At the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, Miriam, a white mother, hires Odessa a black maid, and the two begin a work relationship. But as black people strike against the uses and Miriam has to work harder around the house she comes to respect Odessa in a new light.
The wave of Civil Rights-themed dramas made after Mississippi Burning didnt get very far, and after drawing scarcely a look-in in the US, this nice womens picture teaming two Oscar-winning actresses in 1990 was left on the shelf, finally emerging on video only. This is not altogether surprising despite some gripping moments. Taking for its background the historic black bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955-56, the story is something like a cross between Driving Miss Daisy and A World Apart.
Sissy Spacek is Miriam Thompson, well-heeled Southern belle who spends her days at luncheons and womens club meetings. Whoopi Goldberg is Odessa Cotter, one of her maids, who is close to Miriams little daughter. Everyone knows her place in the scheme of segregated things until one day late in 1955 a weary working woman named Rosa Parks declines to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. Mrs Parks went to jail, and in an act of solidarity that proved the first stop on a long hard road, the black community said Enough, refusing to ride the segregated buses.
Odessa becomes one of the 50,000 who walks to work, an exhausting business that provokes the inconvenienced Miriam into grudgingly driving to pick her up. Miriams bossy husband freaks out, and life will never be the same again for any of them. As emphasised by the narration of the grown daughter looking back (voiced by a third Oscar alumna, Mary Steenburgen), it is Miriams need to be herself rather than her husbands handmaiden that makes her gradually relate to Odessa as another kind of oppressed woman.
But her transformation into right-on Queen of the Black Car Pools is not entirely successful, and as in Driving Miss Daisy the friendship between the two principals is fundementally little more than the relationship of well-meaning employer to loyal domestic. Whats far more interesting is the picture of Odessas family and the black community, inspired by impassioned ministers at electrifying church assemblies with the kind of faith and strength demonstrated in the moving climax. Thus while Spaceks playing is attractive, her problems and personal awakening take the back seat with the restrained, excellent Whoopi definitely in the drivers seat.
Like 'Driving Miss Daisy' this deals with a white employer and a black servant in the times of revolution, not only that but in both films it's a jaded view with the servant being loyal and not a 'friend'. Besides that small problem, it's a moving film with a steady performance from Spacek, but by the end it has definitely become Goldberg's film.