I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rosewood (1997), a film directed by John Singleton about the 1923 Rosewood massacre, since there aren’t many images of the film online — but I knew the plot sounded fascinating, and the fact that Ruth E. Carter designed the costumes meant that these would be well done. I was right — it’s a great movie, although not an easy watch, and Carter’s costumes ARE spot on.
The Rosewood massacre took place in the small town of Rosewood, Florida, a primarily African American town, in 1923. A mob killed as many as 157 people after a white woman claimed she was raped by a Black man. The film introduces fictional characters, particularly Mann (Ving Rhames, whose arms are a thing of beauty in this), a drifter who becomes involved in things. It really takes its time, setting up the fact that this town was actually quite prosperous, and whites and Blacks may have lived in separate towns but were still living shared lives in many cases. As the film unfolds, you see tragedy build, and you get to witness many of the horrific aspects of lynchings, like the fact that they were treated as a party by many.
Ruth E. Carter talked about how making the film was a very personal experience, and how it felt like making a documentary, and both things show. She does a great job showing the range of characters through clothing, and gets so many of the details of early 1920s everyday wear spot-on.
I did some screencapping, since again, not many images online, and I’d like to talk about some of the different characters. As per usual, there’s more to discuss in the women’s costumes than the men’s.
Mann (Ving Rhames) gets a dramatic long coat that sets him apart from most of the other male characters:
Aunt Sarah (Esther Rolle) is the matriarch of her family. She’s quite up-to-date in her clothing styles, which suit her figure so beautifully:
Scrappie (Elise Neal) is a 17-year-old school teacher and one of the focal characters:
Sylvester (Don Cheadle) is a successful music teacher; the son of Sarah and brother (or cousin?) of Scrappie.
Sylvester’s wife, Gertrude (Bridgid Coulter):
Jewel (Akosua Busia), Sylvester’s cousin, who works for the one white man in town (Jon Voigt, whose character is in a complicated position):
Fanny (Catherine Kellner) is the white woman who claims rape.
Mary, the wife of the white storeowner:
And just a few random women:
Have you seen Rosewood? What did you think?