February 10, 2011

University and Community Groups Screen Film to Honor Author Zora Neale Hurston

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In celebration of Black History Month, several Cornell and community groups hosted a screening of Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun, in the Robert Purcell Community Center Auditorium Thursday evening.

Produced by Kristy Anderson ’06, Jump at the Sun is the first feature length film about the African-American author Zora Neale Hurston.

After a brief introduction from Prof. Kenneth McClane, English, and Prof. Carol Boyce Davies, Africana studies and English, the Emmy-winning documentary opened with shots of the rural South and photographs of Hurston. Throughout the film, Anderson incorporated rare footage of Hurston and later footage of actress S. Epatha Merkerson, who reenacted Hurston in a 1943 radio interview.

Anderson documents Hurtston’s life and legacy through interviews with Hurston’s family, friends and prominent black authors, such as Alice Walker and Maya Angelou. Anderson explores Hurston’s migration from the all-black Eatonville, Florida to New York City in the peak of the Harlem Renaissance.

Anderson then follows Hurston through the author’s questioning and redefining of black culture and Hurston’s lasting impact on the American literary canon.

“The film shows that Zora Neale Hurston was always a person who was very celebratory of black culture. So much of her work, her personality and her sense of contribution to the world had to do with really loving it,” Boyce Davies said. “It’s appropriate the documentary is shown this month.”

According to Boyce Davies, Hurston believed that the black community should not “mourn about slavery and the past … [but] move forward” and embrace women’s sexual liberation through characters such as Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God.  These controversial ideas caused some of Hurston’s contemporaries, such as Richard Wright, to dismiss her work. Scholars only began reexamining Hurston’s writing in the 1980s, Boyce Davies said.

“When I began Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun 18 years [ago], there was always an uphill battle for funding. Funders would ask, ‘Zora who?’” said Kristy Anderson ’06, the film’s producer, on Bay Bottom News’ website. The film was produced by Bay Bottom News and PBS.

Described in the film as “bodacious,” “outrageous,” and as someone who “enjoyed shaking things up,” Hurston is now known as not only an author but an anthropologist and musicologist, McClane said.

“Hurston showed a level of self-love that all of us need to have,” he said. “She called her own shots … She was Queen Zora.”

When the 84-minute film ended, Anderson spoke to the audience members and invited them to ask questions. The event was hosted by Black Students United, several campus residential programs and The Village at Ithaca.

“The documentary really captured the message of following your aspirations, no matter what race, age or gender you are,” Joey Panosian ‘14 said.

Original Author: Akane Otani