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An Original Screenplay
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EXT. POST OFFICE - DAY TOWNSFOLK gather outside an old post office, a redbrick building in the town square. By their dress we know it’s the 1960s. Confederate flags tell us we’re in the Deep South. As black and white people sit in fold-out chairs, we favor THREE WOMEN - one in her seventies, another in her mid-forties and the third, mixed-race and elegant, in her late-thirties, with her young black son. They sit in the front row. A sedan with Confederate and American flags fluttering pulls to a stop and a state trooper opens the door. A MAN in a dark suit gets out. We see only glimpses of him - hands, mouth, weary eyes - but a buzz of puzzlement and surprise follow him as he walks slowly up the aisle. He sits in the front row, across the aisle from the three women. The women meet his eyes with a mixture of disdain and curiosity. DISSOLVE TO: INT. FISHER HOME, KITCHEN - DAY IDA MAE, a heavyset black woman of about forty, hums a hymn as she peels apples. A BABY in a high chair licks sugar from her fingers. We hear a woman’s sweet southern voice approaching. WOMAN’S VOICE (O.S.) Ida Mae, I need Mabel to go -The woman, (MRS. FISHER) pretty, early thirties, enters and reacts. MRS. FISHER Oh, Ida Mae! How many times have I told you? I don’t want Jenny -She wipes the baby’s hands and mouth with a towel. IDA MAE Ain’t gon’ hurt her none, Miss Juliette. Jus’ a little sumpin’ sweet. MRS. FISHER Nevertheless, you know I don’t want her having sugar or molasses.
IDA MAE Yessum. MRS. FISHER I need Mabel to hurry to the post office. The Colonel is expecting a very important letter. IDA MAE I’ll send her directly then. Ida Mae puts her knife down. On her way to the back door, she gives the baby an apple slice and a smile. EXT. BACK PORCH - CONTINUOUS Ida Mae steps out of what we now see is a nice home. Shouts toward a decrepit shack at the far end of a wooded back yard. IDA MAE Mabel! EXT. BEHIND SHACK - CONTINUOUS CLOSE ON the pretty face of a brown-skinned girl, her doe eyes staring straight at us. IDA MAE (O.S.) MABEL! PULL BACK to reveal MABEL lying on the ground, gazing at the sky. She gets up and walks around the shack toward the house. In a threadbare dress, we see in the fifteen-year-old the beginning of a truly beautiful woman. MABEL Comin’, Mamma! EXT. BACK PORCH - CONTINUOUS Ida Mae waits impatiently. IDA MAE Get a move on, girl! Miss Juliette need you down to the post office to fetch a letter for the Colonel.
MABEL Yes, ma’am. IDA MAE What you frownin’ ’bout? MABEL I ain’t frownin’, Mamma. Mabel starts toward the front of the house. IDA MAE Where you goin’?! MABEL To the post office, like you told me. IDA MAE Get that bicycle. MABEL But Mamma, the gulch way is shorter. I’ll get there faster if I walk. IDA MAE Chile, what sense do that make? MABEL I can’t ride the bicycle through -IDA MAE Miss Juliette give you that bicycle to run errands! You go on and get it and get a move on! Mabel sighs heavily, gets the bicycle from against the porch. She rides away with Ida Mae looking after her. EXT. COUNTRY ROAD - DAY Mabel rides along a secluded road. EXT. POST OFFICE - DAY The same post office from our opening scene only it’s new. Mabel rides up and jumps off the bicycle. Goes inside.
INT. POST OFFICE - CONTINUOUS Mabel stands in the "colored" line. At the window, she’s greeted by a a BESPECTACLED CLERK. BESPECTACLED CLERK Well, hello Mabel. MABEL Hello, Mr. Dellums. The Colonel’s expectin’ a letter. The clerk goes for the mail. As Mabel waits, across the room a BLACK YOUTH, about nineteen, tall, lean and dark, sweeps the floor. Or pretends to. He can’t take his eyes off Mabel. POST OFFICE MANAGER Boy, we payin’ you to push that broom, not lean on it. BLACK YOUTH Y-Y-Yessir, Mr. B-B-Baker. The boy hops to it. Meanwhile, the clerk has returned. BESPECTACLED CLERK Here you are, Mabel. Give my best to the Colonel and Mrs. Fisher. MABEL I will, Mr. Dellums. EXT. POST OFFICE - CONTINUOUS Mabel goes to her bicycle, puts the mail in the basket. An old woman, MRS. BEATTY, stops on her way inside. MRS. BEATTY Mabel, darling! MABEL Hello, Miss Beatty. How are you today? MRS. BEATTY Oh, I’m fine, dear. ’Cept for my arthritis actin’ up on me every once in a while. How’s your grandmamma?
MABEL She’s doing good. Bakin’ an apple pie today. MRS. BEATTY Isn’t that nice. No better apple pie in all the county than Ida Mae’s. A MAN comes out of the post office. MAN Afternoon, Mrs. Beatty. And hello, Mabel. MABEL Hello, Mr. Campbell. MAN Why Mabel, look at how much you’ve grown. How long has it been since you sang us a song? MRS. BEATTY That would be a treat, wouldn’t it? MABEL Oh, but Miss Juliette is expecting this mail right away. MISS ROBBINS, a young school teacher, stops on the steps. MISS ROBBINS Good afternoon, Mrs. Beatty, Mr. Campbell. And hello there, Mabel. MABEL Hi, Miss Robbins. MISS ROBBINS Are you enjoying your summer? MABEL Yes, ma’am. MISS ROBBINS You’re keeping up with your arithmetic, I hope? MABEL Yes, Miss Robbins.
MISS ROBBINS Mabel was just about to sing for us. MISS ROBBINS Oh how nice! MABEL But -MAN Come on, sweetheart. Sing us a song. ANOTHER CUSTOMER Yeah, Mabel. Sing. Mabel leans the bicycle on the steps. She has the voice of an angel. Postal customers gather round to hear her. Then other passersby. No one is more enchanted than the black youth, who views her through a window. When she’s finished people give her coins. Such a sweet girl; such a beautiful voice. Mabel thanks them, climbs on the bicycle. Pedals away through the town square. EXT. COUNTRY ROAD - LATE AFTERNOON Four WHITE YOUTHS, nineteen or twenty years old, pass a bottle of whiskey on the side of the road. Two of the boys CLAUDE AND CLARENCE - are redheaded twins. CLARENCE No damn way Schmeling could ever beat Tunney. CLAUDE Guess we’ll never find out now, will we? BOBBY It woulda been a good one though. Damn! Why’d ol’ Tunney have to go and retire? HARRY Well anybody that could whup Jack Dempsey twice has got to be the greatest there ever was.
CLARENCE Or ever will be. For my money, that’s for damn sho’. BOBBY What money? Boy, you ain’t got no money! The boys guffaw. Until Claude gets their attention. Mabel’s riding toward them. She sees Claude say something to the boys and his malevolent grin. She steels herself and pedals on. Claude takes a swig of whiskey and leads the boys out to the road, blocking Mabel. CLAUDE Girl, where you think you goin’? MABEL I been to the post office for Colonel Fisher. He be mighty upset if I don’t get him his mail right away. The boys circle her. She covers her fear. CLAUDE I hear Miss Juliette done stopped performin’ her wifely duties on account of the baby... Y’all boys think ol’ Colonel Fisher doin’ without? CLARENCE Hell no! War hero like that. HARRY He killed fifteen Krauts in the war. BOBBY Probably fucked at least that many French whores while he was over there. Some of ’em niggers, I bet. The boys ogle her. Mabel tries to pedal away. Claude grabs the handlebars. MABEL Let me go!
HARRY She ain’t French, but looky here -He touches Mabel’s butt. She slaps his hand away. MABEL Stop it! CLAUDE (hissing in her face) Who you think you talkin’ to, girl?! Didn’t you grandmamma teach you better than to talk to a white man like that? CLARENCE Maybe she think she special ’cause the Colonel’s pokin’ her. Little whore. MABEL Please, just let me go -Clarence clutches her throat. CLAUDE Is that it, you think you some sort of special nigga? Huh? MABEL (struggling to breathe) Stop... Let me go...please. CLAUDE I’ll show you how special you are. Claude lifts her off the bicycle. Mabel kicks and screams, fighting, biting, clawing furiously as the boys drag her into the woods. HOLD on the bicycle... INT. ABANDONED CABIN - LATER Mabel, gagged and crying, is held on a table by Bobby and Harry while Claude rapes her. When he’s done he steps back, lifts his pants. CLAUDE Go on, Clarence. You’re next.
Clarence excitedly drops his trousers. He fumbles around, trying to keep her legs spread, when - BAM! - the cabin door bursts open. The white boys turn around, shocked to see the black youth from the post office. They’re even more surprised when he lunges at them, attacking with all his might. Mabel rolls off the table and crawls to a corner, watching as the white boys rally and begin getting the best of the black youth. They begin beating him savagely. MABEL Stop it! Stop it! Mabel lunges at the nearest white boy, swinging and scratching wildly. Harry grabs her hair and viciously slaps her face. HARRY You filthy nigger whore! Still holding her hair, he throws her onto the table, turns her on her stomach and lifts her dress as he undoes his pants. Mable screams out. The black youth, in a heap on the floor, spots an AX next to the door. Harry is about to rape Mabel when the other white boys shout in alarm. Harry turns his head just as the ax head lands squarely between his shoulder blades. Blood shoots from his back like a geyser. But the black youth isn’t done yet. The white boys try to fight back, but the black teenager wields the ax like a man possessed. The ax comes down, SEVERING a hand - we see Bobby HOWL in anguish. Claude grabs him and drags him out the door. Clarence shoves the table in front of the black youth and makes a run for it too. EXT. ABANDONED CABIN - CONTINUOUS Claude runs through the woods with a screaming Bobby. Clarence follows. The black youth flings the ax on the run. It catches Clarence in the back of the head. He falls to the ground, DEAD. The black teenager watches as Claude and Bobby escape. INT. ABANDONED CABIN - CONTINUOUS Mabel is on her knees, looking into Harry’s lifeless eyes. She shifts her gaze to Bobby’s bloody hand. She’s startled when the black teen returns.
BLACK YOUTH C-C-C’mon, Mabel. We g-g-gots to go. She looks up at his outstretched hand, now so gentle. She takes it and he helps her to her feet. EXT. COUNTRY ROAD - LATE AFTERNOON The black teenager leads Mabel back to the road. He helps her on the bicycle. She’s still in shock. BLACK YOUTH You g-g-gots to go home, M-M-Mable. MABEL But...what about you? When they find out -She can’t even bring herself to think about it. BLACK YOUTH D-D-Don’t you worry ’bout m-m-me. Now gets to g-g-goin’! Mabel is about to pedal off. The boy sees a letter on the ground. He puts it in her bicycle basket. Their eyes meet. MABEL Henry... BLACK YOUTH Go! He pushes the back of her seat, shoving her off. Watches as she picks up speed, pedalling away faster and faster. Sure she’s on her way, he looks around, then runs into the woods. EXT. SHACK - DUSK Mabel rides into the backyard, jumps off the bicycle and lets it crash into the side of the shack. Hurries inside. INT. FISHER HOME, DINING ROOM - SAME Ida Mae is serving dinner to Mrs. Fisher and her husband, the taciturn, fortyish COLONEL FISHER. They react to the sound of the bicycle crash. Ida Mae is more than a little embarrassed.
IDA MAE That girl shoulda been here a hour ago. I’ll just go get that letter of yours, Colonel. The Colonel nods then reaches for the salt. INT. SHACK - CONTINUOUS Two cramped rooms. No sign of electricity or running water. Mabel lay curled on a thin mattress on the floor, fighting tears. Ida Mae enters, sees her lying there. IDA MAE Girl, where you been?! Miss Juliette done been askin’ ’bout you! Mabel begins to wail. Ida Mae is at first taken aback, then realizes something horrible has happened. She takes the girl in her arms, comforts her. IDA MAE Now, now, chile. Tell grandmamma what happened. It takes a few moments for Mabel to gather herself. MABEL On Seller’s Road... Claude and Clarence Peppers...and two other white boys... They... Ida Mae holds her tight, not needing to hear the rest to know. Now, she too is in tears. IDA MAE Oh, Lord, what have they done to my baby? Oh my Lord! INT. FISHER HOME, DINING ROOM - LATER Ida Mae returns with an APPLE PIE. She puts it on the table and starts cutting. COLONEL FISHER Ida Mae, I’ve been waiting all day for this moment. You make the best apple pie in all South Carolina, maybe the whole South.
IDA MAE Thank you. She pulls the letter from her apron. Sets it on the table. IDA MAE Here that letter you was expectin’. COLONEL FISHER Thank you, Ida Mae. INT. SHACK - NIGHT Ida Mae bathes Mabel by candlelight from a wash basin, puts a clean nightgown on her and lays her down on the thin mattress. She pulls a blanket up to her chest. MABEL Mamma, what about Henry Stubbs and what he done to them boys? IDA MAE Don’t you worry your head none about none of them. You hear? You just go to sleep now. Here... Ida Mae holds a cup to her lips and Mabel drinks. She grimaces but drinks more at Ida Mae’s urging. Ida Mae strokes Mabel’s forehead. Mabel closes her eyes to sleep.
EXT. FISHER HOME - MORNING A Model T Ford is parked out front, a police officer leaning casually against it. INT. FISHER HOME, FOYER - MORNING Colonel and Mrs. Fisher talk to the SHERIFF, a weary, white-haired man of about sixty. SHERIFF I’m awfully sorry to have to wake you folks with this kind of news. MRS. FISHER You can’t really believe Mabel had anything to do with any of this!
COLONEL FISHER Now, Juliette, calm down. SHERIFF The Peppers boy was very explicit, Miss Juliette. The girl, Mabel, led the boys into the woods to the old Vickers cabin and... (delicately) ...after they were done, the Stubbs boy attacked Claude and the others when they wouldn’t pay him. MRS. FISHER That’s utterly absurd! COLONEL FISHER Juliette -MRS. FISHER Jeffrey, we’ve known Mabel since she was practically a baby! She would never do such a thing! COLONEL FISHER Juliette, get a hold of yourself. INT. FISHER HOME, KITCHEN - SAME Ida Mae listens at the door. SHERIFF (O.S.) With two boys dead and another maimed, and the Stubbs boy nowhere to be found, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to take the girl in for questioning. COLONEL FISHER (O.S.) Of course, Sheriff. We understand. MRS. FISHER (O.S.) Jeffrey! COLONEL FISHER (O.S.) Juliette, the sheriff has a job to do. Ida Mae hurries out the back door.
INT. FISHER HOME, FOYER - SAME SHERIFF Me and my deputy’ll just go ’round back for her. MRS. FISHER No! Let me bring her, Sheriff. The Sheriff and the Colonel give her a look. MRS. FISHER I’m sure none of us wants this to be any more difficult than need be. INT. SHACK - MINUTES LATER Mrs. Fisher enters to find Ida Mae hurriedly dressing a frightened Mabel. IDA MAE Miss Juliette, my Mabel ain’t done what those white boys say she did! You know she ain’t! MRS. FISHER Yes, I know, Ida Mae. MABEL Miss Juliette, Henry just tried to stop them. They beat him something terrible. MRS. FISHER Yes, dear, I know. INT. FISHER HOME, FOYER - LATER The Colonel and the Sheriff wait. Mrs. Fisher comes from the kitchen. MRS. FISHER She’s gone! COLONEL FISHER What? MRS. FISHER Mabel! She’s gone!
