The Women of Brewster Place

Article excerpt

The Women Of Brewster Place

IT is the type of acting ensemble that could make a Hollywood publicist exhaust his stockpile of overworked superlatives. Only this time, the early hype circulating about the ABC-TV mini-series The Women of Brewster Place may have a ring of truth. For the cast of this television adaptation of Glorida Naylor's award-winning novel is truly distinguished.

Headed by Oprah Winfrey (who also served as executive producer of the film), Brewster Place stars some of the most celebrated actors and actresses in show business, including Cicely Tyson, Olivia Cole, Jackee, Robin Givens, Moses Gunn, Paula Kelly, Lonette McKee, Mary Alice, Douglas Turner Ward and Paul Winfield. Collectively, these performers have amassed some 13 Emmy, Tony and Obie Awards, as well as 14 Oscar, Emmy and Tony nominations.

The story they bring to life focuses on seven very different women whose lives converge at the Brewster Place housing project in an unnamed American city. Naylor says she envisioned the story as being a saga of the contemporary Black American women in many -- though certainly not all -- of her shades. "That's why the book is structured the way it is," she says. "Because one character couldn't be the Black woman in America. So I had seven different women, all in different circumstances, encompassing the complexity of our lives, the richness of our diversity, from skin color on down to religious, political and sexual preference."

As is often the case with film treatments of successful novels, bringing Brewster Place to the screen was not without its controversy. Naylor objected to the sale of the story to the Phoenix Entertainment production company. "I've seen what this company has done with other works and I just didn't like them," she says.

She has had no involvement in the making of the movie, but is heartened, somewhat by Winfrey's participation in the project. "I've met Oprah and I think she has the sensitivity to treat the story well, if she really had a hand in the production work," she says.

Winfrey did play an integral part in the making of the movie, right down to dispensing copies of the novel to ABC executives and phoning them personally to convince them that the story was worthy of filming.

She first read the novel in 1984, while she was filming The Color Purple. She says she knew immediately that the book should be made into a movie and that should play Mattie Michael, Brewster Place's maternal and healing spirit.

Inevitably, Brewster Place's relatively narrow focus on Black women will invite criticism that it is anti-Black male, the same charge that dogged The Color Purple. Winfrey vehemently objects to that interpretation of both works and maintains that Brewster Place was done "as sensitively as we possibly could. We took great pains to be fair to Black men in this movie," she says. "I'm proud of this work."

GLORIA Naylor, the women behind The Women of Brewster Place, is a former Jehovah's Witnesses evangelist who wrote and edited the manuscript of her award-winning novel while working as a switchboard operator at a Manhattan hotel.

Brewster Place began as a short story written by Naylor when she was in the throes of an emotional crisis. The short story, which remains a centerpiece of the novel, is about a woman consumed by grief over the death of her infant child. "I was going through this particular form of pain -- the specifics of which are not important," Naylor says, "and I wanted to write about another woman who was hurting as much as I was, but about different things. …