Unbowed recap 1

I decided to begin recapping Unbowed on Valentine’s Day because it’s so rare to find such a beautiful love story on film. This especially true of one that presents a Black woman of African descent and an Indigenous American man as fully realized, complex and complicated human beings with hopes, dreams, joys, and pains of their own. One of them even has a parent and that parent is an integral part of the story.

Just so you know. I have internet, blogging and recapping rust.

DISCLAIMER: Unbowed is the copyright and intellectual property of FILMANTHROPIC and Mildred Lewis. No copyright infringement is intended, only thoughtful discussion. Perhaps a few more people will secure a copy of this marvelous film themselves.

Official synopsis:
In the late 1890s, a generation after the Civil War, Cleola (Tembi Locke), a high spirited student at Beckwourth College, appears to be in step with the rigid society of the American South. She has just become engaged to the most affluent of the students (Richard -played by Chuma Hunter-Gault), when three young Lakota prisoners-of-war are dragged to the College - among them the defiant Warrior, Waka Mani (Jay Tavare).

The arrival of the prisoners upsets the genteel, sheltered environment at Beckwourth. For Junius (Catero Alain Colbert), whose military and personal background has taught him to hate Indians, the intrusion into his carefully ordered world is an outrage.

Shocked by the passion they awaken in each other, Cleola and Waka Mani's love shatters the rules and beliefs that have defined their young lives." 

Let's get started.

We first see a maid and a young boy preparing the dining room table for dinner. Roll credits. A young man is shining his shoes, two young women are getting dressed, strangling themselves into corsets, and two other young men are putting the finishing touches on their own clothing.

Casually, a man opens a drawer to reveal a gun.

The darker of the two young women is seen powdering her face.

Soon after the maid rings the dinner bell, the two emerge from their room. An older, very dark woman, their chaperone, awaits them. Two of the young gentlemen greet the young ladies and takes them by the arm as escorts. The other two gentlemen take up the rear, just in front of the chaperone. Is there a dearth of young women at Beckwourth College?

All of the pretty black people head for the dining room, all smiles. Everyone except the chaperone, that is.

The scene changes. Everyone is seated and we hear the tail end of a discussion. “Our rightful place in society is money. Money is one color. It earns respect.” The little chippy next to him agrees. She’s so into him, it’s unclear if she knows how the real world works or not.

Another male, the Alpha, seated at the head of the table speaks up. “It’s a man’s behavior that earns respect, Junius.” Money lover has a name. Junius Parker (Catero Alain Colbert). “And loyalty,” the Alpha Male continues.

“And a pat on the head,” says another unnamed male. The fourth guy wonders if they should take notes and he’s teased by the second young lady.
It’s then that Junius urges Richard (Chuma Hunter-Gault), the Alpha, to get on with whatever it is he plans to do.

Richard announces that he has an announcement. His companion smiles knowingly. Everyone is grinning from ear-to-ear. Richard stands, takes Cleola Banks (Tembi Locke) by the hand and proposes marriage.

It’s all very sweet. Apparently everyone, except the village idiot Isaac, knew this was coming. After all the hugging, giggling, cheek-kissing, and sputtering, Junius decides that alcohol is warranted and it’s passed around to the young men. The chaperone, Miss Cooper (Fran Bennett), who is seated at a tiny table barely large enough for a small child, notices but says nothing, especially since the young ladies aren't drinking.

With warning, President Duquesne (Ron Glass) enters the room. All the men rise and everyone greets him. Duquesne teases Cleola (this name will kill me) about Richard’s proposal and praises her for overcoming the death of her parents, all in a single breath. Somehow she’s still managed to become a Beckwourth woman, whatever that means. She gladly accepts his kiss on the head.

In a spot of comedy, President Duquesne picks up Richard’s glass to toast the happy couple. Everyone is horrified. Duquesne addresses Cleola with a few words of wisdom that made me want to punch his lights out. “In Richard Singletary III, you not only have a man who will lead your home, but a man who is well on his way to becoming an important Negro leader.” Everyone toasts and congratulates the happy couple. At the same time, Duquesne throws back Richard’s alcohol.