SHERIFF How? When? MRS. FISHER Ida Mae said she woke up this morning and found this. She hands him a note. As he reads: MRS. FISHER Mabel ran off in the middle of the night. To Atlanta. She was afraid of what those boys will do to her if she stays in town. COLONEL FISHER Atlanta?! SHERIFF She can’t have gotten far. And she can’t get all the way there without help along the way. Miss Juliette, I’m gonna have to speak to Ida Mae. INT. FISHER HOME, KITCHEN - MOMENTS LATER The Colonel and Mrs. Fisher listen as the sheriff interrogates Ida Mae. EXT./INT. SHACK - SAME The DEPUTY walks around the shack, looking for clues of Mabel’s whereabouts. He goes inside the shack. It’s empty. EXT. FISHER HOME - DAY The sheriff tips his hat goodbye to the Colonel and Mrs. Fisher and goes to the car, where the deputy waits. The Fishers watch them drive off then close the door. INT. FISHER HOME, NURSERY - SAME Mabel watches from behind a shaded window as the Ford rumbles out of the dirt yard and onto the country road.
INT. SHACK - DAY Ida Mae is packing a small suitcase as Mabel stands by. EXT. FISHER HOME - DAY At the front door, Mrs. Fisher holds baby Jenny in her arms and they both give the Colonel a kiss goodbye. He goes to a Chevy pickup with "Fisher Textiles" on the side, gets in and drives off. Mrs. Fisher waves as the truck turns onto the country road. INT. SHACK - DAY Mabel is crying her eyes out in her Sunday dress. MABEL But Mamma, I don’t want to go! I’m scared! IDA MAE Them white boys will try an’ take you lower than they already has, and ain’t nothin’ me or Miss Juliette or even the Colonel himself can do ’bout it if you stays here. MABEL I don’t want to be without you! Ida Mae takes her in her big arms, holds her close. IDA MAE Now you hush, chile. Yo Mamma gon’ always be with you. Whenever you gets scared or lonely, you just remember us just like this now. I won’t never let you go, baby. Ida Mae wipes the tears from Mabel’s face then leads her out of the shack. INT. CAR - MOVING - DAY Mrs. Fisher drives. As the car turns onto the road, Mabel looks back at Ida Mae in the front yard, holding baby Jenny.
17. INT. CAR - MOVING - LATER Mrs. Fisher and Mabel have driven for a long time. MRS. FISHER My cousin Beatrice will be expectin’ you in a day or two. You’ll help look after her girls and cook and clean. MABEL Yes ma’am. MRS. FISHER New York is a big, confusin’ place, but I’ve written down the address and put it in your suitcase. Show it to a porter at the station. MABEL Yes ma’am. MRS. FISHER Now Mabel, Beatrice says the Negroes up there can be uppity. She won’t stand for that. Understand? MABEL Yes ma’am. INT. TRAIN DEPOT - DAY Mrs. Fisher and Mabel make their way through the depot. We hear an announcement for the train to New York. Mrs. Fisher takes an ENVELOPE from her purse and hands it to Mabel. MRS. FISHER Beatrice won’t be able to pay you much, if anything, so this is so you won’t go without. MABEL Miss Juliette! MRS. FISHER Your grandmother packed some of my jewelry in your suitcase. The Jewish people will give you money for it. Not near what it’s worth they can’t help it, that’s just how they are - but you can sell it to them in an emergency. Understand?
MABEL Yes ma’am. CONDUCTOR (O.S.) ALL ABOARD! Mrs. Fisher looks at Mabel, smiles to give her courage and touches her face with a white-gloved hand. MRS. FISHER Now you be a good girl, Mabel. MABEL Yes ma’am... Thank you, Miss Juliette. INT. TRAIN, COLORED CAR - MOVING - DUSK Travelers in the crowded car doze or play cards or speak in hushed tones. We find Mabel fighting sleep, clutching her suitcase to her chest. A distinguished black man in his thirties sits across from her. This is DR. DOUGLAS. He smiles pleasantly at Mabel and others seated nearby. DR. DOUGLAS This your first trip North, young lady? CITY WOMAN You mean you cain’t tell? Mabel looks at the CITY WOMAN, dressed in fancy city clothes. CITY WOMAN The way she clutchin’ that suitcase, you think she think all us black folks a bunch of thieves. MABEL I don’t think any such thing! CITY WOMAN Well look it there, she speaks. DR. DOUGLAS Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a young lady being careful. (to city woman) Surely you would know that, Miss.
19. The woman smirks, goes back to minding her own business. DR. DOUGLAS So, is this your first trip North? MABEL (hesitant) Yes sir. DR. DOUGLAS Oh, I beg your pardon. I’m Dr. Douglas. He holds out his hand. She looks at it for a beat. They shake. He smiles. DR. DOUGLAS Goin’ all the way to New York? MABEL Yes. DR. DOUGLAS So are me and my wife. Harlem to be exact. That where you’re headed? MABEL No sir...jus’ New York City. DR. DOUGLAS (chortles) I see. You have family there? MABEL I’m goin’ to work for Miss Juli for Miss Beatrice Simms. She like family. DR. DOUGLAS Well then, aren’t you a lucky one. MABEL You said you and your wife was goin’ to...Harlem? DR. DOUGLAS That’s right. MABEL Where is she? Your wife. He looks back to a WOMAN at the far end of the crowded compartment. He gives her a small wave and smile.
20. DR. DOUGLAS They don’t figure black folks need to travel with their families like white folks do. He smiles. Mabel seems to understand. INT. TRAIN, COLORED CAR - MOVING - NIGHT Through the evening, Dr. Douglas regales Mabel with tales of Harlem. DR. DOUGLAS Up in Harlem, colored folks can do whatever they set their minds to. Singin’, dancin’, fixing cars, fixin’ hair. In Harlem anything’s possible. Whatever you want to do you can do, Mabel. MABEL Me? INT. TRAIN, COLORED CAR - MOVING - DAWN Mabel wakes in her seat, alarmed that her suitcase is not clutched to her chest. She looks around and breathes a sigh of relief to find it on the floor next to her. Then she notices Dr. Douglas, smiling pleasantly at her. DR. DOUGLAS Good morning, young lady. MABEL Good morning, Dr. Douglas. INT. GRAND CENTRAL - DAY Mabel steps off the train into a whole new world. More people than she’s ever seen, seemingly going everywhere and nowhere at once. She tries to get a porter’s attention but white passengers are far more valuable. She’s overwhelmed. Dr. Douglas appears through the crowd like a life buoy. DR. DOUGLAS Young lady, you doing all right? MABEL Oh, hello, Dr. Douglas. Is it like this everywhere in New York?
21. DR. DOUGLAS ’Fraid so. Need help finding a porter? MABEL Miss Juliette said they could tell me how to get to Miss Beatrice’s. But I can’t get none of them to notice me. DR. DOUGLAS Come over here and have a seat. I’ll go and get one for you. MABEL Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that. I’m sure you and Mrs. Douglas want to be on your way. DR. DOUGLAS It’s all right, young lady. Just you wait right here. She sits on a bench. He starts to go then turns back to her. DR. DOUGLAS Porters make their money by the number of bags they carry. I’ll have better luck getting one over here if they know you have a bag to tote. He looks at her and then at her bag. DR. DOUGLAS Now young lady, I hope you know by now that you can trust me. MABEL You won’t be long? DR. DOUGLAS (his pleasant smile) Not long at all. Mabel reluctantly hands him her bag. He wades into the masses. A moment later Mabel spies Dr. Douglas’ wife standing nearby looking for someone. Mabel goes to her. MABEL Mrs. Douglas! Mrs. Douglas! Mabel taps her on the shoulder. She looks blankly at Mabel.
MABEL Hello, Mrs. Douglas. Your husband will be right back. He went to find a porter who could help me. WOMAN What’s that, honey? MABEL Your husband. He’ll be right back. WOMAN Husband? Honey, I ain’t got no husband. MABEL But he just went to -Mabel stares into the sea of people. WOMAN (O.S.) Honey, are you alright? Honey? Mabel begins pushing her way through the crowd. MABEL Dr. Douglas! Dr. Douglas! Finally, she catches a glimpse of him. He’s with the city woman. They walk out of the terminal together. OFF Mabel’s devastation... INT. FLOPHOUSE / BATHROOM - DAY A bleak residence hall with dingy, flea-ridden cots. We hear SCRUBBING. Find Mabel, looking worse for the wear, and a black teenager, Bernice, on their knees washing the bathroom floor. BERNICE Come with me, girl. Freida say she got a man that’ll get us in for free. We won’t have to pay for drinks, food, nothin’. MABEL I need to finish writing a letter to Mamma. Besides, I ain’t got nothin’ to wear to no Savoy.
23. BERNICE You got that one dress. C’mon, Mabel. It’s Christmas time. We hear FOOTSTEPS. The girls get to scrubbing harder. The MATRON, a thin black woman, stands over them. MATRON You ain’t here to beat your gums. Get to scrubbin’ or I’ll give them beds to somebody that knows how. INT. FLOPHOUSE - DUSK Down on their luck black women of all ages talk, braid each others hair, sleep. Mabel is on a cot writing a letter. We see enough of what she’s written to know she’s giving Ida Mae a positive picture of her circumstances. BERNICE Mabel. Girl, what did I tell you? Bernice comes up to her in what passes for a nice dress. MABEL I don’t really feel like it, Bernice. Bernice pulls Mabel’s Sunday dress from a footlocker and drags Mabel off the cot. BERNICE (mocking) "I don’t feel like it." Put this on and let’s go, girl! EXT. SAVOY BALLROOM - NIGHT The marquee reads, "Chick Webb and his Orchesta, Thursday Ladies Night". We hear music coming from the club. Mabel and Bernice approach in overcoats that are no match for the cold. INT. SAVOY BALLROOM - NIGHT The joint is jumpin’! Blacks and whites alike lay down their best moves on the dance floor. Chick Webb jams on the drums. Mabel and Bernice are with FREIDA, a big woman squeezed into a dress two sizes too small. A man walks by and leers at her ample bosom. She smiles at him. After he’s passed.
FREIDA See, girl, I told you. Men, men and more men! Mabel is more captivated by the dancing than the men. But those who notice her can’t help but do a double-take. MABEL (re: dancers) My Lord, look at them. BERNICE (re: men) Mmm-hmmm. Talk about fine! Mabel, girl you play your cards right you might find a sugar daddy tonight. LEROY makes his way through the crowd toward the girls. He’s with two other black men, WINSTON and GABE, all sharply dressed, all early twenties. Leroy hands Freida a drink. LEROY Here you go, baby. FREIDA What about my friends? Leroy, you said you would take care of them tonight too. LEROY And I’m doin’ just that. These are my boys, Winston and Gabe. WINSTON/GABE Ladies. Bernice smiles her invitation. Mabel’s is less suggestive. GABE (to Bernice) Can I buy you a drink? BERNICE That would be nice. They walk off, his hand finding her firm, round ass. WINSTON And what are you drinking tonight, pretty lady?
25. MABEL (at a loss) Um... I don’t -FREIDA She’s havin’ what I’m havin’. WINSTON All right then. BRIEF MONTAGE of the girls and their "dates" dancing, drinking, having a good time; of Chick Webb and his Orchestra doing what made them legends; of dancers doing what made the Savoy the most famous dance hall in Harlem. END MONTAGE EXT. SAVOY BALLROOM - NIGHT Our three couples leave the ballroom. Leroy and Freida and Gabe and Bernice are amorous. Not so Mabel and Winston. Mabel grows nervous as Leroy hails a jitney taxi. WINSTON Mabel, what is it? MABEL Why don’t you all go on without me? I think maybe I had too much to drink. FREIDA Girl that’s the whole point! MABEL I need to finish something -BERNICE (pressing) Mabel. WINSTON I can walk you back. MABEL No, it’s okay. Thanks. TAXI DRIVER (O.S.) Y’all comin’ or not?! I gots to go! Winston is disappointed. Bernice rolls her eyes.
26. MABEL I’m sorry. Goodnight. As the others get into the taxi Mabel walks alone down Lenox Avenue. EXT. HARLEM STREET - LATER Faint sounds of music from the Savoy can be heard in the distance. Mabel pulls her coat tighter against the cold. Three WOMEN approach, talking animatedly. They’re attractive, in their early twenties, wearing makeup and stylish clothes. They could be hookers or showgirls. Mabel avoids eye contact and the women stop talking as they pass her. Then they laugh. Mabel has no idea why, but feels wounded all the same. After only a few more steps: PIMP Hello, Mabel. Mabel stops, looks into the cruel, handsome face of a PIMP. MABEL Excuse me. I need to get home. She tries to walk around him but he blocks her. PIMP It’s a cold night, Mabel. Why don’t you come with me, let me make it a lot warmer for you? MABEL I done told you before, I ain’t interested. PIMP You mean to tell me the finest thing up in Harlem is happy scrubbing bathrooms for pennies? Come with me, girl. I’ll treat you like a queen. She walks past him. PIMP (anger rising) You think you too good to be one of my girls?! He grabs her arm, spins her around.
MABEL (anger rising) Take your hands off me! He presses her against a brick wall. A SWITCH BLADE suddenly glistens in the street light. PIMP You don’t need that face to scrub toilets. If that’s all you gon’ use if for, I might as well fix you up right here, right now. Mabel looks him in the eyes. He sees she’s not afraid. Beat. IRIS (O.S.) She said leave her alone! The pimp turns to face IRIS, an Amazon of a woman, with the other two attractive women who passed Mabel on the street. PIMP You bitches better mind your own damn business! He shows his blade. Iris reaches in her fur coat, pulls out a long STILETTO. IRIS Nigga, we jus’ made her our business. The other women - RUBY, dark-skinned and sexy, and JOYCE, light enough to pass - produce knives of their own. PIMP (slick charm) Hey! Now let’s not get over excited here and go do something we gonna regret later. RUBY Only one who gonna regret anything is you, you don’t let that girl go. JOYCE Now.
28. INT. COFFEE SHOP - LATER Mabel sits talking with Iris, Ruby and Joyce. JOYCE Honey, it’s hard enough to make it in Harlem without a job. At home you at least have family. MABEL I just can’t go back home is all. IRIS I don’t blame you there. I swore once I kicked the dust of Georgia off my heels I’d never go back and I never will. RUBY Well she can’t go back to that flophouse. That asshole will be after her. MABEL I don’t got no place else to go. I spent all the money Miss Juliette gave me and Miss Beatrice won’t have me now. And well, I told you ’bout the jewelry. RUBY Girl, you had to learn the hard way: the sweeter they talk, the faster you walk. IRIS Now Ruby, don’t go puttin’ ideas in this girl’s head. (to Mabel) It’s true, most men are low as dirt. But there are plenty of good ones too, right here in Harlem. Ruby reacts, clearly of a different opinion. JOYCE That pimp was right about one thing. You’re too pretty to be scrubbing toilets in a flophouse. RUBY Maybe she can find something at the club? She’s pretty enough for Mr. O’Malley.
29. IRIS (off Mabel’s look) Oh, it ain’t nothin’ like that. Most of the club bosses can’t keep their hands off colored girls, but O’Malley’s strictly the look don’t touch kind. He thinks we’re a sinful people. JOYCE That don’t stop him from looking hard, though. Real hard. IRIS So it’s settled. I’ll have Nate talk to him before the show tomorrow. MABEL Really? Oh, thank you so much! (then) But what about tonight? I still don’t have a place to stay. RUBY You can stay with me and Joyce! MABEL Are you sure? I can’t pay you or anything. Not yet. JOYCE Once you start working at the club, you’ll help pay your way. IRIS Who knows, if you can dance or hold a tune, you could make your way into the chorus line like us. INT. PLANTATION CLUB - DAY A big band orchestra is practicing. The BAND LEADER takes them through their paces like a maestro. We favor a sax player, mid-twenties, whose confidence and style, if not his looks, make him stand out. This is NATE. CHORUS GIRLS, including Iris, Ruby and Joyce, go through a routine under the critical eye of a beautiful but stern CHOREOGRAPHER. When the band leader calls "take five", Iris exchanges a look with Nate and he heads off through the club.
