The Women of Brewster Place (TV miniseries)

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The Women of Brewster Place
Written by Gloria Naylor (novel)
Karen Hall (teleplay)
Directed by Donna Deitch
Starring Oprah Winfrey
Robin Givens
Jackée Harry (as Jackée)
Paul Winfield
Lynn Whitfield
Mary Alice
Lonette McKee
Leon
Larenz Tate
Cicely Tyson
Moses Gunn
Shari Belafonte
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Production
Producer(s) Oprah Winfrey
Running time 200 minutes
Production company(s) Harpo Productions
Phoenix Entertainment Group
Distributor King Features Entertainment
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Original run March 19, 1989  – March 20, 1989
Chronology
Followed by Brewster Place

The Women of Brewster Place is an American television miniseries that was broadcast on March 19 and 20, 1989 on ABC. The miniseries is based upon the critically acclaimed 1982 novel of the same name by Gloria Naylor. It was produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions with a teleplay by Karen Hall.

The miniseries stars an ensemble cast of African-American actors and actresses such as Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Jackée Harry, Robin Givens, Lynn Whitfield, Paula Kelly, Lonette McKee, Paul Winfield, Mary Alice, Olivia Cole, William Allen Young, and a brief early appearance by a young Larenz Tate.

The miniseries received such a good reception that it led to a weekly series entitled Brewster Place. However, it was short-lived due to low ratings.

It is frequently broadcast on TV One and BET.

The show's theme song was performed by American R&B singer Vesta Williams, who performed both the opening and closing credits.

Plot[edit]

The story begins with Mattie Michael (Oprah Winfrey) moving in to Brewster Place, a run-down urban tenement. Mattie's life story is told in flashback. As a young girl she lived on a farm with her parents. She was seduced by a local man with a bad reputation, and became pregnant. She refused to tell her father the name of the man responsible, leading to a violent confrontation. After that Mattie left home and stayed with her friend Etta Mae Johnson (Jackée) until her baby, Basil, was born. When Etta Mae decided to move to New York City, Mattie had difficulty finding a decent place to live with Basil. By chance she met an old woman, Miss Eva Turner (Barbara Montgomery) who owned her own house and allowed Mattie and Basil to live with her, refusing to charge them any rent even though Mattie set aside money for rent from every paycheck. Miss Eva was also raising her baby granddaughter Ciel, and Ciel and Basil grew up together with Miss Eva providing child care while Mattie worked. After a few years, Miss Eva died and Ciel's parents took her away to live with them. Mattie bought the house, using the money she set aside for the rent that was never charged.

Basil grew up spoiled because Mattie's whole world revolved around him and she refused to have another man in her life. When Basil was in his early 20s he killed another man during a fight and was arrested for murder. Mattie put up her house to bail him out of jail, but Basil jumped bail and Mattie lost the house. With nowhere else to go, she moved to Brewster Place where she is welcomed by the now-adult Ciel (Lynn Whitfield). Other residents of Brewster Place include Ben, the elderly handyman (Moses Gunn)); Cora Lee, a welfare mother with six unruly children by different fathers (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney); Miss Sophie, an elderly self-righteous gossip (Olivia Cole); and a young educated couple, Melanie "Kiswana" Browne (Robin Givens) and her boyfriend Abshu (Leon). Mattie's old friend Etta Mae, who has been traveling around to different cities living off men she meets, soon returns to live with Mattie. Etta Mae is tired of her footloose life and wants to meet a nice man to settle down with in her old age, but her efforts come to naught.

Ciel has a troubled relationship with her husband Gene (William Allen Young), a dock worker who abandoned her when their baby daughter was born. Ciel still loves Gene and welcomes him back when he suddenly returns, but he gets her pregnant again. He is not happy about another baby so she gets an abortion, but he still decides to leave again, supposedly for a better job. While Ciel and Gene are arguing about his leaving, their toddler daughter, left alone in the next room, suffers an accident and dies. Ciel falls into a deep depression and nearly dies, but Mattie brings her out of it. Then Ciel disappears.

Unlike the other residents, Melanie's family is well off and her parents are horrified that she is living in such a bad neighborhood. Melanie, who wants to be called "Kiswana", wants to live there in order to be financially independent from her parents and also because she sees it as getting back in touch with her African roots. Melanie's mother Mrs. Browne (Cicely Tyson) visits her apartment and lectures her on her family history, which includes free black ancestors and Native Americans who were strong and independent. Mrs. Browne thinks Melanie should be proud of her own family and not have to look back to Africa for inspiration. Melanie and Abshu try to improve the lives of the other residents by taking them to an urban version of Shakespeare and by starting a tenants' association in hopes of taking action against the landlord for not maintaining the building. At the tenants' meetings, the residents seem more interested in airing their grievances with each other than in banding together against the landlord as a common enemy. Melanie even paints murals on the brick wall that the other tenants hate because it blocks the sun and the local gang of thugs led by drug dealer C.C. (Glenn Plummer) paint graffiti on it.

A lesbian couple, Lorraine (Lonette McKee) and Theresa "Tee" (Paula Kelly) move into Brewster Place, much to the dismay of Miss Sophie who spies on them through her window and spreads malicious gossip, even going so far as to humiliate Lorraine at a tenants' meeting. The upset Lorraine is consoled by Ben. Lorraine wants to fit in with the neighbors and is worried that she will lose her job as a teacher if someone informs her employer she is lesbian. She has already moved from two previous neighborhoods because of her fear of gossip. Tee, on the other hand, is friendly but doesn't care if the neighbors accept her and doesn't want to socialize with them. She is happy socializing with other gay people and thinks Lorraine should just accept that being a lesbian makes one "different" from other people.

Melanie and Abshu organize a block party to raise money for a lawyer to fight the landlord, and all the residents except Lorraine and Tee attend. Ciel even returns and is happily reunited with her friends Mattie and Etta Mae. Lorraine and Tee are supposed to attend another party at a gay club, but get into an argument and Lorraine leaves the house alone. She knocks on Ben's door but he is at the block party and doesn't answer. Then she is accosted by C.C. who violently rapes her and leaves her, bleeding and battered, behind the trash cans near the brick wall. Ben finds her while helping with the trash cleanup from the party and tries to help her, but mentally unhinged Lorraine beats him off with a board and then holds off all the other residents until the ambulance arrives and takes her and Ben away, while all the Brewster Place residents who had been having fun at the block party watch in horror. Mattie, whose anger has finally overcome her feelings that any action to better her life is useless, grabs a crowbar and starts to chip away at the hated brick wall. All the other residents grab tools and, finally coming together as a community, join in knocking down the wall.

Cast and crew[edit]

External links[edit]