Pity the filmmakers responsible for good sequels to great films, particularly when major cast members disappear between installments, because review of such pictures inevitably begin with provisos about diminishing returns. So it is with Sounder, Part 2, a solid picture that pales only in comparison to its extraordinary predecessor, Sounder (1972), one of the most admired ’70s explorations of the African-American experience. In Sounder, Part 2, capable performers Harold Sylvester and Ebony Wright replace original stars Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson, while Annazette Chase assumes Janet MacLachlan’s role as a rural schoolteacher. All three do fine work, perhaps better than the rehashed storyline deserves.
In the first film, a child named David strives to gain an education while his family endures the hardships of sharecropping in Depression-era Louisiana. In the second film, roughly the same thing happens. Despite his family’s challenging circumstances, David (played by Darryl Young instead of the first film’s Kevin Hooks) tries to better himself through formal schooling. Alas, his onetime tutor, Camille (Chase), plans a move to Cleveland, and no one has come forward to assume her responsibilities. David’s father, Nathan Lee (Sylvester), resolves to build a school and talk Camille into remaining. Give or take a few details, that’s the whole story, which means the film is as unadorned—and as devoid of real conflict—as it sounds. Sounder, Part 2 is a simple homily about determination and dignity.
By keeping the plot uncluttered, however, the filmmakers are able to dig deep during key moments. Of particular note is the climactic debate between Camille and Nathan Lee, a beautifully rendered vignette of personal revelation delivered with grace and power by actors who imbue their dialogue and physicality with real emotion. In fact, the acting in Sounder, Part 2 is uniformly good, although Winfield’s rawness and vulnerability give the original film an impact the sequel cannot match. That said, the sequel looks great, with credibly ramshackle locations bathed in golden light, and real-life blues musician Taj Mahal—reprising his minor supporting role as Nathan Lee’s neighbor—gives the soundtrack bounce and grit with his evocative tunes.
Sounder, Part 2: GROOVY