Down in the Delta

with Alfre Woodard

Viewed January 5, 2002

For a movie that started out with scenes of the Chicago ghetto that were quite dismal, this flick had a surprisingly upbeat, uplifting and empowering ending. I suppose that's not very unexpected, given that it was directed by the wonderful Black poet, Maya Angelou. The movie chronicles the evolution of one black family (and in particular, the daughter played by Alfre Woodard) from a no-win, drug-infested situation in the ghetto to a happy, close, well-adjusted family down in the Mississippi delta. A transformation that radical was a bit difficult for me to believe, but it did carry home very effectively the message of hope that Maya Angelou clearly wanted to convey.

We had so much to talk about in the discussion that we really only covered two of the questions. Both Question 2 and Question 4 triggered a lot of memories, not all of them happy ones. We questioned how much influence we WANT our families to have on us at this point in our lives (Question 2) , since the influence they have isn't always a beneficial one. We decided that (both as parents and as children) there is an ebb and flow of influence as grown-up kids move in and out of their parents' lives. One participant commented that the child-parent relationship is the only relationship where the best, optimal outcome is for one party to become independent and move away. Several people shared stories of difficult family situations they've experienced, in which they've had to decide how close they want to remain with family members. There is a desire to stay close and depend on family, and a desire for independence and the chance to build our own life. It seems like some families don't want their family members to be independent, but it is nevertheless an essential ingredient in growing up.

Depending on our family led us naturally into talking about Question 4, which relates to depending on others, and on men in particular. Some of the women present had rarely, if ever, had an experience where the men in their lives could be relied upon. Instead, these men had always left (in one way or another) and they felt abandoned. And yet, one woman described how she has been training herself to recognize the dependable men in her life. She realized that dependable men may have always been there, but she wasn't able to see them because she had "filters" on her eyes that made them invisible. Now as she reminds herself to look for dependable men, she's seeing them around her a lot more often. Someone else shared her delight at how all the unpleasant men she used to attract no longer notice her; she has become invisible to them because she no longer matches their image of the neurotic woman they are looking for.

So it was a very intimate and bonding discussion. Here are the questions:


  1. How has making different choices for my life affected me?
  2. How much influence does my family (STILL!) have on my life?
  3. How do I make sense of positive examples that don't match my negative experience/expectations?
  4. How much support have I gotten in the past from men (or the opposite sex)?
  5. How much effect have positive role models had on changing my behavior?