INT. HALLWAY - LATER Nate is on O’MALLEY’S heels as they walk down the hallway. O’MALLEY This ain’t no charity house, Nate. NATE I understand, Mr. O’Malley, but you was just saying the other day how business done picked up. One more cocktail waitress could only help. O’MALLEY Our customers expect to see a certain kind of girl here. Not some fresh off the farm heifer looks like she been scrubbing floors her whole life. NATE Oh, Mabel been up in Harlem four, five months now. And trust me, she’s the kind of girl customers likes to look at. They come to a vestibule at the service entrance. Mabel stands there, in a borrowed dress and heels, looking more like a woman than we’ve seen her. NATE Mr. O’Malley, this is Iris’ cousin, Mabel. Mabel, say hello to Mr. O’Malley. MABEL (demure) Hello, Mr. O’Malley. O’MALLEY (liking what he sees) Turn around. Let me see what you’re working with. She does a slow turn. He gives her a once over. O’MALLEY Ever worked in a nightclub before? MABEL No, sir. (a lie) But I’ve been in plenty of them.
O’Malley regards her critically. Beat. O’MALLEY Have her see Fitzpatrick. She can start tonight. INT. PLANTATION CLUB - NIGHT The Plantation rivals the famed Cotton Club for Roaring 20s extravagance. We find Mabel working as a scantily-clad cigarette girl. She pauses to watch the chorus line perform. The LAST DANCER in the line seems to forget the steps of the routine. That is until the encore, when she performs it perfectly and with additional flair. The audience loves it. O’MALLEY (O.S.) (calling out) Mae! Mae! A cocktail waitress nudges Mabel. She looks over at O’Malley, who is waving at her, and goes to him. MABEL Yes, Mr. O’Malley? O’MALLEY How many times do I have to tell you, you want to watch the show, buy a ticket! MABEL Sorry, Mr. O’Malley. It won’t happen again, I promise. O’MALLEY Yeah, right. See that guy over there? She looks at a serious Italian sitting with other well-dressed hoods. MABEL The man with the mustache? O’MALLEY That’s Mr. Tattaglia. You keep your eye on him. He so much as looks your way, you jump. Understand?
MABEL Yes, Mr. O’Malley. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, BACKSTAGE - NIGHT The band is on a break. Mabel comes through with cigarettes. Nate takes one. NATE How you doin’ tonight, Mabel? MABEL Things been good all week. NATE Things always be hoppin’ around New Year’s. Mabel lingers as he lights up and takes a drag. It’s easy to see she’s smitten. NATE Iris says you’re gettin’ on pretty well. Guess you’ll be stickin’ around for a while then. MABEL Yes, Nate, I will. The look between them lasts a bit longer than it should. MAN’S VOICE (O.S.) Five minutes! The band gets ready for the next performance. Mabel turns to go. Nate admires her as she leaves. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, DRESSING ROOM - LATER The chorus girls relax with cigarettes from Mabel. MABEL Mr. O’Malley said to give him whatever he wants. Who is he? RUBY He’s a mobster. So you better give him whatever he wants. Mabel reacts. Iris gives her a reassuring smile.
IRIS Just give him what he wants off your tray. You don’t need to worry ’bout nothin’ else. Them Italians wouldn’t be caught dead with a colored girl. Joyce shoots Iris a look without being noticed. INT. PLANTATION CLUB - LATER TATTAGLIA and his men enjoy the show. He looks around at Mabel. She goes to him without hesitation. MABEL What can I get for you, sir? He looks at the assortment on her tray. Glances not so discreetly at her cleavage, then up into her eyes. TATTAGLIA Luckies. She gives him a pack. He reaches into his vest. MABEL They’re on the house, sir. Mr. O’Malley says your money’s no good here tonight. His smile is cool and cruel. He tosses a five on her tray. TATTAGLIA That’s for you. Not O’Malley. MABEL Thank you, Mr. Tattaglia. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, BACK OF HOUSE - NIGHT The club is closing down. Mabel changes into her Sunday dress and heads out with Ruby and Iris. EXT. ALLEY BEHIND PLANTATION CLUB - CONTINUOUS Mabel, Iris and Ruby meet up with Nate. MABEL Where’s Joyce?
34. RUBY Said she’s steppin’ out with a drummer from the Lenox Club. They move to the boulevard, where Ruby hails a jitney. She and Mabel say goodnight to Nate and Iris. EXT. CITY STREET - LATER Nate and Iris walk. He’s got his saxophone in its case. NATE It ain’t just about the money, baby. I’ll get to do some arrangements. IRIS But baby, Cleo’s been good to you. He’s been good to all of us. NATE Iris, it’s the Duke. It’s the Cotton Club. Think about what that means. I ain’t gettin’ no younger. They reach a Browstone, walk up the stairs and go inside. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, O’MALLEY’S OFFICE - NIGHT Tattaglia and O’Malley sit across from each other. O’MALLEY With your backing, I’m sure I can persuade some of the Cotton Club’s top acts to come to the Plantation. TATTAGLIA Of course you can count on my support, Phil. I feel our partnership will be mutually beneficial, for you and me personally, but also for our mutual interests. O’MALLEY On that we agree completely. (then) Speaking of personal benefits, I believe you’ll find being a part owner comes with special perks. Delivered with the utmost of discretion, of course.
INT. PLANTATION CLUB, TOWNHOUSE - LATER Tattaglia opens a bedroom door to find Joyce waiting in a sexy peignoir. INT. APARTMENT - NIGHT Ruby comes out of the bathroom in nightclothes. Mabel is curled up on the sofa, made up like a bed, penning a letter. RUBY Girl, it’s three in the morning. MABEL I know, but I figure it’s best to write Mamma when the mood hits me. Ruby sits next to her. RUBY So what you telling her in that letter? MABEL Mostly that I’m doin’ fine and that she don’t have to worry ’bout me. That I’m not gettin’ wild because I work at a nightclub. RUBY (a small laugh) You mean that you’re keeping your legs closed. I can’t believe you still ain’t been with a man yet. An uneasy beat as Mabel covers. MABEL Well, I’d have to find one worthwhile first. RUBY Tell me about it. But you sure got your choice of ’em, Mabel. (off Mabel’s reaction) Girl, you know you do! Half the band is already hot for you, and I know Charlie Parsons, the drummer, asked you out twice. And he ain’t the only one.
MABEL (beat) They all seem nice. I’m just not lookin’ for a man right now. Ruby smiles, puts a gentle hand on her knee. RUBY Me neither. Ain’t no rush, girl... Meantime, if you get a little itch, just scratch it yourself. Mabel is puzzled. Ruby laughs. RUBY Oh, honey. You’ll figure it out. She gets up and goes into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. Mabel thinks for a moment, still confused, then goes back to writing her letter. INT. CAFE - DAY Full of Harlem Renaissance black folks. Iris, Ruby and Mabel are drinking coffee. Joyce enters and joins them. IRIS There you are! RUBY Mabel and me was wonderin’ what happened to you. JOYCE Sorry I didn’t make it in again last night. Hope you didn’t worry. RUBY It’s not whether you come in or not. It’s all this creepin’ you been doin’. IRIS Is this drummer boy of yours white? ’Cause you know, Joyce, we don’t care if you’re passin’. JOYCE (offended) I’m not passin’! You know I’d never do that!
37. RUBY Then who is this man you been seein’ but we ain’t seein’ him? JOYCE We ain’t ever seen you with a man, Ruby, but you don’t see us all up in your business. RUBY Nobody’s tryin’ to get in your business. JOYCE What do you call it then? IRIS Okay. Can we just drop it? They try to drop it. After a couple of beats: MABEL Why wouldn’t you want to pass? They all look at Mabel. Uh-oh. MABEL You could. I thought you were white that first time I saw you. Joyce is about to lash out again, but curbs her emotion. JOYCE What’s the point in passin’. You can lay down a white woman, but you always get up a black whore. EXT. WALK-UP APARTMENT - DAY Mabel, fresh from the beauty shop and looking mighty fine, covers her pleasant surprise at finding Nate waiting outside her apartment building. NATE Hey, Mabel. MABEL Nate. What are you doing here? NATE Passin’ by. A look of anticipation passes between them.
MABEL Do you want to come upstairs? NATE Are Ruby and Joyce home? MABEL I left them at the beauty shop. INT. APARTMENT - LATER Mabel is trying to pick the place up. Nate watches her. MABEL You must think we live like pigs. It’s just we’re hardly ever home... NATE It’s all right. (takes her arm to stop her) Really, it’s not the place I came to see. She looks up at him, her heart racing a mile a minute. He touches her face gently. MABEL Nate... Iris... NATE My whole life, I ain’t never seen a woman as beautiful as you. She’s caught in his eyes. He leans in and kisses her, tentatively at first, then deeply as she gives in to him. They’re becoming more passionate. We hear a key in the door. Nate and Mabel separate just as Ruby enters. She stops cold when she sees them, guilt written all over their faces. MABEL Ruby. Hi. NATE Hey, Ruby. Ruby stares at them accusingly for a long beat. NATE Well, I’d better get goin’.
After he’s left, Mabel lowers her eyes, ashamed. Ruby goes to her, looks at her. Then she SLAPS her hard. Mabel crumbles into tears, runs into Joyce’s bedroom and falls onto the bed. Ruby stands there, fuming. INT. PLANTATION CLUB - DAY The orchestra and the chorus girls warm up for practice. MISS PENNY, the stern, beautiful choreographer, is angry. MISS PENNY What do you mean "married him"? DANCER That’s what her note said. Last night in Atlantic City. O’Malley comes over, agitated. O’MALLEY What’s the rumpus? MISS PENNY Nothing I can’t handle, Mr. O’Malley. O’MALLEY Alright then. Handle it. It’s New Year’s Eve so everything’s got to be tip top tonight. Understand? MISS PENNY Yes, Mr. O’Malley. Completely. He stalks off. The DANCER scurries away. As she does, Miss Penny’s eyes fall to Mabel cleaning tables. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, DRESSING ROOM - LATER Miss Penny watches as Mabel tries on a chorus girl costume. Band leader CLEO CALHOUN comes in, fit to be tied. CLEO CALHOUN Penny, what the hell are you doing?! This is our biggest show of the year! MISS PENNY Cleo, we’re already down three girls and I can’t find another one on such short notice.
(tosses a look at Mabel) This one fits the costumes. BEGIN MONTAGE - CHORUS GIRL * Miss Penny and the other chorus girls teach Mabel the routines; * Ruby barely covers her scorn toward Mabel, but apparently hasn’t told Iris... * Who is the most helpful and attentive to Mabel during her crash course; * Cleo erupts when Nate tells him he plans to leave the band after the New Year’s Eve performance, and * O’Malley pays Joyce to sleep with Tattaglia as we... END MONTAGE
INT. PLANTATION CLUB - BACKSTAGE - NIGHT Mabel is all nerves as the chorus girls prepare to go on. We hear the music leading to their cue. Miss Penny fixes Mabel with a demanding glare. Mabel’s heart drops in her stomach, but then she looks at Iris, who smiles at her. This puts her a little more at ease until she glances at Ruby, then guilt mixes with the butterflies. INT. PLANTATION CLUB - CONTINUOUS The orchestra strikes up fanfare. Banners with "Happy New Year 1929" are lowered and the girls come out and go into their routine. Mabel is last on the line and as is the custom, she intentionally botches some of the steps, drawing laughs from the audience. O’Malley watches nervously from Tattaglia’s table as the troupe goes into the encore. Mabel performs perfectly just as planned, adding a flair at the end that draws rousing applause. The mobster is impressed. O’Malley is relieved. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, DRESSING ROOM - LATER The girls hurry in to change, congratulating Mabel as they do. Miss Penny enters and gives Mabel what passes for an approving nod, then:
41. MISS PENNY (to all) That’s one number. We have three more. Let’s go! Chop-chop! INT. HALLWAY - LATER The club is closing. O’Malley and Tattaglia stand in the hallway talking. Mabel is on her way out with other chorus girls. Tattaglia sees her and says something to O’Malley. O’MALLEY Mae! MAE! The girls say they’ll wait outside. Mabel goes to O’Malley. MABEL Yes, Mr. O’Malley? O’MALLEY Mabel, someone here wants to meet you. Mr. Tattaglia, this is Mae... Mae, what’s your last name again? MABEL McDonald. O’MALLEY Right. Mr. Tattaglia, this is Mae McDonald. TATTAGLIA Well, Mae, you had quite a performance tonight. MABEL Thank you, Mr. Tattaglia. I’m glad you enjoyed the show. TATTAGLIA It’s always a good one. But you made tonight a bit more special. I look forward to seeing a lot more of you. O’MALLEY Mr. Tattaglia’s a partner in the club, Mae, so we like to do everything we can to keep him satisfied. Mabel’s smile covers her anxiety.
MABEL Yes, Mr. O’Malley. Of course. TATTAGLIA (cold smile) Well, Happy New Year, Mae McDonald. She turns and walks down the hallway. Tattaglia watches her until she exits. INT. LENOX CLUB - NIGHT The speakeasy is jumpin’ as blacks celebrate the New Year into the wee hours. We find Mabel, Ruby, Iris, Nate and other Plantation Club performers at a table living it up. Prohibition has no effect on the flow of alcohol here. NATE (re: band) These boys can really lay it down! RUBY Sho ’nuf. IRIS I thought for sure we’d finally get to meet Joyce’s mystery man tonight. RUBY Girl, please! She ain’t never had no man here. She creepin’ ’cause she passin’. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Nate and Mabel share a furtive glance. INT. PLANTATION CLUB, BEDROOM - NIGHT Tattaglia is fucking Joyce hard in bed. INT. LENOX CLUB - NIGHT The dance floor is alive. We find Mabel dancing with a man, having a good time. She catches sight of Nate and Iris at their table, kissing passionately. This takes the steam out of Mabel’s engine. Meanwhile, Ruby and a woman slip out of the club together.
INT. BEDROOM - DAWN Joyce pretends to sleep as Tattaglia dresses. He peels off a few bills and tosses them on the dresser. After she hears the door close, Joyce opens her eyes. She stares blankly out the window. The sky is just beginning to lighten. EXT. PLANTATION CLUB, TOWNHOUSE - DAWN Tattaglia walks down the stairs of the townhouse and goes to a Ford. A BUTTOMAN opens the door. Neither of them notice the car roar around the corner until the HOODS inside open fire with Tommy guns. Tattaglia and the buttonman are cut down in a hail storm of bullets. INT. BEDROOM - SAME Joyce jumps from bed and looks down from the window in time to see the slaughter. Sickened, she turns away. Her gaze falls to the MONEY Tattaglia left on the dresser. INT. APARTMENT - DUSK Mabel hums while ironing (the hymn we heard Ida Mae humming). Joyce is in the next room on her bed, lost in her melancholy. MABEL (to Joyce) How ’bout we go to a picture show? A talkie! Wouldn’t that be nice? Joyce? Mabel sets the iron aside, goes to the doorway. MABEL Joyce? Mabel goes in and lays next to her. MABEL Joyce, what’s got you so down? After a long beat, Joyce looks at her. JOYCE You ever think about how hard life is...and how easy it would be to just stop living?
MABEL (beat, pensive) I used to think about it a lot. Joyce reacts minutely; surprised by the revelation. Then: JOYCE Remember when you asked me why I didn’t want to pass? MABEL Yes. JOYCE I used to do it all the time when I was a young girl. Then I came to Harlem and all anybody could talk about was the "New Negro Movement." How Negroes should be proud of who we are, whether we was blacker than the blackest night or whiter than whitey himself. So I refused to pass, made a point of showin’ my blackness in every way I could... But you know what I’ve learned, Mabel? MABEL What? JOYCE Being black ain’t but the half of what makes us miserable in this world. It’s being a woman too black or white, any color under the sun - that beats you down to where you just don’t want to live. Beat. Mabel puts an arm around her. Joyce holds her too. And we leave them there, holding each other. EXT. HARLEM STREET - NIGHT Mabel walks down the street in a nice coat and heels that show off her dancer’s legs. She looks ahead and slows her gait. A prostitute loiters near the corner. We recognize Bernice. Mabel walks to her. BERNICE Mabel? Mabel is that you?
