Joan Plowright and Carl Lumbly grace the screen with equally impressive stature, 9-year-old actor Norman D. Golden II can break your heart with a glance and Judith Ivey’s portrait of bigotry is poison personified in Sunday’s new Disney Channel film “On Promised Land,” a deeply affecting affirmation of family, moral growth and human connection.
Set in the uneasy rural South of the ‘50s, the “semi-autobiographical” script by Ken Sagoes (he also plays Uncle Bo Henry) is about two families--one white and one black--whose lives are unavoidably linked by generations of shared history.
As Floyd, Lumbly is a gifted woodworker with a deep love for his wife (Juanita Jennings), young son Jim Jam (Golden) and the land that was promised to Floyd’s father by the late white owner, Mr. Appletree, “a man of integrity.” But Mr. Appletree’s ugly-minded son Albert (John M. Jackson) and daughter-in-law (Ivey), have prevented the transfer.
Intent on exploiting Floyd’s talents as a furniture craftsman, Albert uses Floyd’s hope for the land as both stick and carrot. That hope vanishes when Jim Jam is responsible for the death of Albert’s mother’s spoiled little dog.
Yet the grief and trouble that ensue also jolt Albert’s mother (Plowright) out of her self-involved acceptance of the black-and-white status quo. When Jim Jam, who has his own integrity, tries to make amends for the loss of her dog, the result is genuine friendship and justice served.
The clarity with which Sagoes and director Joan Tewkesbury balance character, empathy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s tenets of non-violence against a racist society’s casual slurs and slights, underscores the ludicrousness of using color as a gauge of superiority. * “On Promised Land” airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on the Disney Channel.