Throughout the 1930s, a group of African-American showgirls and tap dancers wowed audiences at the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater, working alongside the likes of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald; today, as the Silver Belles, they’re still dancing—cancers and broken bones be damned. Heather Lyn MacDonald’s TV-grade documentary, a familiar mix of taking-head interviews, archival material, and accident simulation, documents these ladies’ determination to stay on their feet but is awfully reticent when it comes to race. When reminiscing about her arrival in New York, the fabulous Cleo Hayes, every bit as stunning at 89 as she was when she was an “Apollo Rockette” in her teens, says that she doesn’t have to tell us why she left Mississippi. MacDonald takes her at her presumptuous word, shunning context and keeping Been Rich All My Life wafer-thin and chipper except for a very small stretch devoted to how these women couldn’t eat at “whites only” establishments when touring throughout the South. MacDonald doesn’t illuminate how the careers of these women might have been advanced by their light skin tones, devoted only to the way death catches up to all of us in the end.
- First Run Features
- 80 min
- Heather Lyn MacDonald
- Bertye Lou Wood, Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles, Fay Ray, Elaine Ellis, Geri Rhodes Kennedy
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