MABEL Bernice. They embrace. BERNICE Look at you! I don’t have to ask how you’ve been. MABEL I’m doing all right... What about you? BERNICE Can’t you tell? (then a genuine smile) So where’d you go after we left the Savoy that night? MABEL It’s a long story. Now I’m in the chorus line at the Plantation Club. BERNICE A showgirl!... Ain’t you something? A car stops at the corner. The white JOHN calls to them. JOHN How ’bout it girls? BERNICE (to Mabel) Well, I ain’t no showgirl, but the show must go on. Bernice walks to the car. BERNICE Hey, daddy! JOHN What about your friend? BERNICE Sorry, she ain’t workin’ tonight. JOHN You sure about that? I’ve got enough for both of you.
BERNICE (a sassy, sarcastic look) I’m sure you do, daddy. She gets in before he can protest. INT. NATE & IRIS’ BEDROOM - NIGHT Nate and Mabel are post-coital in bed. MABEL Nate, baby, being with you feels so right, right up until now, when I start feeling like a dirty tramp. NATE Don’t say that, baby, you hear! You’re a beautiful, loving woman who’s -MABEL Who’s cheatin’ with my best friend’s man. If it hadn’t been for Iris, I’d still be washing floors...or worse. NATE Listen, baby, I hate the situation we in too, but we can’t help how we feel, can we? This ain’t something we can just turn off. MABEL I know, but how long can it go on like this, Nate? At least I don’t have to see her every day now that she’s at the Mayflower. But whenever I do see her I can barely look her in the eye. It’s tearin’ at my heart, Nate! She fights back tears. He lifts her chin, looks into her eyes. NATE Just hold it together a little while longer, sweet thing. Okay? He kisses her. She tries to feel better.
INT. PLANTATION CLUB - NIGHT The chorus girls do their thing. For the encore, Mabel does the Swanee Shuffle, a sexy shimmy that brings the audience to their feet. Joining in the ovation is VICTOR KING, rakishly handsome, early thirties. EXT. PLANTATION CLUB - LATER Mabel and her friends exit the service entrance and go to the curb to hail jitney cabs. Just as one pulls up: VICTOR (O.S.) Miss McDonald! Mabel turns to see Victor walking toward her, a PLATINUM BLONDE on his arm. VICTOR Hello, Miss McDonald. I’m Victor King. They shake hands. MABEL Hello, Mr. King. VICTOR You were terrific tonight. MABEL (wary) Thank you. VICTOR Look, Miss McDonald - do you mind if I call you Mae? MABEL Well...my name is Mabel. VICTOR Mabel. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. If not me, my studio, King Pictures. MABEL I don’t get to the picture show much.
VICTOR Yes. I imagine you wouldn’t, being so popular on stage... I’m making a movie, Mabel, one with an all-Negro cast. I start shooting next month and I need a leading lady...I think I may have found her tonight. She’s utterly at a loss. Can he be serious? He smiles. INT. SPEAKEASY - NIGHT Mabel’s dancer friends react to the news of King’s offer. DANCER Mabel, girl you goin’ somewhere now! ANOTHER DANCER Yeah, girl, you could be the colored Clara Bow! MABEL I don’t know...California. It’s so far away. From Harlem, from you all...and Mamma. ANOTHER DANCER Harlem will always be here and so will we. And if you make it, you can send for your grandmamma. Mabel is considering this when: IRIS Since this is a night for good news, I got some of my own... Nate and me are finally gettin’ hitched! The dancers react, but Mabel is dumbstruck. IRIS It took three years, but we’re finally doin’ it. Goin’ to City Hall Thursday. As the dancers hug and kiss Iris, Ruby looks at Mabel, who is totally devastated...
49. INT. APARTMENT - NIGHT Mabel lay on her bed-sofa staring blankly into the darkness. EXT. HARLEM STREET - DAY Mabel and Joyce talk as they walk. MABEL Won’t you miss Harlem? JOYCE Been feelin’ like I needed a change for a while now. MABEL I sure will like havin’ you there with me. Like a big sister. And who knows, Mr. King might want you for his motion picture too. JOYCE I don’t think he’s lookin’ for colored girls who look white in an all-black talkie. Mabel stops cold. Nate is in front of their building. JOYCE Nate! Joyce goes to him, gets a hug and peck on the cheek. NATE Hey, Joyce. JOYCE So Iris finally got you to settle down. NATE Yeah. I guess she did. He steals a nervous glance at Mabel, approaching slowly. JOYCE It’s about time. I’da left your misbehavin’ butt a long time ago. NATE Then I guess it’s a good thing you ain’t Iris.
JOYCE Mmmmm-hmmmm. NATE Mabel. Mabel just stares at him. Joyce clocks the chill. JOYCE We were just going to kill some time before headin’ down to the club. Might have a beer in the icebox if you want to visit. NATE Jus’ want to talk to Mabel for a sec. JOYCE (catching on) Oh... All right. Joyce goes into the building. Immediately after: NATE Baby, let me explain -MABEL (emotional) How could you? You lied to me, you lied to Iris. You’re just a no account, low down, dirty liar! NATE I know, baby. I know. But Mabel, she’s pregnant. (off Mabel’s shock) It’s true. Iris is having my baby. I couldn’t let you go all the way to Hollywood without you knowin’ why I did it. Mabel sinks in despair and humiliation. She rushes past him, shrugging off his attempt to stop her, and goes inside. INT. APARTMENT - CONTINUOUS Mabel enters, distraught. Joyce and Ruby stand there, frozen. Mabel burst into tears and they rush to comfort her.
51. INT. TRAIN DEPOT - DAY Mabel, Joyce, Ruby and Iris walk alongside the train. A black PORTER loaded down with luggage stops. PORTER He we is, ladies. He takes the luggage aboard. Joyce turns to Ruby. JOYCE Sure you’ll be all right without us? RUBY Girl, I been waitin’ two years to get rid of your snorin’? JOYCE Girl, you lie! I don’t snore! They embrace. IRIS Don’t you get out there with all that sun and forget about us. JOYCE You know I could never forget you, Iris, no matter how far away I go. They embrace. Then Joyce holds hands with Iris and Ruby. The old friends look at each other - could this be the last time they’re together? - then share a strong, heartfelt embrace. Joyce goes aboard. Ruby turns to Mabel. MABEL Ruby I -Ruby stops her with hug. As they embrace: RUBY You be good, honey. You hear. Ruby kisses her tenderly - almost romantically - on the cheek. Then Ruby moves away, leaving her alone with Iris. MABEL Iris... I don’t know what to say. You’ve been so good to me... Mabel is overcome with emotion. Iris takes her face in her hands, looks into her eyes.
IRIS Mabel, a woman puts up with a lot to survive this world. But we do survive. It’s a hard lesson to learn, especially when you’re young, but we all have to live with our choices, good and bad. MABEL (tears come as she realizes) Iris, I’m so sor -IRIS (shushes her) You go to Hollywood and you become a star, you hear? I’ll be lookin’ for you up on that screen. They embrace and Mabel holds her tightly. INT. TRAIN, SLEEPER CAR - MOVING - LATER Mabel and Joyce enter their compartment. MABEL I didn’t know they let colored folk have sleepers! They begin to get settled for the night. INT. TRAIN BUNK - MOVING - NIGHT Mabel and Joyce lay together in the same bunk. MABEL Of all the girls, I always thought you were the one who wanted it all; to be the star, be on Broadway. JOYCE (a sad smile) All I want, all I ever wanted really, is to meet a good man, have children and raise a family. WOMAN’S VOICE (O.S.) You and every other woman on this Lord’s green earth. Now you girls stop your gabbin’. Some folks wants to go to sleep.
53. PULL OUT of Mabel and Joyce’s bunk to see the sleeping compartment is six cramped stalls with curtains covering them. INT. MOVIE SET - DAY Mabel and cast members perform in front of the cameras. VICTOR (O.S.) Cue music! Music begins and Mabel begins doing the Swanee Shuffle, seducing her co-star, GEORGE, a handsome black buck in his twenties. VICTOR (O.S.) That’s it, Mabel. Move closer to him. Closer... George, you can’t resist her. She’s driving you mad... That’s it, really show it...and cut! Fantastic! Mabel switches off the vamp character like a light. It takes George a little longer to cool down. Victor goes to them. VICTOR That was great, sweetheart! MABEL Thank you, Victor. GEORGE We can do another take if you want, Mr. King. VICTOR No, George. I think we nailed it. (to all) That’s a wrap, people! Great work everyone! Mabel, sweetheart, can you stop by my trailer after you’re done in wardrobe? MABEL Yes, Victor. Of course. Victor exits. An assistant moves in and tends to Mabel. GEORGE Mabel, after the wrap party I know a place where there’s some real action. You’d like it.
MABEL I’m really tired, George. But I’ll think about it. She signals for the assistant to leave her. It’s a small gesture, but from it we see she’s comfortable being the star. MABEL (a hint of flirtation) Now, I really have to get out of this dress. George watches her go, trying to picture her out of that dress. INT. VICTOR’S TRAILER - LATER Mabel enters, in a nice dress, heels and pearls. A starlet. VICTOR Mabel, sweetheart. There’s something I want you to see. He stands and goes to a MOVIE POSTER on an easel. It’s for her movie, "Amen". She’s prominent, in a clingy red dress. VICTOR What do you think? MABEL It’s very nice, Victor. Then she notices her name on the poster. "Mae McDonald". MABEL Victor, my name -VICTOR Everyone here does it. Hell, you think I was born "Victor King"? Igor Rosenblatt. Here’s the thing, sweetheart: Mabel just isn’t sexy. When you were born, your mother, God bless her, had no idea you’d turn out to be such a show stopper. She thought, "Mabel’s a girl boys will want to take to the church picnic, get married to, raise a bus load of kids with." But that’s not what we’re selling, is it? No. With that body, that voice and those (MORE)
VICTOR (CONT’D) eyes, we’re selling sex, pure and simple. Mabel doesn’t know how she feels about that. MABEL But I was named after my mother. My grandmother named me after she died having me. VICTOR C’mon, sweetheart, don’t let a little thing like a name hold you back. Hell, Mae’s what they called you back in Harlem, right? Mabel remembers: O’Malley called her that. She despised him. VICTOR (moves hands across a marquee) Can’t you see it? "Mae McDonald", first colored sex symbol! OFF Mabel’s bewilderment... INT. ROADSIDE DINER - DUSK A "colored only" roadside diner. Joyce serves a BLACK TRUCKER. BLACK TRUCKER Thank you, pretty lady. JOYCE You’re welcome, hon. Here, let me freshen that coffee too. BLACK TRUCKER (hopeful smile) You know, I usually likes it black, but tonight I’d sure like to try a little cream with it. Joyce reaches over to the next table, takes the cream and pours some in his cup. JOYCE How’s that, hon?
BLACK TRUCKER (smiles: It was worth a shot) Just right, sugar. She tosses him a friendly smile and moves off. EXT. ROADSIDE DINER - LATER Joyce leaves the diner and climbs into a waiting Nash convertible. Mabel is behind the wheel. INT. NASH - MOVING - LATER Mabel and Joyce cruise on Highway 1. MABEL There’ll be plenty of men there tonight. You could get lucky. JOYCE I told you I’m done with show business men. Too full of themselves. MABEL Right, I forgot. You want a good old work-a-day Joe. Like the mug who was droolin’ over you at the diner. I saw him through the window. JOYCE Not just any old work-a-day Joe. My work-a-day Joe. MABEL Oh, it’s gotten that far along between you and this Isiah fella? JOYCE His name’s Ezekiel. And yeah, I think so. I really feel it when I’m with him, Mabel. MABEL (making fun) You sure that’s not just Mr. Johnson you been feelin’? Beat. Joyce doesn’t take the bait.
57. JOYCE It’s different with him, Mabel. Most colored men I been with want me ’cause I’m the closest they ever gonna get to a white woman without gettin’ lynched. And the white ones... I’m just some exotic whore. MABEL And this Ezekiel, he’s different? JOYCE Oh, yes. He’s a good man, Mabel. A real good man... And I love him. INT. SPEAKEASY - NIGHT A cocktail party for the cast and crew of "Amen". Mabel is talking with Victor and her agent, DICK LAMBERT, a slick Hollywood insider in his thirties. LAMBERT It’s all done but the signing. They just want to see the receipts from the first week or two. Then I’ll waltz you in and you’ll sign a contract! They’ve already got another picture in mind for you. VICTOR MGM wants me to direct. MABEL I can hardly believe it! It all seems like a dream! LAMBERT Just keep dreaming, baby! Before I’m done, you will be the colored Clara Bow! George comes up to them. GEORGE Evening, Mr. King, Mr. Lambert. VICTOR George. GEORGE Mind if I have a word with my leading lady?
58. VICTOR Sure. Go ahead. Victor kisses Mabel on the cheek before moving off to mingle, but he keeps an eye on her as she talks to George. GEORGE They pretty high on the picture? MABEL Yes. GEORGE Hope they’re right. If not, it’s another year in Europe for me. MABEL I’ve heard some of the cast talk about working there. It seems so...foreign. GEORGE It’s that all right. But they’re a lot more open to colored folks over there. Especially beautiful women. You’d do well there, Mabel. Or should I call you Mae? MABEL I suppose I should get used to it, shouldn’t I? He smiles. GEORGE Given any more thought to joining me later? MABEL Some, yes. But I’m expecting a friend to stop by here first. GEORGE I see...maybe she’d like to join us? Something catches Mabel’s eye. MABEL That’s up to her and her man. Joyce has entered with her man. George ogles Joyce as they approach, but it’s Mabel who can’t believe her eyes. Ezekiel is "Henry Stubbs", the black youth who saved her.
JOYCE Hi, Mabel. This is Ezekiel. Mabel stares at Ezekiel, speechless. GEORGE Hello, Ezekiel! I’m George Lawson. And who is your friend here? MABEL (coming too) Oh, George, this is Joyce. GEORGE Joyce, it’s a pleasure. MABEL Ezekiel? EZEKIEL Y-Y-Yes. P-Pleased to m-m-meet you. George covers his snide reaction to Ezekiel’s stuttering. GEORGE Me and Mae were just about to head out for a nightcap. Like to join us? JOYCE That sounds good! MABEL No! I mean, I’m very tired. I think I’ll just go home. GEORGE But, Mae -Mabel spins on her heel and makes her way toward the exit. Victor follows. Stops her at the door. VICTOR Mae, sweetheart, is everything all right? She recoils at his touch. Looks at him as if he could be one of the four white boys who attacked her. He’s confused. Mabel turns and exits. Ezekiel looks after her, deflated.
