It's odd to recommend "Mississippi Damned" (Showtime, 8 tonight) because to do so typically suggests an enjoyable experience.
That's not what you get from this movie by director Tina Mabry. It's a grim story, difficult to absorb. But "Mississippi Damned" is valuable as an exploration of how cycles of dysfunction, coupled with (or fueled by), poverty can bring down generations. Indeed, as the title suggests, it can damn a family.
The film begins in 1986 and tells the story of three sisters in a small Mississippi town (N.C.'s Hertford County stands in for the Magnolia State; it also showed at Durham's Hayti Film Festival) and their families. Charlie (Jossie Thacker) is an alcoholic involved with a womanizer who openly disrespects her and physically abuses her talented basketball playing son Sammy. Sweet Anna is pregnant again, after a history of miscarriages, and married to an abusive, non-working husband Tyrone (DB Woodside). Delores (Michael Hyatt) is married to a gambler with a good heart, but she doesn't much trust him.
Delores' daughter Leigh is a lesbian; her parents object. Their youngest daughter Kari likes the piano; her parents don't encourage it, but her aunt Anna does. (Tessa Thompson, who you might have seen in Tyler Perry's 'For Colored Girls', plays the teen-age Kari.) That gift of encouragement, we'll see, is the light in a dismal life.
Sensitively and gracefully directed, "Mississippi Damned" (based it says on a true story) takes us through lives destroyed by physical, sexual and chemical abuse, the silence and guilt that often accompanies those states, the hunger and longing of just wanting more, without the means or know how of how to obtain that more. It quietly shows how the cycles continue, how one becomes mired in circumstance, and it's not exploitive in the telling. There isn't a false note among anyone in the cast.
It is kind of a bummer. Even in the midst of a hopeful ending, there is devastation. We often hear people say "If I could just save one person, it's worth it." This film illustrates that while that sentiment may be true, the consequences for those not saved can be brutal.
"Mississippi Damned" gives a powerful view of social ills we haven't yet solved. Brace yourself as you watch.