Every young black woman should watch these broke grannies

Image: 123RF/ olegdudko

I love cult movies, odd cinematic releases that are incredibly quirky and major guilty pleasures.

Cult movies are usually described as movies that garner a dedicated following, creating a culture for groups of people. But my personal definition of a cult movie is something so atrocious that it is impossible not to love its eccentricity.

One of those cult movies is a documentary called Grey Gardens.

In 1961, JF Kennedy was sworn into the presidency of the US. And as per the times, behind this successful man was a woman named Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

With the impeccable image of the Kennedys in the presidency, it was an absolute front-page scandal to see Jacqueline's relatives, the Beales, not fit the ideal American dream.

The particular shambolic relatives were her cousin Edith Bouvier Beale and her aunt Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, or more popularly known as Little and Big Edie.

In 1975, two young directors documented the phenomenon of these white women who spiralled down into poverty. However, what came out of this documentary is of supreme cult status - especially for the youngest Beale, Little Edie. Her style, which included bath towels for skirts and sweaters for head wraps, influenced designers such as Calvin Klein and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

After Big Edie's divorce and financial exclusion from her ex-husband, she called on her daughter to support her. Little Edie was still busy living the life of a slay queen in New York. Her particular black tax came at a high price, she paid it in time.

Little Edie left everything to look after her needy mother and, in the 20 years she spent out of the limelight, the story did not turn into some inspiring Mzansi Magic daytime movie. Oh no.

Their home of 28 rooms fell apart and was plagued with wild creatures including racoons, the neighbourhood wanted them evicted and Little Edie was diagnosed with alopecia totalis, which took all of her hair.

Big Edie became so dependent on Little Edie that she comatose her already dead social life. Even when a suitor proposed to Little Edie at their dishevelled home, Big Edie shunned the idea, leaving Little Edie distraught.

The Beales tell a story of resentment. Big Edie resented the world for not embracing her in a loveless marriage and a failed singing career. Little Edie resented her mother for not letting her fly into the hateful world she found so exciting.

Their decline is an echo of stories I have grown up seeing in our townships, with women whose lives are fuelled by resentment and anger going one of two ways; you either rise from the ashes, like Little Edie did, or you become the hopeless village idiot, like Big Edie.

I hope that more young black women in the age of Instagram filters can watch the tragic lives of Little and Big Edie as a caution against living in resentment of a life that never happens, or a life one feels owed.

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