"Deconstructing Harry" and "Annie Hall": black characters

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.fan.woody-allen, rec.arts.movies.current-films, rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Tuesday, December 23, 1997 8:42 AM

Maxx <Shane2000@hotmail.com> wrote (under title "Wowed by Woody (who isn't?)") in message <01bd0cfe$d383d220$03b4e3cf@shan>…
>Hazelle Goodman holds the not-so-dubious distinction of being the first
>African-American actress to have a feature role in a film by Woody Allen --
>who has long been criticized for overlooking black actors in his films.
>Goodman, 34, plays a prostitute named Cookie in Allen's latest,
>"Deconstructing Harry."…

Hazelle Goodman's being black, and her character (Cookie) being a sex partner to Woody's character, fits in with Allen's newfound depiction of interracial relationships. Not only is there this black-white tryst, but a younger version of Woody (played by Eric Stolz) has a sexual relationship with a Chinese girl. As he has done before, the real-life Woody seems to invite comparison between his movies and his offscreen life, in this case because of the public knowledge of his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, who's also Oriental.

Cookie being black also makes possible one of the funniest lines in the movie. To repeat it here would spoil one of biggest laugh-getters in the movie, but it turns on race. Those who've seen the movie should recall when Woody brings up the topic of matter expanding (a throwback to "Annie Hall" and "Stardust Memories," where Woody's characters had previously expressed concern with this discovery of Edwin Hubble); it is here that Cookie delightfully misunderstands the terminology of astronomy

In a perplexing moment, Cookie is one of four characters taking a long car trip. With the other three, she passes the time by singing with them "When the Red, Red Robbin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along"--a song long associated with Al Jolson. Was this bit intended as a display of racial unity? Irony? Racial insensitivity? Ignorance of the blackface entertainer?

The screenplay of Woody's "Annie Hall" had also had some black characters, but the scene was cut from the movie before its release twenty years ago.

Early in the screenplay, in the scenes where Alvy (Woody) examines his early life, we were to see his childhood neighborhood. An "interview style" closeup of Alvy's mother was to have her saying: "It's not the same now that 'The Element' has moved in."

Cut then to Alvy. (What follows up through my line of asterisks is quoted from the screenplay.)

Alvy: "The Element. Can you believe that? My mother always was worried that 'the element' would move in. It's like a science-fiction movie."

CUT TO SHOT of movie title beginning, writing on screen.

TITLE: The Invasion of the Element

Shots of a street in Brooklyn. We hear a grim, serious narrator's voice.

Narrator: Little did the small and serene community in Brooklyn realize that they were about to be invaded by -- The Element.

Shot of blacks moving in front moving van, whites are fainting as if it was a sci-fi film.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At this point, the screenplay goes to the schoolroom scene.

MINOR POINT: contrary to what Maxx wrote, it seems inaccurate to me to call Hazelle Goodman "African-American." The official website for the movie states that she is a native of Trinidad. Thus, her African ancestry is indirect, and she cannot be said to be "American" if that word is meant (as it usually is) to mean someone born in the United States.

David Hayes


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