Yvonne Welbon directed this hour-long 1999 profile of centenarian Ruth Ellis, a lesbian who, for her era, lived a remarkably independent and well-adjusted life. Neither Ellis nor her family or friends ever made a fuss about her sexuality; after leaving Springfield for Detroit in 1937, she bought a house with her lover, started a print shop, and became den mother to gay people who had moved to the city. Welbon uses vintage photos and reenactments to place Ellis's lucid memories in the context of African-American history, from lynchings in the early part of the century through the world wars and the social turmoil of the 1960s and '70s. Yet the director settles for an amiable tone and standard PBS format, choosing not to probe Ellis's relationship with her longtime companion or dwell on her bouts of loneliness. By the time the film was made Ellis was protected by a tight circle of lesbians, and the series of testimonials near the end of this lovefest only reinforces the impression that the women who adopted her were far more political than she ever was.
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