TBT: Rosewood (1997)

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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:

1997 Rosewood

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:

1997 Rosewood

This has so many great early 1920s details, most particularly the long collar and the coordinating pockets and cuffs.

1997 Rosewood

At New Year’s Eve, she’s elegant in a black dress with tucks and buttons and a sectioned lace collar.

1997 Rosewood

Her husband’s (left) hair is parted and straightened in an older style than most of the other men.

1997 Rosewood

She works as a house cleaner, and this outfit is more Edwardian, I’m guessing since she’s doing manual labor.

1997 Rosewood

You only see a bit of this, but I like all the edgings.

Scrappie (Elise Neal) is a 17-year-old school teacher and one of the focal characters:

1997 Rosewood

The sailor-suit look is 1000% early 1920s, and I LOVE the color combo!

1997 Rosewood

Early 1920s skirts were “short,” but not as short as mid- to late-1920s.

1997 Rosewood

This dress had great lace accents.

1997 Rosewood

Overall shots of Scrappie and Sarah’s NYE dresses. Scrappie’s has a dropped waist, and Sarah’s has side slits. Both have great shoes!

1997 Rosewood

At an evening dance, Scrappie takes off an evening coat that has a printed silk lining, which is SO art deco.

1997 Rosewood

She’s wearing a black silk charmeuse dress underneath.

1997 Rosewood

Her hair is done up in pincurls at the back of the neck, perfect for early 1920s when many women’s hairstyles mimicked the bob, but didn’t actually get cut short.

1997 Rosewood

A blouse and sweater combo.

1997 Rosewood

This dress is made up of multiple layers – topmost is an eyelet collar.

1997 Rosewood

The bodice has a subtle stripe — I’m guessing that it’s sewn-in?

1997 Rosewood

Contrast buttons up the back, ruffled sleeves.

1997 Rosewood

A (not very clear) promo shot. Side note: Ving Rhames’ arms!

Sylvester (Don Cheadle) is a successful music teacher; the son of Sarah and brother (or cousin?) of Scrappie.

1997 Rosewood

He’s got the high-waisted trousers of the era, and great suspenders.

1997 Rosewood

Loved the starched shirtfront and the center-parted hair.

Sylvester’s wife, Gertrude (Bridgid Coulter):

1997 Rosewood

She tends to wear dark purples. Lots of interesting details on this dress, I wish I could see more.

1997 Rosewood

I’m not sure if that’s a scarf or a collar, but it’s cute! Check out some of the other characters’ pics for a few more shots of Gertrude’s wardrobe.

Jewel (Akosua Busia), Sylvester’s cousin, who works for the one white man in town (Jon Voigt, whose character is in a complicated position):

1997 Rosewood

At work she’s practical but pretty in gingham.

1997 Rosewood

Another work dress in gingham.

1997 Rosewood

On NYE, however, she’s super fashionable with a matching bandeau.

Fanny (Catherine Kellner) is the white woman who claims rape.

1997 Rosewood

Her primary dress is this floral print with lace edging.

1997 Rosewood

The sleeves are scalloped.

Mary, the wife of the white storeowner:

1997 Rosewood

This sheer blouse with edging is perfect.

And just a few random women:

1997 Rosewood

Workday dresses.

1997 Rosewood

A “concerned” neighbor.

 

Have you seen Rosewood? What did you think?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

8 Responses

  1. Bronwyn

    Oh we watched this in high school. I remember being fascinated by it. I definitely need to rewatch it!

    Reply
  2. Nzie

    Thanks for bringing this to light… I think it’s a good reminder that plenty of people have been working to tell these stories for a long time. I was 11 in 1997 so I have no idea if it got a lot of attention at the time or not, but while I’m not sure I’m up for it right now, I’ll keep an eye out for it. Looks like it was done with a lot of care and, as you noted, great costumes by the amazing Ruth Carter.

    Reply
  3. Saraquill

    I only caught the tail end of the movie on TV. Did see artifacts from Rosewood the town in the African American History Museum in DC.

    Reply
  4. Katie O.

    I read an article a few months ago about how for a long time no one remembered this even happened because all the survivors of the massacre tried to never speak of it again. They didn’t want to have to relive the memories of what happened and so it sort of slipped out of the general consciousness for 70 years. I think I would have to be in the right mental headspace to watch this but it looks really well done so I’ll have to give it a try sometime.

    Reply
  5. Lily Lotus Rose

    Yes, I saw this movie not long after it came it. It still stays with me, and often when I talk about race relations, I allude to and quote this movie. It was interesting to read that Ruth Carter felt that this project was both personal and documentary. When I watched this movie, everything looked just right like peeking into old family photo albums. John Singleton gave a lecture at my college years ago, and he was particularly proud of Rosewood. This is a movie that definitely deserves to be more widely seen.

    Reply
  6. Roxana.

    The Rosewood massacre was a terrible, terrible thing. As for the movie, I could live with the fictional black hero but it was monumentally unfair to turn a white man who protected black people from the lynchers into a villain.

    Reply

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