60. INT. BUNGALOW, MABEL’S BEDROOM - NIGHT The room is dark. Mabel lay staring at the ceiling. We hear a car pull up outside. The car door opens and shuts. We hear the car drive away just as the house door opens. Footsteps on hardwood. Mabel’s bedroom door opens. Mabel closes her eyes. Joyce sticks her head in, sees that she’s asleep. Beat. She closes the door. Mabel opens her eyes. EXT. AUTO REPAIR GARAGE - ESTABLISHING - DAY Mabel’s Nash sits out front. INT. AUTO REPAIR GARAGE - DAY A rusty OLD MECHANIC kicks legs underneath a Buick. OLD MECHANIC Ezekiel! Somebody’s here for ya. Ezekiel slides out from under the car. Goes to the front of the garage. He stops cold when he comes face to face with Mabel. INT. COFFEE SHOP - LATER Mabel and Ezekiel talk over coffee. MABEL Joyce never told you about me? EZEKIEL She said sh-she lived with a girl. B-b-but she didn’t say who till we was on our w-w-way to that party. MABEL (to herself) She didn’t trust me. EZEKIEL Huh? MABEL Nothing. I’m glad you got away safe. I worried about you for the longest time, Henry. (he reacts) Sorry. Ezekiel... Every time I read about a lynchin’, I just prayed it (MORE)
61. MABEL (CONT’D) wasn’t you. How did you get all the way to California? EZEKIEL Hobo-in’. T-Train mostly. Worked odd jobs along the w-w-way. MABEL How long have you been here? EZEKIEL ’Bout a year n-n-now. Old Man Tully t-t-taught me engines. An uneasy beat. MABEL Joyce seems to care about you. Do you feel the same about her? EZEKIEL Yes, I c-c-care for her, Mabel... MABEL But? EXT. AUTO REPAIR GARAGE - DAY Mabel and Ezekiel stop at her Nash. He looks long into her eyes, unable to express his affection. She doesn’t need words to know what he feels. She realizes that she feels something too. MABEL Ezekiel...Henry, I never thanked you... I don’t know how you’ve coped with what...that day. I try to forget but I can’t. Whenever I think about it, I always feel grateful to you for what you did. You saved me... Thank you, Henry. He silently accepts this then opens her car door for her. She gets in. MABEL Ezekiel, Joyce is like a sister to me. I can never do anything to hurt her. Ever. Beat. Their eyes meet. She starts the engine and drives away.
62. INT. MOVIE THEATER - NIGHT Black moviegoers enjoy "Amen". Among them, we find Joyce and Ezekiel. He’s as mesmerized by Mabel’s image on the silver screen as he was when she sang at the post office years ago. Joyce looks at him, deeply in love with him.
INT. JOYCE’S BEDROOM - DAY Joyce rises from bed and pulls a silk robe over her body. Ezekiel stirs awake. EZEKIEL Joyce? JOYCE Sugar, it’s early. Go to sleep. I’ll wake you when breakfast is ready. INT. BUNGALOW KITCHEN - DAY Joyce clears dishes away and stacks them in the sink. EZEKIEL Baby, that was d-d-delicious. JOYCE (playful) So, you like me better in the kitchen or the bedroom? EZEKIEL Aw, Joyce, c’mon baby... JOYCE Lucky for you, you don’t have to choose. She sits with him at the table. JOYCE You never told me what you thought of Mabel. Ezekiel is caught off guard. JOYCE When you met her, you seemed a bit...odd.
63. EZEKIEL Odd? JOYCE Yeah. Like you were star struck. I should’ve told you she was an actress sooner, I know. EZEKIEL Oh...well, I ain’t n-n-never met a m-m-motion picture star before. Beat. JOYCE Maybe it’s time for me to find a place of my own. EZEKIEL But you c-c-can’t afford that. JOYCE I can’t afford to have my man fallin’ for my best friend. EZEKIEL Baby, you d-d-don’t have to worry ’bout m-m-me. You’re all I need. She sees that he means it. Caresses his face. JOYCE You know, sugar, all this cookin’s got me awfully hungry... He watches her as she walks slowly to the kitchen door, looks at him over her shoulder and smiles... INT. MR. HAMMOND’S OFFICE - DAY MR. HAMMOND, pot-bellied, well-dressed, fifties, is at an ostentacious desk in an office full of movie posters. MR. HAMMOND Dickie, how are you my boy? LAMBERT Right as rain, Bob! Right as rain! MR. HAMMOND And Mae McDonald! Even lovelier in person than on the screen.
MABEL Thank you, Mr. Hammond. It’s a pleasure to meet you too. MR. HAMMOND Please, have a seat. (they all sit) Negroes are coming out in droves to see "Amen". Or I should say, to see you, Mae. LAMBERT You’ve arrived, sweetheart. You’re a star on the colored circuit. MABEL I don’t know what to say. MR. HAMMOND You don’t have to say anything. Dickie here’s done all your talking for you. Mr. Hammond pushes a contract across the desk. LAMBERT It’s fifty dollars a week for five years, Mae. MR. HAMMOND Hollywood’s moving into race pictures in a big way, Mae. It’s my job here at MGM Studios to find and sign the best young Negroes in the business. Actresses like you! ON THE CONTRACT as Mabel signs. EXT. JOYCE & MABEL’S BUNGALOW - ESTABLISHING - DAY Mabel’s Nash is parked out front. MABEL (O.S.) Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
MISS BIRCH (O.S.) Again. INT. JOYCE & MABEL’S BUNGALOW - DAY MISS BIRCH, an Old Maid speech coach, sits in front of Mabel as she does her elocution exercise. MABEL Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck -The telephone RINGS. MABEL Excuse me. Miss Birch frowns with irritation as Mabel answers the phone. MABEL Hello?... Oh, hi... Yes, of course I would... Alright, make it nine. EXT. JAZZ CLUB - ESTABLISHING - NIGHT On the marquee: "Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers". INT. JAZZ CLUB - NIGHT Mabel and George are at a table enjoying the music. He puts an arm around her. Their eyes meet. Something is there. After the set, Mabel and George go backstage and spend time with Jelly Roll and the band. They’re enthralled by the beautiful young starlet. INT. PACKARD ROADSTER - NIGHT George and Mabel stop necking. GEORGE Well, can I come in? MABEL Georgie...not tonight.
GEORGE Baby, how long I gotta wait? OFF Mabel, not sure... INT. JOYCE & MABEL’S BUNGALOW - LATER Mabel enters and leans against the door. After the sound of a car driving away outside, we become aware of the sound of Joyce and Ezekiel making love in Joyce’s room. Mabel closes her eyes to block them out. INT. JOYCE’S BEDROOM - LATER Ezekiel stares at the ceiling. Joyce sleeps peacefully beside him. Over this we hear the screams of agony and fear of the white teenagers as Ezekiel remembers what happened in the abandoned cabin. He closes his eyes to block them out. INT. MOVIE SET - DAY Mabel the jungle princess sings a love song. Spectacular. VICTOR Cut! Print! EXT. STUDIO LOT - LATER Mabel, still in jungle costume, is deep in thought. VICTOR Mae, sweetheart, you all right? MABEL I’m fine. Just a little tired is all. VICTOR Ah. I’ve heard you and George are hitting all the clubs. MABEL We’ve only been out a few times. VICTOR Relax. In this business, sleeping with a co-star is --
MABEL Who says we’re sleeping together?! VICTOR All right, all right. Uncle. Listen Mae, Jean and I are having a little soiree Sunday. We’d love it if you’d come. There’ll be a few studio fat cats there, some of them worth talking to. Their eyes meet. Something is growing between them. MABEL What time? EXT. KING RESIDENCE - NIGHT Guests mingle around the pool. Victor and wife JEAN, a refined Jewess in her late thirties (not the platinum blonde we saw him with in Harlem) are an engaging couple. We find Mabel doing her best to seem interested in a DRUNK ACTOR praddling on about his latest film. DRUNK ACTOR ...I told Louie - that’s Louie Mayer - "Look, Louie, I don’t care what you’re paying in insurance, I’m doing my own stunts." (Mabel smiles, takes a drink) Hey, I think it’s great that the studios are doing darkie motion pictures. Really, you Negroes are the best singers and dancers around! Victor comes up to them. Mabel’s eyes scream "Help!" VICTOR Mae, sweetheart! I see you’ve met Harlan Glover. MABEL Yes...Yes I have. DRUNK ACTOR I was just telling Mae here I think it’s grand that the Negroes are getting a go in Hollywood.
VICTOR Mae’s first film is still raking them in on the Negro circuit and we’re midway through her second. Look Harlan, do you mind if I steal Mae away from you? There’s someone I’d like her to meet. Victor doesn’t wait. He whisks her away. VICTOR Sorry about Harlan. MABEL Not everyone’s been like him. Mr. Powell was very charming. They glance over at actor WILLIAM POWELL (of "Thin Man" fame), chatting amiably with a starlet. VICTOR Mark my words, Dick will be one of few silent film actors to make it in talkies. MABEL He does have a wonderful voice. And he’s very handsome. VICTOR Speaking of voices, sounds like those speech lessons are helping. MABEL (a bit embarrassed) Oh...yes. Miss Birch is a very good teacher. It’s so good of the studio to offer me the training. VICTOR It’s an investment, sweetheart. Never forget that. In Hollywood, nobody does anything for anybody without expecting something in return. Beat. She looks at him. MABEL So what do you expect...from me? But she already knows the answer.
JEAN (O.S.) There you are! Jean comes up. She kisses Victor on the cheek. VICTOR My love. JEAN Mae, darling, are you enjoying the party? MABEL Yes. thank you for inviting me. JEAN Of course, darling. Now, you two mustn’t hide over here in a corner. Victor, Norman Miller of Paramount just arrived. (to Mabel) If you’ll excuse us, darling. INT./EXT. JOYCE & MABEL’S BUNGALOW - DAY Mabel and Miss Birch have been at it a long time. MABEL A blackbird bit a big black bear, but where is the big black bear that the blackbird bit? MISS BIRCH Again. MABEL (sighs) A blackbird bit... Outside on the porch, Ezekiel stands at the screen door. MABEL (O.S.) ...a big black bear, but where is the big black bear that the blackbird bit? He looks in at Mabel, as always enthralled by her. She looks over and sees him there. Comes to the door.
70. MABEL Hello, Ezekiel. EZEKIEL M-M-Mable. MABEL Joyce isn’t here. Didn’t she tell you, she’s doing a double shift at the diner today. EZEKIEL (lying) It musta s-slipped my mind. Mabel lets him in. Miss Birch is not pleased. MISS BIRCH We’re not quite finished here. MABEL Can we take a break, please? Miss Birch leaves in a huff and fumes on the porch. EZEKIEL Folks down home would hardly know it’s you t-t-talkin’. MABEL (a smile) The studio wants me to speak without the down home accent. EZEKIEL You mean they w-want you to talk like a w-w-white gal. She can’t deny it. MABEL Ezekiel, I’ve been thinking. Miss Birch has helped me a lot. I’m sure she could help you too. EZEKIEL Help me w-what? MABEL Why with your speech of course. On the porch, Miss Birch doesn’t like what she’s hearing. She comes back inside.
MISS BIRCH Mae, may I have a moment please? Mabel turns to her. MABEL Oh, Miss Birch. I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Washington. MISS BIRCH Yes, pleased to meet you. Mae, if I could -MABEL Mr. Washington is not an actor but I’m sure you can be of assistance. EZEKIEL M-M-Mable, please, I -MABEL Now, Ezekiel, it’s no problem at all. Right, Miss Birch? MISS BIRCH Well, that’s what I wanted to speak with you about. The studio -MABEL (pointedly) Has put you at my disposal for as long as I need you. And I need you to help Mr. Washington. Miss Birch and Ezekiel don’t bother to protest further. EXT. STUDIO LOT - DAY A gaunt, SERIOUS-LOOKING MAN in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie walks the lot. He stops and speaks to a security guard, who turns and points. The man thanks him and continues. INT. MOVIE SET - DAY Mabel the jungle princess is surrounded by angry African tribesmen threatening to burn her alive in a roaring fire. Suddenly, George, a buff jungle warrior, swings to her rescue. He spears a few tribesmen before the others retreat into the make-believe jungle. Mabel and George screen kiss.
VICTOR Cut! Brilliant! Stage hands rush to put out the flames. An assistant rushes to pamper Mabel. The gaunt man, who has been watching from behind the scenes, makes his way to Mabel. He speaks with a southern drawl. He’s AGENT PERKINS, G-Man. PERKINS Miss McDonald. MABEL Yes? PERKINS (flashes badge) Agent Perkins, Federal Bureau of Investigation. A minute of your time? Mabel covers her anxiety. MABEL Can you tell me what it’s about? As you can see, I’m quite occupied here. PERKINS It’s regarding events in Oconee County, South Carolina. Victor comes up to them in arrogant director mode. VICTOR Who the hell are you and how’d you get on my set?! PERKINS (flashes badge) Perkins, Federal Bureau of Investigations. And I walked on. VICTOR (put in his place) What’s this all about, agent Perkins? OFF Mabel’s growing concern...
INT. VICTOR’S TRAILER - LATER Mabel and Victor sit across from Perkins. VICTOR Agent Perkins, if Miss McDonald isn’t a suspect, why’d you come all the way out here from South Carolina looking for her? PERKINS We know Henry Stubbs has spent time in Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City and have reason to believe he’s been in the Los Angeles area for at least a year. We believe Miss McDonald may be able to help us locate him. MABEL And as I told you, Agent Perkins, I barely knew Henry back home. PERKINS Uh-huh. But seeing as how he obviously had feelings for you, we thought he might try to contact you. MABEL I haven’t seen him since I left home almost two years ago. PERKINS Uh-huh. And when you left home you went to New York City before coming out to Hollywood, correct? MABEL Yes, that’s right. PERKINS (checks his notes) But in the note you left your grandmother, you said you were headin’ to Atlanta. Mabel is thrown. She can barely remember the note or the lies that Mrs. Fisher told her to write in it. MABEL Obviously, I changed my mind.
VICTOR Agent Perkins, of course Miss McDonald will cooperate as much as she can. But considering she’s not a suspect and I have a film to finish... Beat. PERKINS Thank you again, Miss McDonald. I’ll be in touch. INT. ROADSIDE DINER - DUSK Joyce stops charming a weary truck driver and smiles at Mabel when she enters the diner. The smile vanishes when she clocks the look on Mabel’s face. Joyce goes to Mabel. INT. BACK ROOM - CONTINUOUS Mabel closes the door behind them. JOYCE Mabel, what’s going on? MABEL There’s something I need to tell you, Joyce. It’s about Ezekiel...and me. Joyce reacts, fearing the worst about them. JOYCE Mabel, you didn’t! How could you?! MABEL No! It’s not like that Joyce. I would never do anything to hurt you. JOYCE What then? Tell me, Mabel! MABEL (beat) Ezekiel...I knew him back home. JOYCE What do you mean, "back home"?
75. MABEL We’re from the same home town and we had to leave... Four white boys, they dragged me off into the woods and... JOYCE (getting the picture) Oh, my God. Mabel... MABEL Henry -- Ezekiel, he stopped them. JOYCE Henry? -MABEL Joyce, he had to change his name after... JOYCE After what?! MABEL After he killed them. Two of them, anyway. JOYCE (appalled) Killed them? My Ezekiel? MABEL Joyce, if he hadn’t stopped them... JOYCE Wait. Why are you telling me this? What’s happened? EXT. ROADSIDE DINER - DUSK Perkins and another AGENT sit in a Ford, watching the diner. INT. JOYCE & MABEL’S BUNGALOW - DUSK EZEKIEL (O.S.) Sh-She sells seashells by the s-seas-sh-shore. The shells she s-s-sells are surely s-s-seashells -A phone RINGS. Miss Birch ignores the ringing.
MISS BIRCH Continue. From the beginning. Concentrate. EZEKIEL (with effort) She sells seashells by the seashore. The s-s-shells she sells are s-s-surely seashells. S-so if she sells shells on the seashore, I’m s-s-sure she sells seashore shells. Miss Birch gives up and goes to answer the phone. MISS BIRCH Hello? MABEL (V.O.) Miss Birch. It’s Mae McDonald. MISS BIRCH Oh, Miss McDonald. Hello. MABEL (V.O.) I need to speak with Mr. Washington. He’s still there isn’t he? MISS BIRCH Yes, he is. But we’re in the middle of a lesson. You’ll be pleased to know he’s progressing -MABEL (V.O.) (sharply) Please put him on the line! Miss Birch holds out the phone. MISS BIRCH She wants you. Ezekiel takes the phone and puts it to his ear. EZEKIEL This is Ezekiel. MABEL (V.O.) Ezekiel. Listen to me. You have to leave Los Angeles right away.
