Sunday, January 19, 2003

Actor in original 'Sounder' directs remake for ABC

By Mike Hughes
Gannett News Service

For many, the movie Sounder has been a revelation.

Here is the story of black sharecroppers during the Depression. It became a classic 1972 movie, and now ABC has a splendid remake that premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday (Channels 9, 2), the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The story has been an eye-opener for moviegoers - and for Kevin Hooks. He directed the remake and also starred in the original when he was 13.

"There was a profound difference between my experience of growing up in Philadelphia and the experience of the people in Sounder," Mr. Hooks recalls.

As the son of a prominent actor (Robert Hooks), Kevin had little in common with the people in Sounder. They had no land of their own, no money, no rights.

"Their dilemma is timeless," says Carl Lumbley, who plays the father in the remake. "It's the dilemma of the oppressed class. It's not particular to this race or this part of the country."

Mr. Lumbley - who grew up in Minneapolis the son of a Jamaican-born welder - says he could easily empathize with this Southern story. So could Mr. Hooks.

"We made the (original) movie about 35 miles out of Baton Rouge, La.," Hooks says. "Once we got out there, it really felt like we were in the Depression."

He was capturing an era when people simply couldn't afford shoes. Mr. Hooks recalls doing an early scene, running through a field.

"(Director) Marty Ritt said, `OK kids, take off your shoes,' " he says. "I looked at him as if he was crazy."

A moment later Mr. Hooks had his first barefoot romp through a farm field. "Afterward, I had to take the cow dung off my feet," he says.

There were bigger adjustments to make. Sounder captures a mindset that few modern people can grasp.

The movie is based on a book by William H. Armstrong, a white man who was trying to describe the blacks he had admired from a distance. They were referred to in the novel as simply Boy, Father, Mother and Teacher.

Southern blacks had made strides during the Reconstruction era, Mr. Lumbley says. When the Depression came, however, they were the hardest hit.

In this setting, Father is a man of great strength and few words. "I rather like the economy of his movements," Mr. Lumbley says.

He was portrayed in the original by Paul Winfield. "I was extremely fortunate," Mr. Hooks says, "not just to be working with Paul Winfield, but also Cicely Tyson," who played Mother in the original.

This time, Mr. Winfield moves over to the role of Teacher. Suzzanne Douglas plays Mother and newcomer Daniel Lee Robertson plays Boy.

The key was casting Mr. Lumbley. "He embraces all of the qualities that Father needs," Mr. Hooks says.

Mr. Lumbley is an actor of great variety. Right after Sounder, people can see him in his regular role as agent Marcus Dixon on Alias, at 9 p.m. on ABC.

For all its seriousness, Mr. Hooks says of Sounder it was also a pleasure to remake this movie.

"It was an overwhelming experience," he says. "It was like a family reunion. There was laughter, tears, all the emotions."

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