Alfre Woodard

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The aged, black nurse, Eunice Evers (Alfre Woodward), testifies before the 1973 Senate hearings into the Tuskegee study. Through a series of lengthy flashbacks, her testimony evokes the 1932 origin and four-decade course of a research experiment to study but not treat syphilis in the black men of Macon County, Alabama. The federally funded project began with the intent to treat the men, but when funds dried up, the project coordinators decided simply to document the course of the disease to discover if blacks responded to syphilis as did whites.

The nurse was deeply attached to the patients and they, to her; a Dixie band named itself "Miss Evers' Boys." Evers and her doctor supervisor (Joe Morton) hoped that treatment would be restored after a few months, but ten years pass. With the advent of penicillin in 1942, her intelligent lover Caleb (Laurence Fishburne) rebelled, took penicillin, and enlisted in the army; the project, however, continues.

Evers is disbelieving when she realizes that the men will not be treated, but she cannot abandon them. Against the advice of her father, she refuses to leave Alabama with Caleb and continues to participate in the lie that encourages the Tuskegee men to remain untreated into the late 1960s. One by one Miss Evers' Boys die or are disabled by the disease.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


May-Alice Culhane (Mary McDonnell) is a daytime soap opera star who is struck by a taxi in New York and wakes up in a hospital paralyzed from the waist down. Upset and bitter, and unable to continue acting, which she says is the only thing she was ever good at, she returns to her Louisiana bayou family home to begin the rest of her life in isolation.

An employment agency sends out a string of helpers. Some are better than others, but all are quickly defeated by May-Alice’s deep bitterness and negativity and her incipient alcoholism. Then comes Chantelle (Alfre Woodard), who needs the job so badly, as part of digging herself out from a cocaine addiction, that her determination makes her a match for May-Alice.

It is decidedly bumpy going, but Chantelle persists and May-Alice finally strops drinking and begins to make some progress in physical therapy. She takes up black-and-white photography, developing her own prints from her wheelchair, and she gratefully receives the gentlemanly attentions of her high school idol Rennie, played by David Strathairn. (The film takes its title from a practice that locals believe can make love-wishes come true.)

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