77. EZEKIEL W-W-What? Mabel, what are -MABEL (V.O.) Listen, a G-man came to see me on the set today. They know you’re here. Ezekiel is frozen by fear. Ms. Birch notices but says nothing. MABEL (V.O.) Did you hear what I said? They’ve been looking for you all over the country and now they’re here. EZEKIEL But h-h-how? MABEL (V.O.) I don’t know. They’re G-men. Ezekiel, you have to leave town right away. Ezekiel hangs up. Realizes Miss Birch is staring at him. He leaves in a hurry. EXT. ROADSIDE DINER - DUSK Mabel and Joyce come out of the diner, get into Mabel’s Nash and drive off. Perkins’ Ford follows. INT. NASH - MOVING - DUSK Mabel drives while Joyce frets. JOYCE Why didn’t you tell me? MABEL I nearly fainted when you brought Ezekiel into the club that night. But you were so happy with him...I didn’t want to ruin what you had. JOYCE You’ve done a good job there. MABEL You think I wanted this?! Any of it?!
JOYCE Well I’m not going to lose my man. MABEL What are you saying? JOYCE I love Ezekiel or Henry or whatever his name is, and I’m not just going to watch him walk out of my life. MABEL They’re on a manhunt for him, Joyce. G-men! He has to leave! JOYCE But he doesn’t have to leave alone. INT. BUNGALOW, JOYCE’S BEDROOM - DUSK Joyce is busily packing a suitcase. MABEL Joyce, this is not a good idea. You’ll be running for the rest of your life. JOYCE But I’ll be running with my man. MABEL Remember when you told me all you wanted was to have a man and raise his children? Is this what you want for them, to always be looking over your shoulder, wondering when the G-men are coming through the door? Joyce stops and looks at her, eyes burning with emotion. JOYCE I have to do this, Mabel. (caresses Mabel’s face) When a woman loves a man, really loves him, there’s nothin’ gonna stop her from being with him. They embrace. When they part, Joyce closes the suitcase. MABEL Wait.
Mabel leaves the room. We watch from Joyce’s POV as she crosses to her bedroom, hear her looking for something. Mabel returns holding a strongbox. It’s full of CASH. MABEL (hands her a lot of money) Here, take this. JOYCE Mabel, no! I can’t -MABEL Look, maybe I don’t know what it’s like to really love a man, but I know what it’s like to love someone. I love you, for leaving Harlem to come here and take care of me. And I love Ruby for understanding I was too young to know what I was doing with Nate. And I love Iris for not turning her back on me when she had every right to. You’re my family. That’s the kind of love I understand. Now take this. You’re going to need it. INT. BUNGALOW LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Joyce is about to leave. She and Mabel are startled by a KNOCK at the door. Mabel answers. It’s Perkins. MABEL Agent Perkins. PERKINS This a bad time to continue our discussion, Miss McDonald? MABEL No. It’s fine. Please, come in. He eyes Joyce and her suitcase suspiciously. PERKINS Somebody plannin’ a trip? MABEL Agent Perkins, this is my roommate, Joyce Babineaux.
80. JOYCE Hello. MABEL Joyce is going to San Diego for the weekend. With her boyfriend. JOYCE Yes. Well, goodbye. MABEL Drive safe, Joyce. They exchange a look, keeping their emotions in check. This could be the last time they see each other. Joyce goes to the door, pauses, then opens it and exits. MABEL Please, have a seat Agent Perkins. PERKINS Thank you. He sits. We hear the engine of the Nash outside as it pulls away from the house. Mabel covers. MABEL Would you like something to drink, Agent Perkins? PERKINS Thank you, no. Exactly when was the last time you saw Henry Stubbs? MABEL (beat) After. PERKINS After the men attacked you? MABEL After they raped and beat me. PERKINS Did he say anything to you about why he killed them instead of, say, merely threatening them with the ax? MABEL You’re from Down South, aren’t you Agent Perkins?
PERKINS Richmond, Virginia. MABEL Then you know a colored boy who raises a hand to a white man in South Carolina, even to protect a helpless colored girl, might just as well put the rope around his own neck... I have no idea where Henry Stubbs is, Agent Perkins. But even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. EXT. AUTO REPAIR GARAGE - DUSK Ezekiel walks fast down the street. He stops, surprised to see Joyce waiting for him behind the wheel of the Nash. INT. MOVIE SET - DAY William Powell and actress JEAN ARTHUR perform a scene. Mabel enters, dressed as a maid, says her lines and exits. INT. LAMBERT’S OFFICE - DAY Mabel sits across from her agent, Dick Lambert. LAMBERT Mae, sweetheart, what can I tell you? You’re always on top of the list, you know that. Mabel tosses a script on his desk. MABEL Dickie, when I signed with MGM I thought I’d be seeing parts for more than maids and colored kitchen girls. What happened to me becoming the colored Clara Bow? LAMBERT I know, I know. But look on the bright side, you’re getting steady work. That voice over for Jean Harlow was big. Mae, since the stock market crashed, the motion picture business is the only growth business in America. You’ve just got to be patient.
INT. BUNGALOW, MABEL’S BEDROOM - NIGHT Mabel and Victor are in bed kissing. He stops. VICTOR What is it? MABEL Would you like peas or broccoli with your potatoes, sir? VICTOR (exasperated) Mae, sweeetheart, not this again. MABEL It’s the best line I’ve had in my last three films. VICTOR That’s not true. You had three scenes in "Dance, Fools, Dance". MABEL And all of them are on the cutting room floor. VICTOR Only because MGM is afraid to have you show up Joan Crawford. MABEL You mean because the studio isn’t ready to show a colored girl as a sex symbol... Maybe I should just go back to all-colored motion pictures. VICTOR Mae, we’ve been over this before. MABEL And no many how many times we go over it, we end up in the same place. Contract or not, the studio’s only interested in colored actresses who play maids or cooks and I’m too "young" to play either. He rolls out of bed, begins to get dressed.
83. MABEL Where are you going? VICTOR You’re obviously preoccupied. I’ll leave you to your thoughts. She sits up, covering herself with the sheet. MABEL I’m sorry I’m not good company. I don’t mean to take it out on you. He turns to her, starts buttoning his shirt. VICTOR Look, Mae, I’m sorry you feel this way, but there are certain realities in Hollywood we have to accept. You know that, you’ve always known that. As she finishes buttoning his shirt: MABEL That doesn’t make it any less disappointing... Victor, I’ve been thinking, perhaps I should try Europe. George Lawson said -VICTOR George Lawson? Don’t tell me that Commie’s been sniffing around. She pushes him away. MABEL Sniffing around?? I’m not a bitch, Victor. Yours or anyone else’s. VICTOR I’m sorry, darling. Forgive me. I just don’t like the idea of you and him together. MABEL And I’m just thrilled that you creep in and out of my bed like a thief in the night, though everyone in Hollywood - including your wife - knows you’ve had affairs with a dozen no-talent lily white actresses.
VICTOR (beat) Like I said, there are certain realities we have to accept. Me and you together, publicly, would ruin both of our careers. INT. BUNGALOW, KITCHEN - DAY Mabel sits at the table reading a letter. IDA MAE (V.O.) I saw your last movin’ picture. Chile, I’m just so proud every time I see you up there on that screen. And with Mr. Dick Powell! You know, he’s one of Miss Juliette’s favorites. Miss Jenny ain’t done been to the cinema house ’cause she still just a baby, but I tells her all ’bout you when I gives her her baths or reads her stories at night... Oh, Mabel honey, I miss you so much. But I know the Lord’s been good to you since you left me. And I know one day you’ll find a good man to make you happy, and have a baby of your own for us both to love... OFF Mabel... EXT. HOLLYWOOD STREET - DAY Mabel strolls down the street, looking mighty fine in a pretty dress, heels and movie star sunglasses. White men and women steal glances at her. GEORGE (O.S.) Mmmmmm-mmmmm! Mabel slows, looks up at George. GEORGE Greta Garbo ain’t got nothin’ on you. Mabel smiles.
INT. CAFE - LATER Mabel and George talk over coffee. GEORGE Europeans - especially the French appreciate Negro artists. They can’t get enough of us. Josephine Baker is a goddess. Duke Ellington is a god. MABEL But I’m still under contract. I can’t sail off to Europe and start making films. GEORGE Why not? Actors rip up their contracts all the time in Hollywood. Mae, if MGM doesn’t know what they’ve got, that’s their loss. Plenty of film makers in Europe will jump at the chance to feature a colored star with your talent and beauty. MABEL (pretty smile) Tell you what, Georgie, I’ll give it serious thought. GEORGE Is it just the contract that’s got you stuck here? MABEL (beat) Yes, of course. What else what it be? GEORGE It’s a small town, Negroes. (then) I won’t judge you, might, but I never beautiful woman, a and a truly gifted don’t need him. OFF Mabel... Mae. Smaller for Mae. Others will. You’re a talented actress singer... You
INT. BUNGALOW, MABEL’S BEDROOM - DAWN Mabel lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. Suddenly, she grimaces, then rushes out of bed and to the bathroom. We hear her vomiting. EXT. STUDIO LOT - DAY Mabel is waiting pensively. A snotty BLONDE ACTRESS approaches. BLONDE ACTRESS You there! Girl! (Mabel looks at her, Me?) Yes, you. Run to the commissary and bring me a pack of cigarettes and a Coca-Cola. MABEL What? BLONDE ACTRESS (irritated) Hurry! I don’t have all day. MABEL Then I suggest you start walking now. BLONDE ACTRESS Who the hell do you think you are, talking to me like that? VICTOR (O.S.) She’s Mae McDonald... Victor has come up behind them. VICTOR ...and she was a star for this studio when you were still giving hickeys to fullbacks in Topeka or Tacoma or wherever you came from. The blonde actress smirks and walks off in a huff. Victor looks at Mabel and smiles.
INT. VICTOR’S TRAILER - MINUTES LATER Victor is stunned. VICTOR You’re sure? MABEL Yes. VICTOR Positive? (off her What did I just tell you? look) And it’s mine? Now the look is more angry than annoyed. MABEL (matter-of-fact) I’m not a whore, Victor. VICTOR Of course you’re not! I didn’t mean -- look, Mae, sweetheart, it’s just coming as a shock. MABEL We’ve been sleeping together for over a year, Victor. It never crossed your mind that you could get me pregnant? VICTOR I just assumed you took care of that sort of thing. MABEL Because that’s what whores do. VICTOR Mae! You know I care for you! (then) Look, everything’s going to be fine, sweetheart. I promise. This isn’t the first time this has happend. There are people here in Hollywood who can take care of this, discreetly. Their eyes meet. It’s obvious they’re on different pages.
88. VICTOR (realizing) Mae. Sweetheart, no! What the hell are you thinking?! MABEL You don’t have to be involved, Victor, but -VICTOR No, "buts", Mae! Understand?! You’re getting rid of it and that’s that! MABEL (matter-of-fact) No, Victor, I’m not. He takes her by the shoulders. VICTOR Are you out of your mind?! Jean will put up with a lot but she won’t stand for some half-breed picanniny running around Hollywood! Her family will cut her off and I’ll lose the financing for my next film! Mabel covers that he’s just ripped her heart out. MABEL You won’t have to worry about that, Victor. I’m moving to Paris. VICTOR But you’re under contract to MGM! MABEL Not since this morning. I tore up my contract. VICTOR Mae, this is nuts! Don’t I get a say in any of this?! Beat. She goes to the door, turns and looks at him. MABEL I’ll forward my address when I’m settled, if you ever want to see the half-breed picanniny. And like that she’s gone.
89. EXT. GRAVE SITE - DAY A gravedigger is digging a grave. He’s so far in the whole that we can’t see him yet. But we see the shovel at work and dirt flying out. A weathered, white-haired OLD MAN walks to the grave. Looks down at the gravedigger. He speaks with a thick New England accent. OLD MAN When you’re done here, go on down to plot sixty-six on the far side of the yard. The shoveling stops. EZEKIEL (O.S.) Yes, sir. R-R-Right away. The old man walks away. Ezekiel climbs out of the grave. Sticks his shovel in a mound of dirt. He lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag. EXT. PLOT SIXTY-NINE - LATER A mound of dirt in front of the open grave. Ezekiel climbs out, sticks his shovel in the dirt. He sits on the edge of the grave with his feet dangling inside. Pulls a creased piece of paper from his overalls. Unfolds it. Reads. EZEKIEL A blackbird bit a big black bear, but where is the big black bear that the blackbird bit?. A blackbird bit a big black bear... EXT. DESOLATE BOSTON STREET - ESTABLISHING - DUSK A light snow falls on decripit tenements. INT. TENEMENT APARTMENT - DUSK Ezekiel enters the shabby apartment. A TODDLER sits on the floor playing with a wooden toy. Ezekiel goes to him, kisses him on top of his curly head. The toddler looks up and smiles. Joyce comes in from another room. She’s still pretty, but worn-looking. What we notice most about her is her advanced state of pregnancy.
JOYCE Hi, baby. She kisses Ezekiel full on the lips. EZEKIEL Hey. INT. TENEMENT APARTMENT, KITCHEN - LATER Ezekiel is eating a dinner of beans and cornbread. Joyce enters and joins him at the table. JOYCE He’s asleep now. The fever’s had him restless and cranky. EZEKIEL Good sleep will h-h-help. How you feelin’? JOYCE I feel okay. She’s kicking a lot. That’s good. EZEKIEL (a smile) You’re so sure it’s a she? JOYCE (a smile) Mmmmmm-hmmmm. And the one after will be a girl too. Ezekiel turns somber. She clocks the mood swing. Touches his forearms affectionately. JOYCE Baby, this is what I want. It’s what I’ve always wanted. EZEKIEL You c-c-could have -(pauses so he doesn’t stutter) You could have had a better life. In Harlem, in Hollywood. JOYCE But I wouldn’t be with you. I wouldn’t have our son. I wouldn’t be carryin’ our daughter...
She feels the baby kick, takes his hand and puts it on her stomach. He feels it too and they share a smile. Then she collects his dishes and takes them to the sink. EZEKIEL I was thinking, Jane would be a nice name - if it is a girl. JOYCE That is a nice name. But I’ve already decided on a name. (off his look) Henrietta. Beat. He lets the significance of it sink in. EZEKIEL All right. He goes to the coal burning stove. Puts more coal in. EZEKIEL It’s cold out; gonna get colder. JOYCE Ezekiel. EZEKIEL Yeah, baby. She puts two coins in his hand. EZEKIEL What’s this for? JOYCE Mabel’s motion picture is playin’ down at the Corona. EZEKIEL Joyce, we can’t afford -She stops him with fingers pressed gently to his lips. JOYCE It took a lot for her to make it up on that screen. But none of it woulda happened if not for you. (beat) You’re a good man, Ezekiel. Not just a gravedigger or a chicken plucker or a stable boy. I want you to go and see what you helped make (MORE)
JOYCE (CONT’D) possible by being a man who did what was right. They kiss, tenderly, lovingly. EXT. CORONA MOVIE HOUSE - NIGHT A few black moviegoers file inside Ezekiel stares at the "Princess of Mabel the titular princess is held jungle and bloodthirsty natives in INT. CORONA MOVIE HOUSE - LATER Ezekiel watches, mesmerized, as Mabel sings the jungle love song we heard her sing on the movie set. QUICK FLASH to 15-year-old Mabel singing in front of the post office, Henry Stubbs, broom in hand, watching her from inside. BACK TO Ezekiel watching Mae McDonald on the silver screen. EXT. DESOLATE BOSTON STREET - NIGHT A Model T Ford rolls slowly down the street. INT. FORD - NIGHT Agent Perkins and the other agent are in front of a tenement. EXT. BOSTON STREET - NIGHT Ezekiel walks down the street. Pulls the collar of his coat up against the cold and snow. We become aware of the faint sound of ACTIVITY. Ezekiel hears the sound, looks into the distance. REVERSE and we see thick black plumes of smoke and the glow of huge fires. the run-down movie house. Tanzania" movie poster. by George, with a fiery the background.
