CBS TO PRODUCE 'STOMPIN' AT THE SAVOY:'
THE LIVES OF FOUR YOUNG BLACK WOMEN IN THE 1930s
A True Story of a Southern Black Family's Struggle in New York
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Fifteen years ago, a young African-American woman, Beverly M. Sawyer, wrote a movie based on the stories of her mother and her mother's sisters' lives in Brooklyn, New York. Now the screenplay, "Stompin' at the Savoy," is being produced as a two-hour movie on CBS, starring Lynn Whitfield, Vanessa Williams, Vanessa Bell-Calloway and Jasmine Guy.
Set in 1939, "Stompin' at the Savoy" is the story of four young black women who travel from Hertford, N.C. to New York to find work as live-in domestics. The high point of their week is their day off, when they get dressed up, forget their troubles and go dancing at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York.
"When my mother would tell me the wonderful stories about that time and about the Savoy her eyes would dance," Sawyer says. "So when I saw movies from that period with black actresses portraying domestics whose lives revolved around the lives of their white employers, I knew that was a distortion, a stereotype. My mother and my aunts were young women with their own lives, their own hopes and their own dreams."
"Stompin' at the Savoy" is one of the rare movies that portray those lives and those struggles realistically. It's also unusual in featuring an ensemble cast of four strong black female characters; Pauline (Williams), an aspiring singer, Dorothy (Bell-Calloway), who gets involved with an interracial love affair, Alice (Guy), who dreams of a life of security with the man she loves and Esther (Whitfield) who greedily pursues the American dream.
The movie celebrates the great black swing music and artists of the day: Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy, Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald. "It was the height of the Big Band Jazz era," Sawyer says. "The success of Chick Webb, a diminutive hunchback, and Ella, a orphan, was an inspiration, a symbol of hope for all the poor young black people who came to the Savoy."
Although the script has been in circulation for 15 years, only now is the climate right for it. The recent success of so many black films and filmmakers make Sawyer's film both castable and bankable.
"The hard lives and the hard work of our parents makes it possible for me and people like me to do the work we do," Sawyer said. She believes "Savoy" will prove that there is a wide audience out there for more stories about these unsung black heroes.
Sawyer, a Hollywood screenwriter, has written many screen- and teleplays, everything from gritty, realistic portraits of youth gangs to a TV pilot about a fledgling record company in the '60s. After graduating from the department of film at San Francisco State University, Sawyer began her apprenticeship in the film industry as an assistant film editor at Universal Studios, the company that, coincidentally, is now producing "Stompin' at the Savoy."
/NOTE: Sawyer is available for radio and telephone interviews. Photos from the CBS movie "Stompin' at the Savoy" are available./
/CONTACT: David Arond of East West Public Relations, 800-745-6522/ CO: ST: California IN: ENT SU:
EH-JL -- LA006 -- 9544 02/13/92 08:06 EST