Cora Unashamed a Synopsis and Review

Cora Unashamed is a 2000 movie based on the short story by Langston Hughes.

Spoilers Following!!

The film begins in 1916 Melton, Iowa. Cora is in labor. After she delivers the baby her mother tells her, “Ain’t no good come out of white and colored love, Cora” Cora has just given birth to a bi-racial baby. Instead of letting her mother's words upset her she says, “We don’t care what anyone says, we don’t care at all.” She names the baby Josephine “After her daddy Joe”

Cora is a loving and engaging mother who works as a maid and nanny taking care of a white child named Jessie Studevant.

Jessie Studevant
Cora is a black woman named in a small town. She has put off many of her dreams. She wanted to be a writer but had to leave to work. Her daughter Josephine also has a love for words. She constantly asks Cora what certain words mean. Cora tells Josephine that she'll be able to go to school in the fall with Jessie.

Grandmother and Josephine
Three Generations

Although Cora’s mother expresses dismay about Josephine being bi-racial at the start of the film she holds no grudge towards Josephine at all and i very sweet towards her.

During a conversation we find out that Cora’s mother and father were to only colored folk to settle in the town of Melton. Their family has been working for the same family ever since then. Cora had siblings but 
they all left Melton because there is no work for colored boys and her sister left because “she wasn't a keep quiet type of person”

The film utilizes flashbacks to introduce us to Joe, Cora's lover and Josephine's father. It is evident the pair love each other deeply. So I have to wonder why he isn't there. We don't learn why he isn't with Cora until the end of the film. 

I noticed that Josephine has an incessant cough. After watching hundreds of in period films I knew what that meant. Death.

The scene were Josephine dies is heart wrenching so keep a box of Kleenex nearby when you watch this.

After this she is gets angry and numb to the world.She gets angry with God. She couldn't be with Joe and now he’s taken her baby away too. She makes a turning point when she returns to work and continues caring for Jessie. 

Jessie finds an old ribbon of Josephine and wants Cora to put it in her hair. I think this is Jessie saying I’ll be Josephine if you want me to be. But Cora says “No you’re Jessie and I love you.”

Cora tells Jessie that, “ After Josephine died I thought my heart was empty and alone. I didn't want to feel anything again. But you made me feel again. I love you Jessie” 

Jessie's mother is very blunt and harsh towards her children expecting perfection. She constantly belittles Jessie. One day Cora tells Jessie that she has to “look up at the clouds. You have to rise above the words. That way there isn't anyone that can hurt you. So that there isn't anything anyone can say to bruise your soul . Rise up like a cloud and drift away. Leave the words behind that way they can’t ever hurt you. “

After more flashbacks we have learnt that Joe is from California and is part of a union. Because of his membership many consider him a Communist.  Because of this he must keep his guard up as he could be arrested at any moment. This is how Cora and Joe part. He has to run in the middle of the night because he has a warrant out for his arrest. They never see each other again.

It is 1934 and Jessie is now a teen.

 She is dating a Greek boy that her mother does not approve of. Jessie becomes pregnant, much to her mother's dismay. Mrs Studevant makes Jessie get an abortion. After the abortion Jessie becomes ill from infection. During this time Mrs. Studevant and Cora's relationship becomes rocky. Cora is not allowed to care for Jessie until the night before Jessie dies. 

After Jessie's death Cora's anger at the situation reaches a boiling point. She reveals everything about the secret abortion in front of Jessie's casket at the funeral. 

Mr. Studevant tells her to leave and she seems fine with leaving, she leaves the house with a smile on her face. To me this smile suggest that she is happy with her decision to tell the truth and is not planning to return to the house to work. It ends here.

I enjoyed this film. Everything was cohesive and fit the correct period. This was done by Masterpiece Theater so no surprise there. This story was not sugar coated at all. Which I appreciate. All of the actors were amazing. I caught myself crying more than once. The story is tragic and sweet and painful and beautiful. I recommend it.

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  1. CORRECTION: Mr. Studevent does not tell Cora to leave. He's telling those trying to silence her, "LEAVE HER ALONE!" His silence and refusal to stand up to his wife helped contribute to Jessie's death. Cora speaks out for Jessie and finally, painfully, Mr. Studevent faces the harsh truth of Jessie's death by standing with and defending Cora.

    1. Interesting! I'm going to rewatch the scene. Because your comment adds more layers to the film.

      Thanks for commenting!


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