Euzhan Palcy is a film director, writer and producer from Martinique, French West Indies. She is notable for being the first black woman director produced by a major Hollywood studio (MGM), for A Dry White Season, as well as being the only woman filmmaker to have directed Marlon Brando, whom she brought back to the screen after a gap of nine years. Palcy is also the first black artist to win a César Award, the highest French film award.
Early life and career
Born in Martinique, Euzhan Palcy grew up studying the films of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles. She left for Paris in 1975 to earn a master's degree in French Literature, in theater at the Sorbonne, a D.E.A. in Art and Archeology and a film degree (specializing in cinematography) from renowned Louis Lumière College.
It was in Paris, with the encouragement of her "French Godfather", François Truffaut, that she was able to put together her first feature, Sugar Cane Alley (1983). Shot for less than $1,000,000, it documents through the eyes of a young boy the love and sacrifice of a poor black family living on a Martinique sugar cane plantation in the 1930s. Sugar Cane Alley won over 17 international awards including the Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion, as well as the Coppa Volpi (Volpi Cup) for Best Lead Actress Award (Darling Legitimus). It also won the prestigious César Award (the French equivalent to Academy Award) for best first feature film.
A Dry White Season
Marlon Brando was so moved by her next project, A Dry White Season (1989), and her commitment to social change that he came out of a self-imposed retirement, agreeing to act in the film for free. Also starring in the film were actors Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon. Palcy adapted A Dry White Season from the novel by South African writer, André Brink. The story focuses on the social movements of South Africa and the Soweto riots, and was heralded for putting the politics of apartheid into meaningful human terms. Palcy was so passionate about creating an accurate portrayal on film that she traveled to Soweto undercover, posing as a recording artist, to research the riots. She became the first black female director produced by a major Hollywood studio. Brando's performance in the movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he received the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo Film Festival. For her outstanding cinematic achievement, Palcy received the "Orson Welles Award" in Los Angeles. A few months after the release of the film, Palcy was welcomed by Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
By 1992 Palcy veered away from the serious subject matters of her previous films to show the spirit and liveliness of her native Martinique with Simeon (1992), a musical comedic fairytale set in the Caribbean and Paris and the three-part documentary Aimé Césaire, A Voice For History (1994) about the famed Martinique poet, playwright and philosopher. Both garnered numerous awards and international critical acclaim.
Other works include for Disney/ABC Studios, Palcy directed and produced Ruby Bridges (1998) the story of the little New Orleans girl who was the first to integrate the public schools, immortalized in the painting by Norman Rockwell. President Bill Clinton and Disney President, Michael Eisner introduced the film from the White House to American audiences. alcy’s film won four awards including The Christopher Awards, The Humanitas Prize, the National Educational Media Network Gold Apple and best performance Young actress award Young Artists Awards. For Paramount/Showtime Studios, she directed The Killing Yard (2001), starring Alan Alda and Morris Chestnut. The drama is based on the true events surrounding the 1971 Attica prison riot which had an indelible impact on the American prison system and jury process. The film won the Silver Gavel Awards from the American Bar Association.
In 2006, she wrote and directed the documentary, “Parcours de Dissidents” (“The Journey of the Dissidents”), narrated by Oscar-Nominated and esteemed French actor, Gérard Depardieu about the unknown odyssey of the boys and girls from Martinique and Guadeloupe island (FWI) who were trained at Fort Dix New Jersey during WWII and became the daredevil soldiers of Free French Force Division 1.
Most recently, Palcy wrote and directed the French three-hour period piece set in the 17th century, Les Mariées de I’isles Bourbon (The Brides of Bourbon Island) (2007). It tells of a romantic, historic epic action adventure where three women survive a harrowing ocean voyage from France to forcibly marry French expatriates on the island of Réunion.
In 1994, she was honored with the distinction of Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mérite (Knight in the National Order Merit) from French President, François Mitterrand. In 1997 in Amiens, France, a movie theater was named "Cinema Euzhan Palcy." In 2000, she received the honor of having Martinique's first high school dedicated to film study named after her and was presented with the Sojourner Truth Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, she was the recipient of the famous French Medal of Honor from French President Jacques Chirac. Miss Palcy is citizen of honour of New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Sarasota, Fl.
Palcy’s drive for the life and compassion for humanity inspire each and every project with which she is involved. Her passion spills into all areas of cinematic lexicon to include the animation, thriller, comedy and action genres. For Fox Studios, Palcy co-wrote an animated feature, currently entitled “Katoumbaza” to be executive produced by her as well. She is actively developing a feature film, on “Bessie Coleman,” for which she recorded the very last witness of the first African American aviatrix journey in France and, “Filet Mignon” an action comedy set in Los Angeles and Paris. Palcy has chosen “Teaching Toots,” (with Ellen Burstyn and Sam Shepard) a comedy drama on illiteracy, a project close to her heart, to be her next film to co-produce and direct in New Mexico.