EXT. DESOLATE BOSTON STREET - CONTINUOUS Tenements are hopelessly ablaze. Residents of nearby buildings watch helplessly. Ezekiel runs up to his building. It’s engulfed in flames. EXT. FORD - SAME Perkins and the other agent sit in front of the tenement. No fires. No crowd. Clearly not Ezekiel’s neighborhood. EXT. BURNING TENEMENT - SAME Ezekiel tries to run into the inferno. Two black men hold him back. BLACK MAN Man, you cain’t go in there! EZEKIEL My wife! My baby! JOYCE! JOYCE! OFF Ezekiel’s anguish... INT. CABARET - NIGHT A spectacular revue is going on. At center stage, the incomprehensible JOSEPHINE BAKER, costumed for the "Dance Banane" - her most famous number. PAN to find the likes of ERNEST HEMINGWAY, LANGSTON HUGHES and MARLENE DIETRICH among the enthralled audience. Mabel and George are there too. Suddenly, a LEOPARD appears onstage. Josephine takes the beast by its leash. JOSEPHINE (in French, to the leopard) Chiquita, Chiquita, my darling. She continues her performance. At the climax, Chiquita escapes into the orchestra pit, terrorizing the musicians but thrilling Josephine and the audience to no end. JOSEPHINE (in French, subtitled) Thank you. Thank you all, my darlings!
As a wrangler gets hold of Chiquita and Josephine exits, we notice that one of the chorus girls is Ruby! INT. CABARET, DRESSING ROOM - LATER Mabel and Ruby embrace, overjoyed to see each other again. RUBY Look at you! You’re gorgeous, girl! MABEL So are you! And you were incredible out there! RUBY After Josephine we’re all yesterday’s news. How long have you been in Paris? I’m so happy to see you! And... MABEL Oh, yes. Ruby, this is my husband, George Lawson. RUBY (taken aback) Husband? GEORGE Hello, Ruby. Mae’s talked about you so much I feel we’ve already met. RUBY (recognizing him) You starred with Mabel in her first two movies. I remember you now. MABEL Now George is with the American Negro Film Troupe. GEORGE Not as prestigious as my lady here, but it keeps me busy. RUBY Mabel, you have to meet Josephine!
INT. JOSEPHINE’S DRESSING ROOM - MOMENTS LATER Josephine greets Ruby with kisses for both cheeks. RUBY Josephone, darling, I’d love you to meet a dear friend of mine. Mae McDonald. JOSEPHINE The actress?! RUBY Yes. Mabel and George step into the dressing room. MABEL Hello, Miss Baker. You were fabulous! JOSEPHINE Thank you, darling. You must call me Josephine! I just adored your films! MABEL Thank you! INT. BISTRO - DAY Mabel and Ruby talk over espressos. RUBY It’s a wonder every Negro in America hasn’t come to Paris. To think of how they treat us there compared to here. MABEL I’d heard how much they adored Josephine, but I never would’ve believe it until last night... She seems to really like you, Ruby. RUBY That’s another thing about Paris that makes it more...livable. MABEL Ruby...you and Josephine Baker?!
96. RUBY We’re not exclusive. She goes with men too. But I don’t mind. That’s just how it is here in Paris. MABEL And I thought Hollywood was risque... (off Ruby’s mild offense) I’m sorry, Ruby. I’m glad you’re happy, really, I am. RUBY What about you? MABEL Sure. I’m happy. RUBY George sure is a sweet piece of pecan pie. You say you got married on the cruise over? MABEL Yeah. Georgie got the captain to marry us. RUBY A colored man who’s fine and romantic?... You have to excuse me, Mabel, but that sounds almost too good to be true. MABEL I’m just lucky, I guess. Beat. Ruby just looks at her. Knows better. RUBY How far along are you? MABEL (about to protest, then) ...Three months. RUBY Does he know it’s not his? MABEL My God! How do you know these things?! You and Iris and Joyce, it’s like you’re all psychic! Mabel clocks a change in Ruby.
MABEL Did I say something? RUBY Oh, honey...I thought you knew. I just figured since -MABEL Ruby, what is it?! RUBY Mabel, Joyce is dead. It’s as if Mabel’s been shot through the heart. RUBY It was a fire. Almost three months ago, right before Christmas. (beat) Mabel...both her babies died too. Tears roll down Mabel’s cheeks. Ruby reaches across the table to comfort her. EXT. CHAMPS-ELYSEES - DAY Mabel and Ruby walk slowly down the street. MABEL We didn’t want to risk that they would use my mail and track her and Ezekiel down, so we agreed we wouldn’t write... All I could do was pray for her every day. I prayed God would let her know how much I missed her. And loved her. RUBY I’m sure she knew, honey. Whether or not God had anything to do with it. Mabel stops walking. Ruby turns to face her. MABEL What about Ezekiel?... Did Iris say what happened to him? RUBY No. But, Mabel honey, everybody in that building died that night.
INT. PARIS APARTMENT - DUSK An elegant apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Mabel sits on the sofa in a luxurious robe, staring blankly into space. She doesn’t even flinch when the phone rings. George enters, dressed to the nines. He answers the phone. GEORGE (in French, subtitled) Hello? Yes, Rene, she will be available for shooting tomorrow... No, you have my word. She’s just a little under the weather... No, in America that’s what we say when someone is feeling ill... Well, because -- never mind. Mae will be on set tomorrow, Rene... Yes. Goodbye. He hangs up and looks at Mabel. She’s still somewhere else. GEORGE In case you missed it, that was Rene. He wants you on set tomorrow. Mae! She slowly looks at him. GEORGE Mae, baby, listen, another week of filming and you can take time off to have the baby, come back and do two films next year, just like we planned. But you can’t blow this for us by not showing up? Understand? MABEL (re: wine glass) Would you mind? He pours her a glass of red wine. GEORGE Mae, I’m sorry about your friends. I know it’s been hard on you. But you’ve got to get over it. It’s bad for you and it’s bad for the baby. He kisses her forehead then goes to the apartment door.
MABEL (stopping him) I’ll be on the set tomorrow. He smiles supportively then exits. Mabel takes a drag from a cigarette then a drink of wine. She closes her eyes. INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT We hear the sounds of two people making passionate love. PAN into the darkened room to find a WHITE WOMAN straddling a black man. After they climax, the woman rolls onto the bed and we see George. The woman snuggles in close to him. WHITE WOMAN (in French, subtitled) That was marvelous, baby. INT. MOVIE SET - DAY It’s the climactic scene of a multi-racial murder mystery. A debonaire PRIVATE DETECTIVE (black) summarizes his theory in a room of the usuals - the MURDERER (white), the POLICE CHIEF (black) a dimwitted SIDEKICK (white) and the film’s beautiful love interest, Mabel. The murderer grabs Mabel and presses a gun in her side (which we can’t see because she’s standing behind a DESK GLOBE). Mabel and the detective share a conspiratorial look. Suddenly, she stomps on the murderer’s foot and the detective shoots him. DIRECTOR (O.S.) Cut! Perfect! That’s a wrap! As the actors begin to disband, a stagehand moves the globe, REVEALING that Mabel is very pregnant. EXT. BOULEVARD SAINT-GERMAIN - DAY MID CLOSE SHOT of Mabel and Ruby walking. RUBY Honey, don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault Paris freely gives black men the two things they can’t get in America - white women and heroine. Just be glad he ain’t addicted to heroine too.
MABEL Not yet, anyway... Maybe I deserve this, Ruby. Georgie knew I was carrying a white man’s baby but he married me anyway. RUBY That’s horseshit and you know it. He knew you’d be a star here and didn’t want to miss out on what it could do for his lousy career. (beat) Mabel, you know you should leave him. MABEL (beat) I don’t know, Ruby. RUBY You don’t need him. And you said yourself you never really loved him. MABEL I said I didn’t love him the way Iris loved Nate or the way Joyce loved Ezekiel. RUBY Which means you don’t love him enough, which means you shouldn’t stay with him. MABEL (pensive) I know you’re right. I just don’t want to think about it now. I’ve got four films lined up already, here in Paris, in London and in Budapest. I’ll be so busy when I start working again, I’ll hardly ever see him. We hear a GURGLE. Mabel and Ruby stop walking. WIDEN to show Mabel has been pushing a baby carriage. She smiles down at her six-month-old daughter, MARTINIQUE. MABEL (cooing) Martinique, my angel. Mommy’s here. BEGIN MONTAGE - A STAR RISES
101. INTERCUT in our montage, scenes of Mabel on set and on screen in a variety of films - dramas, comedies, adventure tales, musicals, romance - as the years pass and her fame throughout Europe grows. * Mabel and George happily celebrate Martinique’s first birthday in their Paris apartment; * Mabel signing autographs at a London premier; * George post-coital with a white woman, shooting heroine; * Mabel encloses a photo of Martinique in a letter to Ida Mae; * Another birthday for Martinique, this one less happy as Mabel and George bicker; * Mabel and Ruby celebrate Martinique’s fourth birthday. We see that their closeness seems to be taking a different form; * Mabel sings with Josephine Baker at a Berlin cabaret; * Mabel looks on coolly as George moves out of their apartment; * Ruby and Mabel kiss for the first time as we... END MONTAGE EXT. PARIS STREET - DAY Mabel and Ruby, fashionably dressed and carrying bags from trendy boutiques, arrive at a Dusenberg. A DRIVER opens the door for them. INT. DUSENBERG - MOVING - DAY Mabel and Ruby in the back seat. MABEL What am I supposed to do in America? There are even fewer roles for Negroes than there were when I left. RUBY Who says you have to act? Harlem’s just as hot for jazz singers as it was before we left. And Lord knows you can sing.
MABEL (scoffs) They didn’t like Josephine when she went back. What makes you think they’ll like me any better? RUBY Honey, you know I adore you, but you’re not Josephine Baker. You’ll play in Harlem for exactly the reasons she didn’t. INT. PARIS APARTMENT - DAY Mabel and Ruby enter. Put down their shopping bags. MABEL And what about you? You expect me to just leave you here knowing a war’s coming? RUBY Now I can’t go home. My dancin’ days are long gone and there ain’t no good place in America for a colored bull dyke, not even Harlem. MABEL Stop talking like that, Ruby. You know I don’t like it. RUBY Fine, but it’s true. I’d rather die a dyke in Paris than live a lie in New York City. Besides, the war, when it comes, won’t last forever. Martinique, now six but possesing her mother’s beauty, enters from another room. MARTINIQUE Mommy! Mommy! MABEL (embracing her) Angel! MARTINIQUE Did you and Aunt Ruby buy anything for me?
103. RUBY Well your mother didn’t. But you know Aunt Ruby will never let you down, sweetheart. Martinique hugs Ruby. Mabel and Ruby share a bittersweet smile. EXT. DOCK - DAY Porters pull loads of Mabel’s luggage as Mabel, Ruby and Martinique make their way to the boarding plank. RUBY Here we are. This is where you board. Ruby kneels to say goodbye to Martinique. RUBY I’m gonna miss you, sweetheart, but I’ll be thinking about you every day. MARTINIQUE I’ll miss you too, Aunt Ruby. RUBY Now, you promise me you’ll be good and look out for your mother. And I’ll promise to write you at least once a week. How’s that? MARTINIQUE I promise. They hug tightly. Ruby kisses her all over her face. She stands to say goodbye to Mabel. MABEL How many times are we going to say goodbye? RUBY At least once more, I hope... Give my love to Iris when you see her. MABEL I will... Ruby, there’s something I’ve always wanted to know but never had the nerve to ask. Why didn’t you tell --
RUBY Because I loved you too much. They share a long heartfelt look. Then they embrace, more as sisters than lovers. RUBY (softly) Goodbye. INT. IRIS’ APARTMENT - DAY Iris, still the force we remember, opens her arms wide. IRIS Mabel! Come here, girl! They embrace and hold one another for a while. When they part they smile. IRIS Let me look at you! MABEL Iris, it’s so good to see you! IRIS And who is this? She looks down at Martinique, standing by Mabel’s side. IRIS Don’t tell me this is little Martinique. Oh, sweetie, you’re just so adorable! MABEL Marti, say hello to your Aunt Iris. MARTINIQUE Hello. INT. IRIS’ APARTMENT - LATER Mabel and Iris sit on the sofa, talking. Off to the side, Martinique quietly plays with three new DOLLS. IRIS It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? Nate left Cleo to play with Duke at the Cotton Club and (MORE)
IRIS (CONT’D) within a year Duke goes on tour, Cleo’s band takes over at the Cotton and he hires me to choreograph. MABEL You were always the best girl on the line, Iris. You taught me everything I know about dancing. IRIS Thank you for saying that, but we both know you were a natural. Beat. They look at Martinique. IRIS She’s so beautiful, Mabel. MABEL Thank you. IRIS I can tell you’ve been a good mother. That’s not easy in this business. MABEL (beat, sensitive) Did you ever think about trying again? IRIS Think about, yes. Trying? Well, let’s just say neither Nate or me tried too hard. I figured losing one in the oven was a sign we weren’t fit. And with Nate...well, being Nate. Mabel lowers her eyes, feeling the shame of her youth. Iris takes her hands in her own. Smiles. IRIS Oh sugar, any woman who falls in love with a musician is askin’ for hurtin’. But me and Nate, we have our way. He can’t do without me and God knows I can’t imagine livin’ without him. I got what I paid for, sugar, and I’m satisfied with it.
MABEL Nate is doing well? His own band, the records and the radio. IRIS Best ax I’ve ever heard. And you know I’ve heard ’em all... So in her wire, Ruby said you were thinking about singing? EXT. APOLLO THEATER - ESTABLISHING - NIGHT The marquee reads, "Duke Ellington & His Orchestra & Mae McDonald". INT. APOLLO THEATER - NIGHT The place is packed. The orchestra finishes a number. Then DUKE ELLINGTON takes the microphone to address the audience. DUKE ELLINGTON Ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to have our featured singer join us here tonight. She’s just back from performing on screen and on stage in Paris and London. I give you the beautiful, the talented, the magical, Mae McDonald. A spotlight hits Mabel, stunning in a white gown. Over Mabel singing a torch song, INTERCUT a MONTAGE: headlines and newsreel footage of the onset of World War II - Nazi Germany’s conquest of Western Europe - ending with the tragic fall of Paris and a BOMBED OUT CABARET. EXT. HARLEM APARTMENT - NIGHT A sedan pulls to the curb. A waiting doorman opens the door of the car and Mabel exits the back seat, dressed in evening wear as if returning from a performance. She enters the building. INT. HARLEM APARTMENT - NIGHT Mabel enters to a RINGING telephone. She takes off her coat. Answers the phone.
MABEL Yes, hello?... Iris... No... Iris, what is it?... (shocked, in denial) No... No. Mabel sinks into a chair. On the phone, we barely hear Iris saying, "Mabel. I’m on my way." But Mabel drops the phone and collapses in tears, overwhelmed by grief. INT. HARLEM APARTMENT - DAY Mabel looks worn and dispirited. Iris sits next to her on the sofa, comforting her. Nate - Iris’ saxophone-playing husband and Mabel’s first lover - stands nearby. IRIS She was brave to stay the way she did. I could never have been so brave. MABEL She knew she’d never come home. That we’d never see each other again... Oh why didn’t she come with us?! Why?! Mabel crumbles into Iris’ arms. INT. JAZZ CLUB - DAY Mabel practices a jazz standard with a QUARTET. A FIGURE appears at the front of the club just as they finish the number. Mabel tells the group to take five. She lights a cigarette and notices the figure as he steps out of the shadow. It’s Victor. He comes to her. VICTOR Mae. You look great. MABEL (blows smoke) Victor. VICTOR I heard you were headlining here. I’m on a flight back to L.A. tonight or I’d come see you.
