“Claudine” (1974) is a Hollywood film starring Diahann Carroll about a single mother in Harlem trying bring up her six children right and keep them clothed and fed with what little she makes as a maid and gets from welfare. She has a love affair with James Earl Jones. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs plays her oldest son. Curtis Mayfield wrote the music and Gladys Knight & the Pips sang it.
Diahann Carroll was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, the fourth black woman ever – and the last till Whoopi Goldberg 11 years later for “The Color Purple”.
Carroll knows the emotions of this character very well and she handles them perfectly…. I never felt for a single moment that she was forced or not credible. I just saw Claudine living her life on screen.
She was not the director’s first choice. He cast Diana Sands, but then she became gravely ill and sent her friend Diahann Carroll in her place.
Even though Carroll grew up in Harlem just ten blocks from where the film was shot, the director thought she was too Hollywood jet set to be believable. Carroll informed him that that is what actors do: act as if they are someone else. Besides, she knew plenty of women like Claudine growing up.
It seems to have been shot completely on location: everything seems too true-to-life. The “suburbs”, though, where she worked as a maid was, in fact, Riverdale in the Bronx.
What I liked best was the love story. First, because I could imagine I was James Earl Jones dating Diahann Carroll. But even better than that they showed how love, marriage and family life, for the man, is built on money.
Maybe the white middle-class with near-full employment can take that stuff for granted, but not everyone can. I am glad they showed it – something that most love stories, family films and sitcoms rarely deal with.
The stereotypes: While there most certainly are black single mothers on welfare, and while they went to great pains to show that Claudine was a good mother doing the best she could under hard circumstances (quite unlike, say, the bad black mothers 35 years later in “Precious” or “The Blind Side”), the film lets white viewers suppose that most black women are single mothers on welfare.
It was the same with James Earl Jones’s character: he has children by two ex-wives, children he almost never sees. Again, there are certainly men like that, all too many, but not everyone is like that. As with Carroll’s character, they present the stereotype and then try to make it seem reasonable under the circumstances.
A white liberal approach, perhaps: the director and the producer, both white New Yorkers, fled America in the 1950s because of Hollywood’s blacklisting of suspected communists.
– Abagond, 2011.