Alex Haley's Queen
|Alex Haley's Queen|
VHS cover of Alex Haley's Queen
|Directed by||John Erman|
|Produced by||David L. Wolper|
|Written by||Alex Haley (novel)
David Stevens (Teleplay)
|Music by||Christopher Dedrick|
|Editing by||James Galloway
|Original run||February 14, 1993– February 18, 1993|
|Running time||282 mins.|
|No. of episodes||3|
|Preceded by||Roots: The Gift|
Alex Haley's Queen (also known as Queen) is a 1993 American television miniseries that aired in three installments on February 14, 16, and 18 on CBS. The miniseries is an adaptation of the novel Queen: The Story of an American Family, by Alex Haley and David Stevens. The novel is based on the life of Queen Jackson Haley, Haley's paternal grandmother. Alex Haley died in February 1992 before completing the novel. It was later finished by David Stevens and published in 1993. Stevens also wrote the screenplay for the miniseries.
Alex Haley's Queen was directed by John Erman, and stars Halle Berry in the title role. It tells the life story of a young woman and it shows the problems which biracial slaves and former slaves faced in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Throughout her life, Queen struggles to fit into the two cultures of her heritage, and at times each side shuns her.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2013)|
The series begins with the friendly relationship between James Jackson Jr. (Tim Daly), the son of the plantation owner, and one of the slaves, Easter (Jasmine Guy), at the Jackson estate, known as Forks of Cypress, near Florence in northern Alabama. James and Easter have grown up together (within the social limits of the plantation culture), and gradually their feelings for each other have developed into romance. Easter is the daughter of an African-American house slave, Captain Jack (Paul Winfield), and his true love, Annie, another slave, who is part-Cherokee, and who is no longer on the Jackson property.
James Jackson Sr. (Martin Sheen), an Irish immigrant who has accumulated considerable wealth, becomes ill and soon dies. Minutes after the death James Jr. retreats to the comfort of the weaving house, where Easter was born, and where she lives and works. James and Easter make love, then, several months later, while they are alone, Easter reveals to him that she is pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, Sally Jackson (Ann-Margret), the new widow, encourages her son, James Jr., to marry the respectable and socially equal Elizabeth "Lizzie" Perkins (Patricia Clarkson), an heiress to a cotton fortune.
On April 8, 1841, Easter gives birth to a healthy girl. Excited about his new granddaughter, Captain Jack announces to the family and friends during dinner in the "big house" that a slave child has just been born, and he assures James, "Easter's doing just fine". That displeases Lizzie, who is present for the dinner, and who soon becomes James's fiancée. Lizzie, having concluded that the new baby is James's child, excuses herself from the table and throws a fit. Moments later she vows to her mother (Charlotte Moore) that she'll never marry him, but her mother persuades her otherwise. Captain Jack begins to refer to the baby as Princess, but, when James enters the birth in the record book, he writes the name Queen. He also leaves blank the section for the name of the father.
James proposes marriage to Lizzie the next evening after the dinner, Lizzie accepts, and the wedding takes place at the home sometime later. James continues to visit Easter at night, sometimes every night, during both his engagement and his marriage. Although James is Lizzie's husband, he is still in love with Easter. Later Lizzie learns that she has become pregnant. She and James welcome a daughter, Jane, whom Queen attends and serves. Although Jane and Queen are half-sisters, the family does not acknowledge that relationship, because of Queen's status as a slave.
James later persuades Easter to let Queen live in the main house, where she can receive training as a lady's maid. Both Easter and Lizzie oppose that plan, but James's word is final, so at age 5 Queen (Raven-Symoné) moves into the mansion. Jane and Queen grow up as friends and playmates. However, the other slave children tease and torment Queen because of her light skin and her ability to read and write. By 1860, several years later, the two young ladies, Queen (Halle Berry) and Jane (Jane Krakowski), have grown up, and they begin to attract the attention of the young men in Florence.