108. MABEL You see me now. VICTOR So how’ve you been, Mae? MABEL Good. Touring. Three weeks here then Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit. VICTOR Sounds better than good. And...how is Marti? MABEL So you know her name. VICTOR I’d like to know more. Mae, I want to meet her. Mabel takes another drag on her cigarette. Exhales the smoke slowly. MABEL She’s seven, Victor. Seven. You were shooting in London four years ago. You could have met her then, or sooner if you really wanted to. Beat. He expected that, but it stung all the same. VICTOR Mae, I’m sorry I hurt you. That I didn’t come to Paris to see you and Marti. But she is my daughter. MABEL She’s my daughter, Victor. I brought her into this world without you, I’ve raised her so far without you and I intend to keep doing so, without you. VICTOR Mae, please -MABEL Thanks for stopping by, Victor. Don’t miss your flight. The band members filter back out. Mabel stubs out her cigarette. She and Victor lock eyes for a beat then she turns and goes to the bandstand.
MABEL (to band) All right, boys, let’s take it from the top. Victor turns and leaves. INT. HARLEM APARTMENT - DAY It’s Martinique’s seventh birthday but all the guests at her party are adults - actors, musicians, dancers - the people of her mother’s world. Iris brings out a birthday cake with candles lit. Instead of singing "Happy Birthday", Nate blows a jazzy rendition on his sax. LATER Mabel is mingling with guests. We hear the phone RING. Iris answers. We see her react to what she’s heard. She looks at Mabel. EXT./INT. TRAIN DEPOT - DUSK A passenger train leaves the station. When it clears frame, we see Mabel on the platform, holding Martinique’s hand. They walk through the depot, Mabel carrying a suitcase. MRS. FISHER (O.S.) Mabel! Mabel looks up to find Mrs. Fisher, older of course, but just as lovely. With her is her fresh-faced daughter, JENNY, now sixteen. They go to Mabel and Martinique. Mabel puts down her bag and gazes into Mrs. Fisher’s eyes. MABEL (emotions rising) Miss Juliette. Mrs. Fisher smiles a sad smile and they embrace. EXT. FUNERAL - DAY A chilly fall day. About two-dozen MOURNERS listen as a MINISTER gives his sermon. Mabel sits with Mrs. Fisher and their daughters. Mabel wipes tears from her eyes.
EXT. FISHER HOME - DAY Mabel gazes in the woods in the backyard. The shack is gone. Mrs. Fisher comes up behind her. MRS. FISHER I had Jeffrey tear it down after you left. Your grandmamma lived in the house with us ever since. MABEL She never told me in any of her letters. MRS. FISHER I’m not surprised. (a smile) She fussed for years that her bed inside was too soft. MABEL I should have brought her out to Los Angeles when I had the chance. Mrs. Fisher touches her shoulder. Mabel turns to face her. MRS. FISHER You were good, Mabel. You sent money, you wrote. She knew you loved her. Besides, Ida Mae would never have left home. MABEL I should have come home sooner. MRS. FISHER Mabel, dear, she didn’t love you any less because you weren’t here. And what you did while you were away filled her with so much pride and happiness. That’s what you should remember. INT. FORD - MOVING - DAY Mrs. Fisher drives. Mabel gazes out the window at the rural poverty that would have been her life.
EXT. POST OFFICE - DAY Mabel and Mrs. Fisher approach the post office (the same one from our earlier scenes). Coming out of the building is a familiar-looking woman. This is Miss Robbins, the teacher. MISS ROBBINS Good afternoon, Mrs. Fisher. MRS. FISHER Hello, Miss Robbins. You remember Mabel McDonald. MISS ROBBINS Oh, my! Mabel?! MABEL Hello, Miss Robbins. MRS. FISHER Mabel is a big star in colored motion pictures. She sings in nightclubs too. MISS ROBBINS Oh, is that so! How wonderful! MRS. FISHER She’s back in town to tend to her grandmamma’s things. She passed a week ago Thursday. MISS ROBBINS I’m so sorry to hear that, Mabel. MABEL Thank you, Miss Robbins. As the women reminise on the post office steps, a POLICE CAR stops out front. Mrs. Fisher and Mabel say goodbye to Miss Robbins. Before turning to continue up the steps, Mrs. Fisher sees the police car. Mabel clocks a change in her. MABEL Miss Juliette, what is it? She follows Mrs. Fisher’s eyes to the car. It has "County Sheriff" printed on the side. Mabel stares at the car for a long couple of beats before Mrs. Fisher takes her by the elbow and guides her up the stairs.
INT. FISHER HOME, PARLOR - DAY Mabel and Mrs. Fisher are talking. MRS. FISHER He was elected sheriff a year ago. Married Lucy Burke. They got two girls now. Most folks in the county seem to fancy him. Mabel lets this sink in. Uneasily. After the tension passes. MABEL What about the other one? MRS. FISHER Bobby Carlisle. Drowned over in Crater Lake three years ago. Some said he was drinkin’ before he went in. But that’s no surprise. He was a drunk long before then. INT. FISHER HOME, BEDROOM - NIGHT Mabel tucks Martinique into bed. MABEL Good night, my angel. Sweet dreams. MARTINIQUE Good night, Mommy. Mommy? MABEL Yes, angel? MARTINIQUE Will we see Miss Juliette and Jenny again after tomorrow? MABEL Yes. I think we will. MARTINIQUE I would like that. Mabel kisses Martinique goodnight, leans over to turn out the lamp and notices a framed PHOTO on the nightstand. It’s a picture of her as a little girl, sweet and innocent, her big eyes beckoning to us. Beat. Mabel turns out the light.
EXT. FISHER HOME, FRONT PORCH - NIGHT Mabel is smoking a cigarette. She looks out onto the dark yard and beyond to the country road. Someone is standing at edge of the road. Mabel tries to make out who it might be. She tosses the cigarette, walks toward the road. The closer she gets to the person the more she can’t believe her eyes. She walks faster. A smile comes. The someone is Ezekiel. She runs the final few yards to meet him. Stops right in front of him. They look long into each other’s eyes. Then they embrace. MABEL Ezekiel! Oh, Ezekiel! EZEKIEL Mabel. After their long embrace: MABEL (concern growing) What are you doing here?! Ezekiel, it’s too dangerous! Claude Peppers is sheriff now! EZEKIEL I know all about Claude Peppers. But when I heard about Miss Ida Mae, I knew you would come home. She stares at him, pleasantly surprised. MABEL Ezekiel...you’re not stuttering. He pulls a piece of creased paper from his back pocket. Unfolds it and hands it to her. MABEL (reading) A blackbird bit a big black bear, but where is the big black bear that the blackbird bit? She looks up at him and they share a big smile.
114. EXT. JETTY - NIGHT Mabel and Ezekiel sit on a jetty, looking out at a small lake. A full moon reflects on the water. It’s beautiful. MABEL I’m so sorry, Ezekiel. I don’t know how you found strength to go on. EZEKIEL I almost didn’t. I barely ate or slept for weeks. I just wanted to die. But somehow I kept on goin’. After a few years of wandering, I found myself in Savanah. That’s where I was when Mamma got word to me about Miss Ida Mae. MABEL I know you must know this, but Joyce loved you dearly. He smiles to himself, remembering better times. EZEKIEL I was a lucky man, I know... But that’s not what kept me goin’ all those years... It was you, Mabel. Mabel looks at him. Not surprised. EZEKIEL From the first time I saw you - you couldn’ta been more than twelve years old - I thought you were the most beautiful thing God created. And when I heard you sing, well, I knew for sure you were an angel here on earth. MABEL (beat) Why...why didn’t you ever say anything? I must’ve passed you a hundred times at the post office or in the square. EZEKIEL I couldn’t put two sentences together without falling all over myself. No, I was happy just to love you from a distance. There’s a silence between them, then:
MABEL I thought about you often after you and Joyce left Los Angeles. Wondered what my life might have been like...if you had spoken to me before... EZEKIEL You’ve done fine for yourself considering...considering how things got started. MABEL I’ve thought about that too, Ezekiel. Because of me, you’ve had to spend your life running. You could’ve had a better life. EZEKIEL Mabel. If I had to I’d do it all again. And not just because of how I feel about you. What Claude and those boys did was wrong... I’m just sorry I didn’t get there -MABEL (stops him with a touch) You got there, Ezekiel. EXT. COUNTRY ROAD - NIGHT Mabel and Ezekiel walk along the road. EZEKIEL I suspect war’s bound to come, and when it does I’ll join up. MABEL Oh, Ezekiel, you’ll be giving yourself away to the FBI. EZEKIEL The way I figure it, it’ll take ’em a while to figure out Joe Loomis is Henry Stubbs. By that time we could be deep enough into war that the government’ll need every able bodied man they can get. Mabel doesn’t like the sound of that at all.
116. MABEL Before Uncle Sam asks Negroes to fight Nazis in Europe, surely he can create more jobs and build better schools for us here. EZEKIEL Mabel you’re not some sort of Communist are you? MABEL No, Ezekiel, I’m not a Communist. She stops walking. Faces him. MABEL Since the day I left here I’ve felt like I’ve been searching for something... When I saw you tonight, out there in front of the Fisher house, I knew I’d finally found it... Henry, I don’t want to go another ten years wondering whether you’re alive or dead, happy or sad. And I don’t want to go another minute wondering if what I’m feeling right now is real. Beat. He strokes her cheek. They kiss, tentatively at first, then deeply and with the passion of their pent-up longing. EXT. FISHER HOME - LATER Mabel and Ezekiel walk hand-in-hand up the pathway from the road to the house. MABEL Come to New York with Marti and me. EZEKIEL Mabel, I -MABEL Yes, Henry, you can. The you died in that fire in And I haven’t heard from almost ten years. You’ll Harlem. With me. FBI thinks Boston. them in be safe in
EZEKIEL And what am I supposed to do up in Harlem?
MABEL You can do whatever you want. After all these years, don’t you deserve a chance? Don’t we? She caresses his face. They look long into each other’s eyes. Kiss deeply. Then: MABEL We leave for the train station tomorrow at noon. You’ll be here? EZEKIEL (beat) Yes. I’ll be here. INT. FISHER HOME, BEDROOM - LATER Mabel slides into bed with a sleeping Martinique. She holds the child close, then closes her eyes, smiling to herself. EXT. COUNTRY ROAD - LATER Ezekiel walks down the road. Suddenly, CAR HEADLIGHTS turn on behind him. Ezekiel stops, turns. We hear tires crushing gravel as the car slowly approaches. It stops a few yards before reaching Ezekiel. A tall, red-headed man wearing a uniform and badge climbs out. Sheriff Claude Peppers walks toward Ezekiel. They stand a few feet apart, look each other in the eyes. CLAUDE Henry Stubbs. Welcome home, boy. OFF Ezekiel’s quiet dignity... EXT. ANOTHER STRETCH OF COUNTRY ROAD - CONTINUOUS Quiet. Dark. Still. Suddenly interrupted by a single GUNSHOT that echoes through the night. EXT. FISHER HOME, FRONT PORCH - DAY Mabel stands on the porch fretting. She checks her watch for the hundreth time. 12:45 p.m. Mrs. Fisher comes out of the house, coat on and ready to go.
118. MRS. FISHER Mabel, dear, we can’t wait any longer. You’ll miss the train and your plane. Mabel looks out to the road. Scans both directions. INT. FORD - MOVING - DAY Mrs. Fisher is driving with Mabel next to her. Jenny and Martinique are in back. The Ford turns out of the Fisher yard and onto the road. Mabel takes a long look back at the home as they drive away. Then she turns her head to look out the back window. No sign of Ezekiel. Her eyes drift down to Martinique. ADULT MARTINIQUE (V.O.) I’d never seen Mother so sad. EXT. POST OFFICE - DAY BACK TO THE CEREMONY at the very beginning of our film. The MAYOR is at the podium talking about Mabel, her career and what she meant to the town. Over this: ADULT MARTINIQUE (V.O.) It wasn’t until several days later that Mrs. Fisher phoned to tell Mother that he was dead, found shot and left on the side of the road. No suspects in his killing. But Mother already knew...She knew death was the only thing that would keep them apart. And she didn’t need the police or the FBI to figure out who killed him. MAYOR ...and she became a symbol of grace and beauty, not just for our fair town, but for our entire state, as evidenced by the presence here today of our esteemed lieutenant governor. Eyes turn to Lieutenant Governor Claude Peppers in the front row. Across the aisle from him are the three women from our opening scene - Mrs. Fisher, seventies, Jenny, mid-forties and ADULT MARTINIQUE, the mixed-race beauty in her late thirties, sitting with her young son. The women all look at Claude, whose lifetime of heavy drinking has taken a toll. As the mayor continues:
ADULT MARTINIQUE (V.O.) We stayed in America during the war. Mother toured with her jazz quartet and even had supporting roles in two big studio movies, neither of them directed by my father... After the war, we moved back to Paris, where she met and eventually married jazz drummer Hal Bixby. In Europe, Mother starred in more than twenty films and stage plays between 1946 and 1962. She became known as the Black Marlene Dietrich and, in Europe at least, was to film what Josephine Baker had become to stage. A show stopper. MAYOR I’d like to ask Mabel’s daughter to do the honors. Miss Lawson, if you please. A smattering of applause as Martinique stands and goes to the podium. She and the mayor unveil a glamorous PORTRAIT of Mabel. ADULT MARTINIQUE (V.O.) We returned to the States in 1964. Though she never acted again, Mother did become active in the Civil Rights Movement, taking part in demonstrations in Brooklyn, Cleveland, Chicago, all throughout Mississippi and, of course, the March on Selma. The ceremony ends. Several officials join the Mayor in paying their respects to Martinique, Mrs. Fisher and Jenny. ADULT MARTINIQUE (V.O.) Though Mother had become a huge star in Europe, when she died of heart failure in Harlem in 1968, hardly anyone in the media made note. Not even Ebony magazine reported her passing. But the people in her hometown - black and white - didn’t forget. White-gloved attendants take the portrait from the easel and carry it carefully inside the post office.
120. EXT. POST OFFICE - LATER Martinique, her son, Mrs. Fisher and Jenny are leaving the ceremony. Claude steps up to them. The moment is thick with tension. He asks for a moment to speak with Martinique. They move off for a private moment. CLAUDE It was a nice ceremony. Your mamma, she had a very impressive career. ADULT MARTINIQUE Mr. Peppers, I don’t know why you’re here. Perhaps it’s a public relations ploy to gain votes. Regardless, I hardly think we have anything to talk about. CLAUDE I understand your feeling that way, Miss Lawson. As for gaining votes, I expect I lost more than I gained by being here today. Several whites scowl at Claude and Martinique talking. ADULT MARTINIQUE Well I hope you didn’t come all the way from Columbia to ask for forgiveness. I’m afraid that’s a wasted trip. Yes, I know all about you and what you did - to my mother...and to Henry Tubbs. CLAUDE It’s not forgiveness I came for, Miss Lawson... Though I do regret the things I’ve done... ADULT MARTINIQUE Why are you here then, Mr. Peppers? CLAUDE I’ll have to answer to God for my sins, Miss Lawson. And when the time comes, I’ll accept what he has in store for me. But there’s one thing I need to do before that day comes. Since I cain’t say it to your mamma, I’m here to say it to you... I’m sorry, Miss Lawson. If I could undo it all, I would. Beat. Martinique meets his eyes.
ADULT MARTINIQUE I don’t accept your apology, Mr. Peppers. Add it to the list of things to take up with God. She leaves him there. He watches her as she goes to her son. MARTINIQUE’S SON Mommy, who was that man? ADULT MARTINIQUE No one, Henry darling. No one at all. INT. POST OFFICE - DAY The white-gloved workers mount Mabel’s portrait on a wall. ADULT MARTINIQUE (V.O.) They hung her portrait in their local Hall of Fame, alongside a former U.S. President, a former U.S. Senator and Mrs. Fisher’s husband, the Colonel. Mother would’ve liked that... ON MABEL’S PORTRAIT, her smile and those big, beautiful doe eyes, as we... FADE TO BLACK. THE END
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