A Dried-up, Shriveled Little 'Raisin'

TV used to have "events." Now, we have Diddy.

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When Walter Lee calls the Younger women "the world's most backwards race of women" the phrase loses its nip. He meant it as an insult, but it sounded like praise. This constant push and pull between the black man and his women (mother, sister, wife) is nothing new.

"I'm a volcano," Walter Lee shouts while holding a cold beer. "I'm a giant. A giant surrounded by ants. Ants can't even understand what a giant's talking about." The ants here, of course, are his women -- Sister Beneatha who feels superior to him, Wife Ruth who feels apart from him, and Mother Lena who feels wary of him.

The women here seem less at odds with one another than in the 1961 film. We're all familiar with the legendary scene in which Lena (then played by Claudia McNeil) slaps the Holy Spirit into Beneatha, a trendy atheist (then played by Diana Sands), compelling her to repeat the words "In my mother's house there is still God" through hot tears and clenched teeth.

The message in that scene is more muddled in the latest "Raisin," where McDonald's Ruth looks on from her permanent post at the ironing board between Rashad and Lathan. While McNeil's Lena ruled absolutely, Rashad's Lena seems to dodge the inevitable insurgency.

Toward the end of the film, Lena finally concedes, and hands Walter Lee an envelope filled with money. "You the man of the house. You the head of the family now," she says.

Is she playing Russian Roulette with the family's dreams, or is she endowing them?

The quick dramatic beat between those two extremes -- failure or hope -- makes "Raisin" work as an elective television experience. But it's still not an event.

Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root.

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