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Table For Two: Dreams Of A Life, Or The Tragic Mulatto Spinster Goes To The Movies

By Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

JoyceVincent

From the joycevincent.com, a website set up by Dreams of a Life filmmaker Carol Morley

Dreams Of A Life, the 2011 “drama-documentary” about the life and death of Joyce Carol Vincent, a mixed-race woman of color found in her London flat in 2003 three years after she died, definitely made our race and gender antennae go up, mostly because we were so angry over the disrespectful depiction of Vincent by people who claimed to have known her. Keep the “people who claimed to know her” in mind as we drop in on this Table for Two…

Andrea: The race/gender axis gets really weird with this film, at least to me…

Tami: At first watch, it seems like the film and Joyce’s friends created a lot of drama around this woman’s life because they couldn’t sit with her death–and thJoyce-vincent-007e idea that sometimes pretty, young people die. They are inclined to portray her as a tragic figure, but some of the  evidence of her tragic downfall (Joyce working as a “cleaner,” i. e. maid) is ridiculous. What truly bothers me is that they continually paint her as “lonely and sad” when there is no evidence that she ever expressed those things. I don’t think people would talk about a young single man that way–even one who died alone in his apartment.

Andrea: Because they can’t believe that “one of their own” is a house cleaner. Paging Janelle Monae…

But it’s the “tragic mulatto” narrative to me. That she couldn’t find love in the black or white communities in the UK that’s so bent.

Tami: And there is lots of exoticizing about her rare beauty that men couldn’t resist. And “re-enactments” of her moping, stumbling around her apartment, and looking forlornly out of windows. It is as if any near-40-year-old woman living alone in a city must be tragic.

Andrea: We hear next to nothing of substance in Joyce’s own words. Instead, there are a lot of people who were supposed to be close to her–folks who you’d think would notice that she was missing for three years–who project a story onto her. And then the fact that she’s 37–the Tragic Mulatto Spinster. I was like, “Really, y’all?”

Tami: That is the perfect title for this documentary.

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