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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Guldner

Kathleen Collins: Activist, writer, academic, director, a woman ahead of her time.

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

"Nobody would give any money to a black woman to direct a film" - Kathleen Collins

Turner Classic Movies was playing a film called Losing Ground(1982) I recorded it because it looked interesting and it is always a first to see a story directed and written by  an African American woman during the early 1980s.  I loved the film. It was a beautiful independent film about a married couple coming to terms with the unraveling of their marriage. Sara Rogers played by Seret Scott is a philosophy professor whose coursework focuses on logic. Her husband Victor played by Bill Gunn is a successful painter. As they move from the city into a beautiful home in upstate New York for the summertime Victor and Sara start to reexamine what their marriage is and what it will become.  Jealousy, infidelity, and balance of self and marriage all come into focus for Sara. Kathleen Collins was a first on so many levels. How many films can you name where a black intellectual middle-class woman has the freedom to explore life on her own terms even if it means she may have to leave her husband in order to do it? Yet we see Sara having to  compromise in the confines of marriage. Sara would rather stay in the city where she has more access to libraries so she can finish her dissertation, yet she compromises her needs for her husbands wants. Victor is in all his glory as he becomes entranced with the beauty of the country and the beautiful Puerto Rican women who inspire his creativity. He seeks  refuge in a beautiful  muse and Sara decides to go back to the city in order to fulfill her needs and finds herself exploring her creative desires as she plays the lead  in a student film.

Seret Scott as Sara Rogers finding her own voice

Kathleen Collins was an activist with SNCC during the civil rights movement, playwright, author, film director, and educator. What makes her story so tragic is that Losing Ground was never given the proper funding, attention, and never had a theatrical release. After the film had played its course in film festivals it never saw a theatrical release until 2015 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. There it was celebrated with many  independent black filmmakers.  Losing Groundwas met with critical acclaim and was now being called a masterpiece. During the time of Losing Ground's release the second wave of feminism had been criticized by some women as having been led by mostly white women of privilege.  The second wave of feminism has been said to be a  response to World War II, were mostly white women had held  jobs their husbands and other white men had left behind. After the war ended the men  returned to their jobs, and  were given higher wages, while women were then  told to go back to where they needed to be; in the confines of home and motherhood. But where would that leave so many women like Kathleen Collins whose work examined social constructs and helped redefine social roles audiences had never seen before? Here was a filmmaker who had taken control of her own voice and image to an entertainment industry who had no place for empowered black women. Fast forward to 2018, we have the # Me Too Movement, social media, independent media outlets, but how many characters do we see that give intellectual black women a place to see themselves in? Kathleen Collins you were so ahead of your time you may still be too ahead for ours. An inspiration to filmmakers like Julie Dash and women everywhere. Your writings and films deserve to be seen and heard.

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