In the next year, 1861, Alabama secedes from the United States, the North declares war against the South, and James enters the Confederate Army and heads northward. While James rides away in a cavalry unit, Easter confirms to Queen that he is her "pappy". On July 21, 1861, during the First Battle of Bull Run, in Prince William County, Virginia, near Manassas, James sustains an injury which causes him to become discharged and sent back home. When James arrives at home, he learns that Jane, his legitimate daughter, has died during an epidemic of diphtheria, and he reaches the weaving house only moments after Easter too, with Queen beside her, dies of diphtheria.
Queen continues to serve the aging ladies, Sally and Lizzie, in the big house, and, in the absence of an overseer, takes over his function also, supervising the remaining field hands, after half of them left and went North.
Soon James forms a regiment, receives a promotion to the rank of colonel, and heads back into the war. Eventually the Union Army reaches Florence and the Jackson plantation, where the Northern soldiers loot and plunder, wantonly destroy property, insult the ladies and the slaves, and brutalize the slaves, for whose benefit they have claimed to fight the war to free them.
During another battle, Col. Jackson sustains another injury, which causes the amputation of his right arm without anesthesia of any type. Captain Jack dies as a free man, with Sally Jackson and Queen beside him.
Missus Jackson advises Queen to go wherever she might wish among the blacks, saying that there is no food and no place for her at the estate, and that she can expect no help from them, despite the known relationship between Queen and the Jackson family. Queen, however, strongly objects, insisting that the plantation is her home, and they are her family. Parson Dick (Ossie Davis), another slave there, warns Queen about the difficulties awaiting mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons in the new free society.
Mr. Henderson (Leo Burmester), the former overseer, and his wife (Linda Hart) have left the Jackson plantation, and they now run a nearby grocery store, where young redneck white men hang out, and James trades. Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, however, freely insult James and Queen.
After an unpleasant confrontation at the store with Mrs. Henderson and with several of the tough young white men, Queen runs away and hides until the next morning, then, tired and hungry, she returns home. Queen and Lizzie exchange unkind words, and Queen leaves. While Queen pauses at the grave of her mother, Missus Jackson bids her goodbye and hands her a sum of money. James and Queen meet on the driveway in the front of the house as James returns from a long search for Queen that morning. They speak briefly, then Queen continues walking away.
Queen realizes in Florence how easily she can "pass" as a white lady, so she resolves to do so; there she buys a one-way ticket and rides one or more horse-drawn stagecoaches (on an unlikely journey) to Charleston, South Carolina.
At a charitable soup kitchen Queen meets Alice (Lonette McKee), another fair-skinned young "colored" lady who also passes as white. Alice befriends Queen, takes her into her apartment, cleans her up, teaches her about passing, and takes her to a white dance hall, where she meets Alice's white gentleman friend, George (Dan Biggers), who gets Queen a job in a flower shop.
While at work Queen meets Digby (Victor Garber), an injured former Confederate soldier, who quickly falls for her and soon proposes to her. Queen accepts, then tells Alice, who insists that such a marriage would be foolish and strongly urges Queen to break the engagement.
Queen, naïve and strong-willed, decides to go to Digby's apartment, intending to break off. Digby, after a surprising twist, begins to seduce Queen with some help from a dose of laudanum. While Queen objects and resists, she blurts out that she is a Negro. Digby then flies into a rage, beats her, rapes her, and throws her out.
Queen returns to Alice, who also throws her out, to protect her own position and reputation. The next day, after a miserable night in a camp of black homeless people, Queen staggers into a meeting of a black church, where she receives much help from a kindly woman, who later takes her to the home of two self-righteous and sanctimonious spinsters, Misses Mandy (Sada Thompson) and Giffery, who hire Queen as a live-in maid.
