Talk to Me
I never really know how much is true in these biopics “based on” the life of a real person. I usually assume that the broad strokes are mostly accurate, though details may be omitted for dramatic reasons. This story of the career of Ralph “Petey” Green, a ground-breaking black disc jockey in Washington, DC, in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s, for instance, never mentions his three children. And I am very dubious that he got his job when he and his sponsor, Dewey Hughes, locked themselves into the broadcast booth and did a show while station management pounded on the (partly glass) door in anger. True or not, it makes a good scene.
But these pictures do give you a sense of déjà vu, don’t they? Start from nothing, get somewhere through brashness, have woman troubles because you can’t keep from fucking around, get in trouble with alcohol and/or drugs … you take it from there. If Petey was blind, it could be Ray Charles. In Petey’s case it was liver cancer that ended the story early, though it was probably a race to the finish with lung cancer, as he was a chain smoker. And just because a movie is formulaic doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. This one is, mostly because of the great performances by Don Cheadle, who has impressed me again and again in very different roles, by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I was amazed to learn is British, and by Taraji P Henson, very good as Petey’s wife. It was directed by a woman, Kasi Lemmons, which is still rare. Even rarer, she is a black woman.
There is a good DVD extra with the production designer and the costume designer. Petey and his wife were snappy dressers, by the standards of the time … and lord, do you remember those insane outfits from the ‘70s? The costume lady had her work cut out for her, and so did the wigmaker. Taraji Henson’s hair kept getting bigger and bigger, until it threatened to engulf her!