He then congratulates them for something to do with an anniversary. Moving on.

Before he leaves, Miss Cooper clears her throat to remind him of something. For reasons not stated, it’s been decided that the students will take informal classes. Cleola and Miss Pettiford will take fine sewing with Dean Freeman and the men will take the Classics with Professor Satterfield.

Everyone accepts this proclamation without question. Everyone except Cleola. When she tries to get the President’s attention, Richard attempts to shut her down. “I was hoping… I’d rather take Classics to expand upon what I’ve learned this spring.”

Silly girl. Duquesne doesn’t miss a beat. “You’re already our best student, Miss Banks. You don’t need more Classics. You need sewing. Now more than ever.” Does this mean Classics would have been all right had she refused Richard’s proposal?

Cleola tries to compromise by asking if she could do both. Nope. He’s afraid not. Conversation over. Duquesne confiscates the alcohol from Junius and leaves.

He isn’t even out the door before Richard resumes his Alpha role. He leans in close to Cleola. “You really shouldn’t question him, Cleola. You made us both look foolish.” She tries to get in a word, edgewise and fails. “If you’re not sure what to do, just ask. Just ask.” Could he be more condescending?

“I was sure.” Cleola stands her ground.

Richard smiles, they join hands and the scene cuts to the living room/parlor. As before, Junius is with his girl, Miss Pettiford and Cleola is with Richard. The music is annoying, but there are smiles aplenty. Miss Cooper has to use her 12-inch ruler to prevent Junius and his partner from bumping and grinding. At the same time, Cleola and Richard declare their love for one another.

Isaac, the idiot, and the unnamed guy change the music. Unnamed dude forces Isaac to ask Miss Cooper to dance. He claims it’s for “educational purposes.” Secretly happy at being asked, she accepts on those grounds. We learn that Isaac’s surname name is Hancock. Something akin to a special blend of square dancing and swing commences. Miss Cooper’s having a good ol’ time.

It’s all a ruse to allow Cleola and Richard to slither away and bore each other to death. Though Richard’s a fine hunk of man, I prefer one less anal or should I say, “white-washed.”

Miss Cooper’s isn’t fooled for long, prompting Miss “Anna” Pettiford (Michelle Thomas – may she rest in peace) to ask that the happy couple be allowed a moment. Madame Chaperone checks her time piece and agrees to one minute. Anna hugs her.

The minute’s up and the happy couple are just now sharing a chaste kiss. Miss Cooper puts an end to that, you know, just in case they find some chemistry, hot passion. Miss Cooper gets all loud when she bids Richard goodnight. The two younger ladies giggle and depart with Miss Cooper on their heels.

Back in their room, Anna playfully whines about how unfair it is that Cleola will be married with 400 children while she’s still an old maid. Anna has some weird notions about the joys of childbirth. Cleola assures Anna that Junius will propose soon.

Anna leaps to the next topic. “When you kiss Richard, do you get all churned up inside?” Cleola has no idea what she’s talking about “Churned up?” With Richard? Nah. “Yes, you know… feelings.” I think she means wet, moist, at least a little ache.

Cleola says it feels nice. Anna and I are both disappointed. Cleola is clueless. “It feels tingly.” Anna lies and says “Tingly is fine.” There are no big Os in Cleola’s future. Despite this, she loves and intends to marry Richard.

Anna basks in Cleola’s happiness and then comes up with a marvelous plan where her parents stand in, on Cleola’s behalf, at her wedding. Cleola is uncomfortable with the suggestion, but agrees to it anyway.

It’s morning now and Cleola is sneaking down the stairs. Birds are singing happily in the background. At some point she reaches the road and just after she steps on it, a soldier on horseback, two minor soldiers, walking and there Indian (the term used in the movie) prisoners appear. Because she’s a lady, the general tips his hat. Or it could be because he’s weird. Otherwise, he’s actually seeing her as a fully-realized human being.

