- "The doctor says Erma Jean has hysteria and that she might talk again one day. And she might not. I think before he died, Uncle Pace told Erma Jean something so awful that she can't talk about it. Daddy likes Chicago so much, he left Erma Jean there and came back for the rest of us."
- —Nellie Lee Love
Dear America: Color Me Dark is seventh film in the Dear America series. It is based on Color Me Dark by Patricia C. McKissack. The film aired on February 7, 2000 on the HBO Family Channel. It starred Makyla Smith and Serena Lee as sisters, Nellie Lee and Erma Jean Love.
Following a traumatic event, Nellie Lee's sister Erma Jean stops speaking. Their father takes her to Chicago for treatment. He later decides to move the whole family there.
After the Great War, sisters Nellie Lee (Makyla Smith) and Erma Jean Love are awaiting the arrival of their uncle Pace (Jamie Robinson), a soldier. The sheriff (Barry Kennedy) arrives with a badly beaten Pace later that night. He claims that Pace was drunk and fell asleep on the train tracks, which Nellie Lee protests since he does not drink. Later, the girls are watching over Pace, when he starts to speak. Nellie Lee runs off to fetch their parents. Pace is dead by the time they enter the room and Erma Jean is sobbing uncontrollably.
Erma Jean has hysteria and the doctors say she may or may not speak again. Their father Freeman (Anthony Sherwood) takes her to Chicago for treatment and eventually decides that the whole family should live there now. Nellie Lee and Erma Jean are overjoyed to be together again after several weeks apart. They later become friends with Rosie Hamilton (Barbara Mamabolo), who tells them about their uncle Meese's (Derwin Jordan) nightclub. Nellie Lee has no idea what a nightclub is, though she is immediately interested in seeing it.
Nellie Lee finds the address of the nightclub. She convinces Rosie and Erma Jean to go with her. On the way, they run into their old bully from Tennessee, Tommy Braxton (Telmo Miranda), and head back home. Nellie Lee, not one to be dissuaded, visits the nightclub a few days later though Erma Jean refuses to go with her this time. Upon arriving home, her mother Olive (Alison Sealy-Smith) is waiting for her and demands to know where she has been. Nellie Lee, however, keeps quiet. Olive punishes her by not allowing her to go to the beach with the rest of the family.
The next day, Olive and Erma Jean come running from the beach. Olive explains how a riot broke out when a black boy drifted to the white side of the beach. The two sisters are housebound as they riot continues. They leave the house to retrieve Rosie's cat. Tommy and his gang suddenly surrounds them. Nellie Lee pretends to be a voodoo witch to scare them, which is successful once Erma Jean joins in. That night, she tearfully recounts what happened to Pace to the family, now that her voice has returned. Nellie Lee later remarks that she and her sister "found [their] voices together" in Chicago.
Cast and characters
- Makyla Smith as Nellie Lee Love
- Serena Lee as Erma Jean Love
- Alison Sealy-Smith as Olive Love
- Anthony Sherwood as Freeman Love
- Derwin Jordan as Meese Love
- Jamie Robinson as Pace Love
- Jim Codrington as Reverend Prince McDonald
- Barbara Mamabolo as Rosie Hamilton
- Telmo Miranda as Tommy Braxton
- Barry Kennedy as Sheriff Bell
Crew and credits
Home video releaseColor Me Dark was released on video cassette around 1999 or 2000. It is now available for purchase on various streaming services.
- Back of tape description:
"Nellie Lee Love moves north with her family to Chicago–the land of opportunity–hoping to escape the racism of the rural south. Mama believes a new start will help Nellie Lee's sister Erma Jean, who stopped speaking after a mysterious but horrifying event only she witnessed. Though life in this northern city is exciting, Nellie Lee sees that racism knows no boundaries. When a group of boys threaten Nellie Lee, Erma Jean finds her voice just in time to fend them off. Through the love of their family, both sisters learn that they possess the strength to triumph."
Differences from book
- A few major and minor characters are left out of the film, including Grandma Nessie, William Love, John Willis Love, Thannie Love, Boston Love, and Mother Doris.
- Papa Till and Mrs. Hamilton are mentioned but do not appear.
- Nellie Lee and Erma Jean play "Miss Mary Mack", which is a nod to Nellie Lee teaching it to John Willis in the book.
- In the film, Nellie Lee goes to Meese's nightclub by herself, instead of with Erma Jean.
- Nellie Lee's mother punishes her by not letting her go to the beach. She then does not witness the beginning of the riot, unlike in the book.
- Meese's arm is hurt during the riot, while in the book his employee Mr. Link is injured.
- Nellie Lee threatens Tommy Braxton with "cemetery dirt", which she does to Billy Collins in the book.
- In the book, Erma Jean recovers her voice when she asks her father not to go outside during the riot. She finds her voice while standing up to Tommy Braxton in the film.
- Two Cat belongs to Rosie Hamilton and her mother who came from Mississippi. In the book, they are found Arkansas and Two Cat belongs to Mother Doris.
- Alison Sealy-Smith, who played Olive Love, starred alongside her real-life daughter Makyla Smith. Sealy-Smith also played Aunt Tee in A Picture of Freedom.
|Dear America films|