A few days later Davis (Dennis Haysbert), a gardener and a former slave, arrives in the backyard in search of work. Queen and Davis start a friendship, which turns into romance and results in pregnancy. Queen first seeks an abortion, then she decides to keep the child, so she confronts Davis, who invites her to meet him at the railway station, presumably to head north.
Although Queen waits at the station well into the evening, Davis fails to appear, so she dejectedly returns to the old maids. Miss Mandy labels her as a wicked, naughty girl and a fallen sinner, but she and Miss Giffery allow her to remain. In due time the two spinsters, acting as midwives, attend the birth of a healthy boy. Queen wants to give him the name David, but the two women prefer the name Abner. A white minister christens the baby, predictably, as Abner. Misses Mandy and Giffery increasingly take over Abner, apparently intending to raise him as though he were their own. Eventually one night Queen flees and heads north with six-month-old Abner in her arms.
At a crossroads store and lunchroom Queen meets Mrs. Benson (Frances Conroy), an upper-middle-class white mother of a 15-month-old son, for whom she needs a wet nurse. They ride away toward the Benson home, in Beaufort, South Carolina, which is south, not north, of Charleston [and which is on the way to Savannah, Georgia, but not on a direct way to Savannah, Tennessee].
When Queen and Mrs. Benson arrive in Beaufort, they meet Mr. Benson (Richard Jenkins) amid a crowd of angry black former slaves, striking for more pay and more respect, under the vocal persuasion and agitation of Davis, the father of Abner. Later Queen finds Davis, confronts him, berates him for having abandoned her and Abner, then shares his bed until the next morning.
Mrs. Benson deceives Queen and uses her and Abner in such a way as to enable Mr. Benson, a leader among the local Ku Klux Klan, to find and capture Davis. Mrs. Benson, feigning concern for the security of Davis, urges Queen to leave Abner with her in safety and to hurry to Davis and warn him that he is in imminent danger of a "terrible work" of the Klan. Queen goes, and a Klansman follows. When Queen returns to the Benson home, she learns that Abner is absent, and Mrs. Benson says that Abner "is doing God's work tonight". The next morning Queen goes to Davis' cabin, where she finds his hanged and charred body, along with Abner, inside a wooden chicken cage at his father's feet.
In the next scene Queen and Abner, now a toddler of about two years, walk together and, near Savannah, Hardin County, Tennessee, board a small wooden ferryboat, where they meet Alec Haley (Danny Glover), who operates the ferry, along with his son, Henry (Kenny Blank). While crossing a river Alec asks Queen where she wishes to go, and she answers, "North". Alec senses the general nature of Queen's situation and her motive.
Alec gently persuades Queen to ride back to the south side, saying that in the North she would find only "cold weather and cold-hearted Yankees", so Queen acquiesces. Soon Alec introduces Queen to Dora (Madge Sinclair), the cook in the home of Mr. Cherry (George Grizzard), a widower, where she gets a job as a maid.
Queen, brooding over her regrettable experiences, adopts a defensive and disagreeable attitude, which becomes obvious to everyone around her. Dora tells her, "It's high time you figure out who your friends are, Missy", and Mr. Cherry tells her, "You are the most ornery maid I've ever had". Later Alec describes her to herself as "never talking peaceable to a living soul" and "hating the world for whatever the world done to you". However, Queen responds to those helpful words by allowing a friendship to develop between Alec and herself and by changing her attitudes. Soon Mr. Cherry comments, "She really lights up this old place when she smiles", and suggests, "Let's just hope it continues".
The relationship between Queen and Alec grows into romance, which results not only in a wedding, in which Mr. Cherry gives the bride away, but also, eventually, the birth of another child, whom Queen names as Simon. Queen expresses high hopes for Simon's future, and she predicts that he'll become "magnificent".
When Simon (Jussie Smollett) completes the sixth grade, the point at which black boys in the South typically (in the subject setting) drop out of school to start full-time work in the fields, as did Henry and Abner, Simon's teacher comments to Queen that he is "the best student in the district". Alec vigorously argues with Queen against Simon's staying in school, but Queen presents persuasive logic, and he eventually agrees to "waste" one of the three boys. [In the US high schools did not generally exist until about 1910, and they started in the larger, wealthy cities.]