Enter his Hotness, Jay Tavare as the third prisoner. He takes the time to get a good look at Creola. Not because she’s Black or exotic or strange, but because she’s a beautiful young lady. Check the body language. Before this hunk stops, Cleola’s arms are wrapped around her waist in discomfort. After he stops, she drops her arms, opening herself up to him. That’s chemistry, folks. She’s not about to run. After he’s pulled away, she watches him for a short time. I’d watch that man coming, going and sideways.

In the next scene, an older woman is slaving over boiling laundry. She burns herself in the process. Look closely and you’ll see several scars on her face and body. If slavery technically ended in 1863/1865 and this movie takes place in the 1890s, then it’s likely she had once been enslaved and brutalized.

Cleola suddenly appears at her door. The woman hurries over to ask her what’s wrong. Cleola glances around to make sure they’re alone and says, “Nuttin’ Mama.” She’s not an orphan after all. Now there’s need for Anna’s parents to strain themselves at Cleola’s wedding. Or is there?

“You talk proper!” Mama is hardcore.

Mama checks her burned hand again. Cleola produces a beautiful little flower. The two laugh happily.

Not bad for a dead woman. She gently touches Cleola’s face.

As Mama savors the smell of the flower, Cleola shares the good news that Richard has proposed. Her mother is so happy, she has to sit down. A small gust of wind could knock her over. Kudos to Harriet Winston because she plays this part to the hilt. She effectually showcases a woman whose years and years of hard work and determination are about to pay off.

Mama’s on the verge of tears. Speechless, she barely has enough power to ask “When?” Cleola says they haven’t set the date. Mama encourages her to do it soon, but not too soon because people will think Cleola’s “caught a baby.” They rejoice and hold hands with tears in their eyes.

Obviously, forgetting there was a reason she was pretending to be an orphan, Cleola innocently says that that she wants to tell Richard about Mama, who in turn, tells her not to be foolish and that Richard doesn’t need to know until after the wedding. She touches Cleola’s face again. The dialogue is powerful:

             “Oh Mama, but it’s not honest.” 

Mama humors Cleola. “Ooohhh, you think his family’s got somebody

dark as me, they willing to claim?”

             Cleola tries to interrupt, “They’re not…”

             Mama isn’t living in a fantasy world. She’s forceful now. “Ooohhh, you think he won’t run when he sees somebody piss-po and lowdown...”

           “Mama, he’s not like that.” Cleola has no clue. Mama and I both shake our heads and laugh at her foolishness. 

          “Uppity people like them don’t want to hear about people like us.” Mama laughs again. “He’s a siddity n****r just like your Daddy.” More laughter. 

"Oh Mama, he loves me.”

I can’t say whether or not Cleola deserved to be whacked across the face,  but I’m sure I would have smacked her myself. She didn’t see it coming.

              “Did I ever force you to do something (Cleola’s head is down)… I’m talking to you (Cleola raises her head quickly). Did I ever make you go with a jackleg preacher or… or.. a sick old man. Somebody to pay for some sweet young thing?”
              Creola’s crying. “No, Ma’am.”
              “You know what it takes for me to put you in that place… (she forces Cleola’s chin up with her hand)…so you can meet a man like Mr. Richard? Huh? You marry him!”  
              Mama rises and so does Cleola. 
              “Then he can help us.” Snap!

Poor Cleola is distraught because her brain can’t fully piece together the puzzle known as her mother.

When a nasty ol’ “white man” appears, Mama tells Cleola to return to school. The old man says he needs Erma out front. Mama now has a name and she tells him she’ll be right there. When she notices him sizing up Cleola, who hasn’t left yet, she repeats herself. “I said I’ll be right there, Purdy.” She uses his first name.

