, the other movie that Introducing Dorothy Dandridge was, brings us to the "Black Factor" - and saves it from the yellowlight bin for me.

THE "BLACK FACTOR"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]
Where "Introducing..." may have failed at exposing Dandridge The Person, it succeeded in exposing Dandridge The Black Actress, working in Two-faced Hollywood; as well as the American public of her day. I dare someone to view the scene of Dandridge and Mills at the swimming pool (both before and the movie, you'll know what I mean), or the Tarzan/Queen scene ("Why can't she find her way out of her own jungle?", indeed. This is the "Tarzan" that I grew up hating, as I implied in my Tarzan review. And don't miss the significance of the darker makeup, or you'll miss The Point), or the Dixie Cup scene, or many such - and not come away with a sense of outrage over the inequity of treatment of Black actors then (and, to an extent, even now). To those that are jaded about the whole "Race Thing", and to those that don't wanna hear it no more - after all, We got our couple of Oscars, what do We want, anyway? - I sentence you to an evening of watching Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, followed by a healthy serving of Roots. And if that still doesn't do it for ya, I'll see about calling out the D.R.O.P. Squad...

I taped this movie (right after Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back) so I could take more in-depth notes for this review; strange that I found myself not needing them, as it affected me on the very first viewing. With mixed results, but still; I won't soon forget the name "Dorothy Dandridge".


As a biography of the actress/singer: yellow

Beautiful, but somewhat stiff (though good when playing Dandridge in anger), Berry only gives us brief glimpses into the life of a woman that Black Hollywood owes big props to; hopefully, those props will be forthcoming after they see this movie and come out in droves to state how much they've always loved Dandridge's work, yada yada yada. Still, it passed the test of what, to me, makes a good biography: it made me want to go out and rent Dandridge's "Carmen Jones".

As a story of her Life And Times: green

Though there are too few of them, considering the times she lived in, there are some powerful scenes depicting those times - including one where Dandridge says that as an Oscar-nominated actress, she shouldn't have to play the Slave anymore. Whoopi, are you listening?

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 1999
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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