One day Queen takes Abner and Simon back to the Forks of Cypress, the Jackson plantation, to show them where she was raised and to share her memories of her childhood. When they arrive there, the funeral for James Jackson, her father, takes place, and she pays her respect from a distance. Queen then shows her sons the weaving house, where she lived as a girl, along with her mother Easter's grave and the Jackson mansion. Inside the house Lizzie Jackson accosts her bitterly and tells her that she does not belong there, as the mansion was never truly her home. Queen quickly leaves, feeling again sad and rejected by the white side of her family.
In due time Simon becomes the first black boy in Savannah to complete grade school, and, after another major disagreement at home, Simon begins making plans to go to the normal school in Memphis, Tennessee.
However, Abner announces that he too wishes to go out into the world to make his own way. Alec reluctantly consents, but Queen strongly objects, likely due in part to her bitter memories of the time when the two spinsters in Charleston tried to take Abner away from her.
That confrontation leads to a conflict among Queen on one hand and Alec and Abner on the other, in which Queen emotionally reveals to Abner that Alec is not his real father. Still feeling upset and agitated and allowing her feelings to divert her attention, while stoking the wood-fired cast-iron cookstove, Queen causes or allows a flame to start a fire, which in turn ignites her long dress. Queen runs out of the house and into the surrounding woodland. The fire in the dress dies out, and Queen sustains only minimal physical injuries. However, undoubtedly recalling the frightful scene in which she discovered the charred and strangled body of Davis hanging from a noose, Queen experiences an emotional, mental, or psychological trauma, which then causes Alec to commit her to a mental-health institution, in Jackson, Tennessee, about 50 miles from home.
Alec realizes, and he says to Queen and Abner separately, that Queen's psychological problems result from certain events in her life which she's never discussed with Alec or anyone else.
After several weeks in the depressing "lunatic asylum", someone on the staff sends a request from Queen to Mr. Cherry to visit her. During a meeting at the hospital Queen politely and humbly tells her former employer about Abner's wish to "find his own place in the world". But Queen and Alec have already given all their cash to Simon for his schooling, so Queen asks Mr. Cherry for a loan of $50, which he graciously agrees to make. Queen tearfully thanks him and compliantly returns to her room.
Soon Queen decides that she needs to go home, so that she can see her sons when they leave, and she convinces the man in charge that the time is right. Alec picks her up and takes her home in a wagon. Queen and Alec take Abner and Simon on the ferryboat across the Tennessee River and, on the west side of the stream, they place their sons aboard a carriage bound for Memphis, about 116 miles due west of Savannah. [In truth at the time of the applicable setting there was in Memphis no normal school which enrolled black students; Simon actually went to Lane College, a black school in Jackson, Tennessee, where he met and began to court Bertha George Palmer, from Henning, Tennessee.]
Back at home the aging couple sit on the front porch, and Queen starts to tell Alec about her life, starting with her time as a slave girl with Jane at the Jackson plantation.
The series was released on VHS in August 1993 and was later released on DVD in 2000.
Ratings and viewers
The miniseries averaged a 23.9 rating and 37% share for the three parts.
|Queen Part I||#3||24.6 million||36.7 million||24.7%||38%||February 14, 1993||CBS|
|Queen Part II||#1||22.4 million||35.0 million||24.1%||37%||February 16, 1993||CBS|
|Queen Part III||#3||21.3 million||33.0 million||22.8%||N/A||February 18, 1993||CBS|
^[a] Part I aired a week prior to parts II and III in the ratings.
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- Kujoory, Parvin (1995). Black Slavery in America: An Annotated Mediagraphy. Scarecrow Press. p. 116. ISBN 0-810-83072-8.
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