“That’s Mr. Purdy,” he says snidely. Though Erma gives him and Cleola the stink eye, he visually molests Creola. He even eases up behind her. “Ain’t that right, gal?” Jackass. “Yes, Sir,” Creola says. Erma jumps in between them, pushes Cleola away and pulls rank on his narrow ass. He backs off, knowing she’d hurt him good. Again Erma uses his name.

Cleola is standing with her hand over her mouth. She finally understands her mother’s plight. Life is different for women who don’t have an acceptable skin tone, acceptable hair, acceptable education, or anything else acceptable. It’s no fairytale. “Mama.”

Erma has no time for that. She stares Cleola down. There’s work to be done, disgusting work that includes Purdy. “He’s where your money comes from,” she says through gritted teeth, verifying the nasty truth for her daughter, who continues to cry. “Don’t come again, let’s just send word.” Translation: Don’t visit. Write a letter.

Erma resumes working. Heartbroken, Cleola leaves in a river of tears. Erma struggles to keep it together.

Back at Beckwourth, the maid runs, ringing a bell loudly. President Duquesne, Junius, Isaac and Lewis (the unnamed one), answer the call. They all see the soldiers and the prisoners. We learn that the horse guy is General Brolin and he and Duquesne, William, know each other. When the two men meet up, they talk. The soldiers remain with the prisoners.

Brolin says the men are thirsty. Duquesne tells Hancock (Issac) to see to it, to see to all the men, including the captives. Junius, in his little school uniform, inspects them and calls them “Savages.” Things get a little testy when Junius is challenged by His Hotness. Before anything happens, Junius jumps away when he notices Isaac and Lewis trying to give the prisoners water. “Soldiers first,” he insists.

“I come back with water.” Hmmm… Lewis. I know you mean well, but seriously. Anyway, Lewis turns to Isaac. “Do you think he understands?”

His Hotness answers. “He understands that he will drink last.”

Lewis is surprised that they speak English. Junius continues his ugly ways as he allows the horse to drink from the pail. “Why not? It’s likely he learned at our expense.” Oh, really?

Junius then gives the water to the first prisoner, who drinks it…after the horse. His Hotness is furious.

Inside the General and the president have a discussion about the Indians remaining as students. Duquesne is against it. Brolin claims they’ve had missionary schooling and are willing to participate in the little experiement. Duquesne gets all uppity and points out that there are schools that “train Indians for trade.” Brolin doesn’t want them trained, he wants them taught. Yes, the “white” man said this. It doesn’t end there. In his mind, the Red man deserves the chance to prove he can be educated beyond basic reading and writing. “It’s the same chance we gave you… not so very long ago.”

Duquesne doesn’t take that well. He’s superior now. In his superiority, he demands to know why Brolin brought those men to Beckwourth. They already need money and Brolin’s $50.00 contribution won’t cut it.

Brolin has ulterior motives. We knew that, right? He withdraws a pouch from around his neck. “…my Daddy shapes up to be three-quarters Cheynne and my Mama was at least a quarter Iroquois.”

“You’re a half-br…” Duquesne loses all of his cool and education. “How did...” Classy. Real classy, educated bro.

Brolin is smug. “We passed. We cut all our ties.” He then tells his family’s story.

Duquesne is disgusted. “Are your superiors aware?” Uppity.

Brolin laughs. Of course not. That isn’t either here or there for Brolin because he’s protected by his cloak of “whiteness.” Anyway, he wants what he wants. “I just want a chance to show that we’re not all blood thirsty savages. It’s my contribution.” So says the passer.

Duquesne calls him out. “Which you want me to make on your behalf?”

Duquesne downs a shot. Brolin holds out his glass. Duquesne puts his down. Brolin pours his drink into that glass and chug-a-lug. I guess this is him proving he’s cool because he drank after a Black man.

Outside, the soldiers, the students and the prisoners are heading towards the entrance of the school. Duquesne and Miss Cooper are there. Brolin is not. Duquesne informs his students that the Indians will be staying on to attend classes and learn how to conduct themselves as gentlemen. Issac the idiot is shocked.

