Making the Grades
This film is African-American Maya Angelou's first attempt at directing a feature film... at the age of 70 and with a paltry $3 million budget. Angelou's familiarity with the trials of her characters makes this story natural and compelling. A single mom at 16, Angelou doesn't need to guess what her characters are feeling. Like Loretta, the lead character of Down In The Delta, Angelou put her life together and today is recognized as a poet, author, Emmy nominated actress, and has associated with Martin Luther King and many U.S. presidents.
Angelou's decades of wisdom flow through the performances in this story. Loretta (Alfre Woodward) is a young single mother of two children living in the Chicago housing projects with her mother Rosa Lynn (Mary Alice). Existing on a diet of alcohol and drugs, Loretta keeps her "baby" girl in a crib with a bottle of milk and cola, while she sleeps off her dependencies.
Wanting life to be better for her family, Loretta's mother gives her an ultimatum: Agree to live with her Uncle Earl (Al Freeman Jr.) at the family home on the Mississippi Delta, or Rosa Lynn calls child welfare. Loretta starts packing. But for Uncle Earl, taking his niece and two children for the summer won't be easy. He's already caring for his aging wife, a victim of Alzheimer's, and running a restaurant. However, his obligations to family run deep, and he's no stranger to hard work.
Down in the delta, Loretta discovers the stock she is made from. Finding her family's roots, and having Uncle Earl relate stories from their heritage gives her the courage to realize she is capable of changing her life, just as her ancestors did after the abolishment of slavery.
Drugs and alcohol are predominant in early scenes, but in the motherly way this film is chronicled, they are shown to be destructive habits. Loretta still squanders a cigarette addiction, but we are left feeling that, like Angelou, we have only seen the tip of Loretta's potential.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Down In The Delta.
Finding our families “roots” is, at the very least, interesting. Prior to coming back to the delta, Loretta had no dreams or goals. How does learning about her family’s past help to construct a vision for her future?