To Sleep with Anger, which followed director Charles Burnett’s acclaimed Killer of Sheep and My Brother’s Wedding, explores the past that many African-Americans left behind to ascend into the middle class of America. The rituals and superstitions that provided comfort and a hidden meaning to the lives of black Americans in the South are arcane in late 1980s Los Angeles. Gideon (Paul Butler) and his wife Suzie (Mary Alice) have started a new chapter in their lives and have a growing and prosperous family to show for their efforts. A menacing Harry (Danny Glover) arrives as a dark cloud over the community of Southern expats and with a wink in his eye and a silver tongue, weaves a web that ensnares the entire family. Soon, the safe haven that Gideon and Alice have worked so hard to built is under threat. A member of the L.A. Rebellion movement, a collection of black filmmakers who studied at UCLA Film School from the late 1960s to the late ’80s, Burnett’s work explores the tensions that beset African Americans no matter their station in life. “We were aiming these films to try to say something about society and how to make changes. And I found that their changes didn’t relate to anything similar to reality, at least not in my community. So, I wanted to make a film that represented that if you were living in my community, what you would see and experience. How best can we create a solution?”—Charles Burnett.
Appears in: Constructing Identity: Black Cinema Then and Now
Other Films by Charles Burnett
Made as the thesis film for his Master’s degree from UCLA, Burnett’s piercing yet tender look into post-’68 African-American life in Watts is a cornerstone work of the American independent cinema of the 1970s despite being long unavailable in any form. Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), the titular slaughterhouse worker and a man like any other, …