Duquesne then orders the lieutenant to present the prisoners. He introduces them as Jumping Elk, Simon Crow and John Manning.  

“I’m Waka Mani, son of Chithe Waka Mani.” He rejects the missionary name.

The soldier orders him quiet and explains that John Manning is the name he was given by the missionaries and that they are from the Minnesota territory.

“From (Si)Hasapa.” Waka Mani is a force to be reckoned with. Sihasapa means “black foot,” but they are a different from the other Blackfoot nation.

Duquesne knows he has a battle on his hands.

Junius wants to know their crime. The Presidents says they were a part of the renegade attack at Twin Forks. The students are shocked. The Indians are proud.

Duquesne asks Miss Cooper to have Creola and Anna to report to the unseen, unheard Dean Freeman because she knows what needs to be prepared for the captives.

“I’m no man’s captive.” Waka Mani will live and die free.

The soldier jumps at Waka Mani with his rifle, hoping to shut him up permanently. Duquesne calls him off. Waka Mani doesn’t flinch.

The president joins the line and stands next to Waka Mani. He asks him what he wishes to express. He has the decency to call him “Mr. Mani.”

Waka Mani raises his hands. “Liberty or death. Is that only a choice the white man can make?” Preach.

Duquesne orders the students inside. Isaac and Lewis leave. Junius lingers. Simon Crow and Jumping Elk remain rooted in place, looking to Waka Mani for guidance. He tells them in Lakota to go inside.

This small act has big implications and Duquesne decides to squash it right then and there. “There are no chiefs are Beckwourth’s, Mr. Mani. No chiefs. No soldiers. Only students. And respect is not given, it is earned. Now I strongly suggest you try to correct the unfavorable impression I have gained of you.”  

President Duquesne has successfully put his “white” foot forward.

To be continued. 

Cross posted at my tumblr (new), where I have only one follower. *hint hint* :D


  1. You have such a way with words, Hateya. A healthy mix of factualness and hilarity.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the recap.

    1. Thank you so much. I'm looking forward to writing the rest -- after I thaw out. ;)

  2. Thank you. I'm looking forward to the rest.

    1. You're welcome. I've posted the second one. Happy Reading.

  3. I'm just imagining being at a local library, going to a book club and listening to explain this story. Honestly, I'm not big on romance novels, but there have been some rare occasions where I've been interested in a few. Leo is right, you do have a way with words where you can get the most cold person to be alive.

    1. I wish there was a book attached to the movie. I wish I could write it. Romance novels? No. Romance? Yes. Please enjoy the rest of the series. I hope my writing will improve over time; however, recap writing is meant to be short and snappy.

  4. I LOVE it!!! I remember the first time I ever heard of Unbowed was on this blog a year or so ago. After that, I hunted down Filmanthropic and ordered my copy. After 3 weeks of waiting with baited breath, I got to see what all the hype was about. I'm SO glad I have this rare gem in my collection now! I wish there were more like it. Thanks for this well-written recap. It makes me wanna re-watch it! :). Btw, Jay is FOINE!

    1. Re-watch. Re-watch. It's worth every spare moment you have. I ordered mine from a website that supported Jay Tavare right after it was brought to my attention. It cost more, but it was worth it because the proceeds went to to Jay's Adopt-an-Elder charity.

  5. Where can this movie be purchased?

  6. I may purchase another copy of this movie. Simply for support! This film is awesome!!! Btw: this is a different cover version now.

    1. I bough several copies the first time around because half, I think, of the money for one of Jay's charities. Perhaps the Adopt-an-Elder program. I can't hurt to buy more now that it's half the price.

  7. Please continue your recap! You have such a way with words :D

    1. I'm sorry about the delay. It looks as though I'll have a weekend next Monday and Tuesday. Thank you for reading the recaps.


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