It’s always tricky having a party after the premiere of a gravely serious film. The eloquent portrayal of death and suffering rarely serves as suitable hors d’oeuvres. Wednesday’s screening of “Miss Evers’ Boys” would be a classic example.
HBO’s two-hour drama, based on the Pulitzer-nominated play by David Feldshuh, tells of the U.S. Public Health Service’s notorious “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Beginning in 1932, 399 African American men were identified as having the venereal disease, given treatment, had that treatment dropped when funding ceased, and then were never given penicillin when it became available.
“The word of mouth had been great on this. People were excited about seeing it,” said co-star Joe Morton. “It’s like a wedding before the film starts and a funeral afterward.”
The scene outside the Steve Ross theater on the Warner Bros. lot after the screening was by no means funereal. With full buffets, open bars and 500 guests it was more like a wealthy actor’s wake. “It’s good to have a party after something like this,” said star Alfre Woodard. “You don’t want to just get in your car with all those emotions.”
The crowd included co-stars Ossie Davis and Obba Babatunde, Marlee Matlin, Michael Beach, Bob Goldthwait, Charles Bernstein, producers Robert Benedetti and Kip Konwiser, HBO’s John Matoian and Colin Callender, and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who thought the film showed “how trusting and vulnerable poor people are. They have to place their trust in somebody just to get through life and figure things out.”
When asked how something like the Tuskegee study could have happened, Woodard pointed to a time in American history when most of the population believed “if you cut open a black person they were different inside. Out of that fertile ground anything could happen.”
Woodard received warm praise from scores of guests for her portrayal of Miss Evers, but especially from Holly Hunter.
“I always find Alfre having something mysterious going on inside,” said Hunter. “It’s like I’m feeling one thing as an audience member that Alfre is responsible for, but she doesn’t dictate I feel this way. It’s just that what she’s thinking is so alarmingly palpable.”
What the actress was thinking at the party was the need for a different type of role. “I desperately need a big fat, stupid comedy,” said Woodard. “I can’t have people coming up to me misty-eyed all the time like this.”
* TELEVISION REVIEW F1