Constellation is a deeply moving film that graphically chronicles the lives of an extended African-American family that grew up the deep South. Since I too grew up in the deep South, and saw the bitter impact of the kind of racism the film portrays, I particularly fell in love with this film when I saw it on DVD this week. (Constellation was released in theaters in 2005 but had a limited and unsuccessful showing, like so many redeeming and valuable films do these days. It is rated PG-13.)
The film explores the difficult and tumultuous past of the Boxer family of Huntsville, Alabama. When the much loved matriarch Carmel Boxer dies the family gathers to attend her funeral in Huntsville. There they are forced to confront the struggles of both their past and present. In the midst of this deep and agonizing struggle race plays an obviously big part in the story. Indeed, few films that feature the theme of race in the deep South address the pain of this period like Constellation. It is built around the story of a fifty-year change in attitudes about inter-racial dating and marriage, a story that still haunts many of us, even in the Christian Church.
The family patriarch, Helms Boxer, is the younger brother of the deceased Carmel. He witnessed, as a young boy, Carmel’s teenage love for a young white man and the furor this relationship caused in both the black and white communities. This former white boyfriend of Carmel is also present at the funeral and his role is played in a magnificent way. I was moved to tears by the story at the end! Music and images are used very well by the producer.
As Carmel’s painful struggle in the racial climate of the 1940s and 50s unfolds in the families present difficulties the viewer is allowed to see an extremely sensitive portrait of deep past emotions, long buried, and of present feelings that are incendiary. Carmel’s story begins to unfold in the first scene, after which the producer and director use effective subtlety to weave her story effectively into that of her entire family now gathered to celebrate her life at her funeral service. Constellation powerfully explores difficult material in a most redemptive way without becoming a preachy type of movie with the expected simplistic answers. It shows the redemptive power of love and then reveals how honesty, and the bonds of family love, can bring real healing when people will face their lives with grace and mercy.
I am going back to Huntsville this next week for a family visit and this movie will profoundly inform my emotions and thoughts as I go. It will also encourage my prayers for real racial healing between those who profess faith in the same Lord. “Red and yellow, black and white, they (we) are (all) precious in his sight.”