Initially, I was unsure of what to write about for this blog post. But, after watching Jump at the Sun, a documentary centered around Zora Neale Hurston & her influence on the Harlem Renaissance and American literature, I have a better idea of what I would like to write about.
Often, when we see documentaries based off of historical figures, there is the person that we read about in our textbooks, and then there is an over- dramatized version of this person portrayed on-screen. Depending on whether the movie aims to shed a negative or positive light on its subject, we are left with a certain impression of each person. I especially appreciated Jump at the Sun, because it portrayed Zora as both someone to be admired, but also someone who we as an audience had the opportunity to be critical of. That is well communicated by the transition from the actress who plays Zora Neale Hurston, and the voice- overs we hear of Hurston reading her own work. The on- screen Zora that we see is beautiful, charismatic- with a blinding white smile, outfit sass and wit that would make any woman, white or black, envious. Her voice sounds smooth and rich as butter, warm and inviting you to listen to a story imploring you to hear her song.
And yet, in the recordings played in conjunction with clips and photos throughout the documentary, we hear a raw, realistic, natural Zora Neale Hurston. Her voice sounds a little more horse, her inflections more genuine you can hear from the quality of her vocals that she had been through her share of misfortunes and difficulties. This cinematic technique is a great one, because it represents Zora Neale Hurston as two things to the audience: a creative spirit, but also a person. Described as the type of person who could “tell you to go to hell and make you enjoy the trip”, it’s acknowledged that she is the type of person that we have the potential to love, but also the ability to dislike. Jump at the Sun further goes on to reveal that Hurston did not always get along with her literary contemporaries, and at times made decisions that were personally beneficial to her, but caused the deterioration of both friendships and professional relations with others. That aspect of the “real” Zora is one that many people would see as deplorable, disloyal and dishonest. Even so, we still find ourselves in love with the façade in place of this charming southern belle whose drawl draws in any listener. And furthermore, we still find ourselves oddly attracted to this woman who has the gusto and the willingness to cut ties with anyone, man or woman for the sake of her work and the protection of herself.
In both Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the two different personas presented in Jump at the Sun, Zora Neale Hurston, it is clear that although a romantic at heart, her one true love is not a man, but her writing, and she would do whatever it takes to make sure that that flourished over all things. And that is something to be admired, that a woman would not let anything define her except for her own words and thoughts. One of the most pivotal and influential writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, she took many risks to ensure the success of her work at the time, and the re- discovery of this work in later years only helps in validating those risks. Not only is she known for her work, but for her feisty and vivacious personality as well. Hurston, is, in my opinion, the most “real” out of all the authors we have read thus far in American Woman Writers, because we see her personality flaws, as well as her literary genius, at play in the person she is.
In case you’re curious, here’s the trailer for Jump at the Sun.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.
Jump at the Sun. California Newsreel, 2008. Film.