‘The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel’: Why the Lifetime Biopic Resonates With Black WomenBreaking News
tags: African American history, music, popular culture, television, gospel
The Lifetime network has long had a reputation for mediocre films and dramas with a campy aesthetic.In recent years, it has made an effort to distance itself from that renown, investing in the kind of content that draws a larger, more mainstream audience — and hopefully awards — as well as overall industry esteem. One such project just might be the biopic, “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” which premiered on April 11 to much fanfare, especially resonating most with one specific demo: black women. As a man who watched the film, and didn’t quite understand its appeal, instead of writing a critique of it, I asked black women viewers to share their thoughts on why it resounded so much.
To be sure, Lifetime hasn’t completely abandoned the kind of tabloidy women-in-peril stories (often inspired by true events, and with hilarious titles like “Crimes of Passion: She Woke Up Pregnant”) that they once thrived on, but it has bolstered its efforts recently with Emmy-nominated films, from the all-black cast “Steel Magnolias” remake, to “The Trip to Bountiful” starring Cicely Tyson, and more. And it remains one of the few networks in Hollywood telling stories specifically about women while consistently hiring women directors.
Once in a while, it produces something that’s seemingly the perfect combination of subject matter, casting, writing, director and style, and that really resonates with audiences, like “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.” Directed by Christine Swanson, written by Camille Tucker and Sylvia L. Jones, and executive produced by Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott, the film premiered on April 11. The authorized musical of incomparable gospel singers, The Clark Sisters, it recounts the story of the highest-selling female Gospel group in history and their trailblazing mother, Mattie Moss Clark (Aunjanue Ellis).
Credited with bringing Gospel music to the mainstream, the five Clark sisters (Christina Bell as Twinkie, Kierra Sheard as Karen, Sheléa Frazier as Dorinda, Raven Goodwin as Denise, Angela Birchett as Jacky) overcame humble beginnings in Detroit, enduring abuse, loss, rejection, betrayal, and sibling rivalries to achieve international fame as icons of the Gospel music industry.