At first, the TV light is silver. Then it goes to black and white. A moment passes and we see the Columbia Pictures lady. She’s a figure in Adrienne Kennedy’s 1976 play, A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, where she speaks the author’s thoughts, but at present I don’t know Kennedy’s play. My own fan notes about the Columbia Pictures lady and the movies she introduces us to start now, in 1968 or 1969, when I’m eight or nine, somewhere in there. Dressed in Grecian robes and carrying a torch, the Columbia Pictures lady lights the way to a very real world we have no dates or production credits for, but what does any of that matter? Or the fact that the movies we watch on TV don’t “reflect” us. (The “we” I’m referring to is me, my little brother, and our older sister, a teenager.) Our wishes are our most reliable mirror, and the black-and-white movies I’m most drawn to are about artists who suffer because art is a noble thing; suffering is such a small price to pay for the imagination.
My mother reveres artists, and my sister and I have inherited her love of art and the stories about its creation. It’s better than the crumbling Brooklyn apartments we live in. Here everything is what it is, unchangeable, but on TV the world can change. One minute you’re in Switzerland or Poland with Cornel Wilde as Frédéric Chopin, an hour later you’re in Wales with Bette Davis as a dedicated schoolteacher who recognizes one student’s gift for writing. On another channel, we watch the delectable Teresa Wright saying words by a playwright named Thornton Wilder about being a double to a con artist and murderer. When Teresa Wright thinks about any of this, her chin goes up, a small, defiant move in a perfect face.
My sister has a perfect face. She’s a poet in fact and sensibility, so the TV is not interesting to her until she finds things on it that do interest her: Nina Simone playing the piano, for one. My sister doesn’t love the girls my brother and I love, though, girls like Ann-Margret. To my sister’s way of thinking, Ann-Margret’s white ingenue charm is insignificant when compared with the sisters: black women in the struggle.