Sunday, June 22, 2014

Women in Film Blogathon: Troy Carmichael

John from Hitchcock's World has been on a roll and has several blogathons going simultaneously. One of them is titled Women in Film. His aim with this particular blogathon is a noble one. In his own words, he intends "to draw attention to some of the good, strong, female characters we do have in the movies." Indeed, there have been a number strong ladies throughout cinematic history. However, unless you're in complete denial, you know that there are far fewer great female characters than there are male. That alone makes this a worthwhile exercise. Since it is, I want to do my part. Before I get started, though, John did lay down the law...

1. The female character in question should have qualities that make her strong. That doesn't necessarily mean better than the guys, just well-written; we're trying to promote equality here, not reverse misogyny.

2. Unlike my previous blogathon, I'm going to be a bit stricter here and say that each entry should only focus on one character. However, if you like you can write mulitple entries examining different characters.

3. If you can, do try to find less obvious choices. There are a few that I can expect are likely to get picked: Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, etc. If you decide to write about any of the "obvious" choices, I encourage you to at least try and find something new to say about them.

4. You are allowed to pick characters from any film, genre, or time period you like.

No problem...

except I occasionally like to be difficult.

This means I'm going to kinda-sorta ignore the title of the blogathon and focus on what the rules say. By that, I mean that the character I've chosen is female, but not a woman. At least, not yet. When we meet Troy Carmichael, played by Zelda Harris in Spike Lee's Crooklyn (1994), she is a little shy of her tenth birthday.

Troy lives in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1970s with her sizable family. There's mom and dad plus four brothers for a total of seven. Chronologically, she's the second youngest of the five children. As the only girl, she wraps dad around her finger and has an extra special bond with mom. Much of her day is spent keeping up with and often outwitting her brothers. When she's not doing that, she's hanging out with her friends and getting into a little mischief.

Right from the beginning, we see that there is a strength to her, but it's something we suspect won't blossom for at least four or five more years. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, that timetable is sped up considerably.

Spoiler alert.

We eventually find out that Troy's mom Carolyn (a wonderful Alfre Woodard) is deathly ill. Near the end of our journey with Troy, Carolyn passes away. Remarkably, Troy steps into her mother's shoes. She literally becomes the woman of the house, running things as her mom would have. While her father Woody, the under-appreciated Delroy Lindo, appears overwhelmed, Troy picks up any slack. At the beginning of the movie, she was just one of the hordes of children in her neighborhood who had their play interrupted by being called in to dinner. By the end, she is the one letting her family know that dinner is ready. She assumes her mother's old post on the steps in front of their house and surveys the area, making sure her brothers are safe and behaving themselves. At ten, her maternal instincts have bubbled to the surface even as she misses her own mother.

What makes Troy a great character is that her transformation is entirely natural. None of it feels contrived, or impossible. Where she ends up feels like the next logical step after all of her earlier steps. She's not some super-child with extraordinary gifts none of us could ever hope to have. She is a kid dealing with a situation head-on. She realizes that a void has been created in her home and fills it as best she can. While her brothers will inevitably rebel against whatever authority she assumes, especially the older ones, they will always know that they cannot do what she does in a seemingly effortless manner. Regardless of what the future may hold for them, they will always respect the way she grabbed the reins of the household.

The most surprising thing about Troy is not anything she does, but in whose world she resides. She is a female character in a Spike Lee movie. Spike is one of my favorite directors, but even I have to admit that his female characters are lacking, to say the least. Troy is not. During the course of time we spend with her, we get a full portrait of what drives and motivates this little girl. Spike has let this young girl dance into our hearts and simply take them over. However, the lion's share of credit for the way in she was portrayed should go to the director's sister Joie. Over the years, she's frequently appeared in her brother's movies, including this one. The twist is that this time around, she has a much bigger role off the screen as she penned the screenplay. It's a wonderful, bittersweet narrative that rings true at nearly every turn.

Despite such an excellent performance at such a tender age, star Zelda Harris has not gone on to a long career as an actress. She would appear as the younger sister of the protagonist in Spike Lee's basketball flick, He Got Game, along with earning a handful of other credits. Her turn as Troy appears to be the high water mark for her. Even if she never again graces our screens, Ms. Harris can hold her head high. She gave us an incredibly strong, and still growing, young woman.


  1. Okay, I'll confess I was not prepared for this but this is great. A little age and racial diversity is very good for this blogathon.

    I've never heard of this movie before, but if your description is anything to go on she certainly sounds like a very good choice. I'm not a huge Spike Lee fan and I'll confess it's a bit hard to imagine a ten-year-old stepping into the shoes of her mother, but if she actually managed to pull that off, well, that's quite the accomplishment on her part.

    1. I guess I fulfilled the less obvious choice request, lol. She's just a great little character. As for the movie as a whole, it's a bit different from most of Spike Lee's catalog. It's one of the lighter movies he's done. He is not known for cute, tender, or bittersweet, all of which describe this movie. Because of that, in my opinion, it's led many to label it one of his weaker efforts. I disagree.