She has been chosen to direct and co-produce Mahalia, the feature film on the life of Mahalia Jackson.
Palcy’s interest to support the younger generation has been known for years. Her last production has been Moly, the autobiographical short of disabled one-legged Senegalese young filmmaker Moly Kane. The film was screened in Cannes with rapturous public acclaim. Palcy announced on stage that Moly Kane will receive the prosthetic leg of his dreams so that he could be free to film with his camera.
In 1989, Euzhan Palcy entered the list of “Glamour Magazine 10 most inspiring women”. In 1994, she was honored with the distinction of Knight in the National Order Merit from French President, François Mitterrand. In 1997 a movie theater near Amiens in France was named “Cinema Euzhan Palcy.” In 2000, she humbly received the honor of having Martinique’s first high school dedicated to film study named after her and was presented with the Sojourner Truth Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.
In 2004, she was the recipient of the famous French Legion of Honor French by President Jacques Chirac.
In 2007, Euzhan Palcy was ranked #3 to British Film Institute BBC online poll “The 100 Black Screen Icons” of the last century.
In October 2009, She received the Unita Blackwell Award in Las Vegas for the 35th anniversary of the US National Conference of Black Mayors. Euzhan Palcy is citizen of Honor of New York, Atlanta, New Orleans and Sarassota FL.
In December of the same year, her first film, “Sugar Cane Alley,“ was selected for the third time by the French National Educational Organization (the organization that chooses the films from all over the world to be studied in French schools) then breaking the record of any films participating to the system in the history of the organization. In December 2009, Palcy was the patron of the 20th anniversary of the organization at the Cinémathèque (the French Museum of Cinema) with Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand and director Costa Gavras. In 2010, she was the Honoree of France Black Art Awards broadcast on France Television Group, she was the first recipient of the Art and Media Prize of the Gotha Noir de France (France Black Who’s Who) and in December 2010, she was honored at the Women’s Gala of 3rd World Black Arts Festival of Culture in Senegal, the biggest African Festival ever.
In 2011, on April 6, Euzhan Palcy directed “Le Film Hommage” that introduced “France National Tribute to Aimé Césaire at the Pantheon” with the keynote speech of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in front of an audience 1 000 dignitaries. The event was broadcast live on the French National TV (France 2).
A month later, on May 14, French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand and Cannes Film Festival paid tribute to the director with the screening of “Sugar Cane Alley” in the prestigious Cannes Classics Series (Cannes official selection of the Masterpieces of the Century). Heralded as one of the most important independent film of the last 50 years “Sugar Cane Alley” is studied in most Colleges and US Universities (Cinema studies, French studies, African American studies) In February 2009, Philadelphia Inquirer veteran film critic Carrie Rickey put “Sugar Cane Alley” in her top list of the films that should be screened at the White House to keep hope alive.
On May 18, just days later, The Museum of Modern Art in New York City honored the director with “Filmmaker in Focus: Euzhan Palcy” (May 18- May 30), the first retrospective of her career and “first retrospective of a black woman filmmaker at the MoMA”. The Department of Film has acquired for its collection new 35mm prints of Palcy’s “Rue Cases-Nègres” and “Siméon” (1992), her Caribbean musical-comedy fairytale—which by the closing credits of its New York premiere at MoMA last Friday had literally sparked dancing in the aisles of the theater said Ron Magliozzi, the assistant film curator of MoMA.
On June 18, 2011, Palcy’s “The Journey of the Dissidents” (“Parcours de Dissidents”) was screened at the French Military School at the invitation of the French Minister of Defense and the Minister of Overseas Territories. A National Exhibition (“La Dissidence en Martinique et en Guadeloupe 1940-1945”), based on her film was launched at the French National Staff Headquarters on July 7 and is currently exhibited simultaneously in everyone of the 101 Prefectures (equivalent of our Federal government building of every counties) along with the screening of her film.
September 12, 2011 The Director General of Unesco, Ms Irina Bokova, named Euzhan Palcy in the international sponsoring committee for the Unesco program of 2011-2013 -- “TAGORE, NERUDA and CESAIRE, for a reconciled universal”.
On September 28, 2011, Euzhan Palcy was decorated with the Officer Medal of the National Order of Merit by French President Sarkozy at the Palais de l'Elysee.
On October 13, 2011 she did the opening of 7th Women's Forum in front of 1480 participants from 84 countries
“Euzhan Palcy strikes me as proof that great directors can come from anywhere--but they must know they are great directors and trust they are great.” – Roger Ebert.
- "The Defiant One: Euzhan Palcy | The Feminist Wire". Retrieved 2011-08-22.