Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman Reviews

Told in the form of a fictitious memoir, this near-flawless docudrama stands the test of time by virtue of John Korty's sensitive direction, Tracy Keenan Wynn's exemplary script and Cicely Tyson's astonishing, Emmy Award-winning performance as Miss Jane Pittman. At the height of America's Civil Rights Movement, white journalist Quentin Lerner (Michael Murphy) secures an interview with Miss Jane Pittman, an elderly African-American woman born into slavery. As she reminisces, flashbacks follow Jane from her childhood as a plantation slave named Ticey (Valerie Odell) to her 110th birthday. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Ticey joins other freed slaves in a trek to Ohio; only she and young Ned (Derrick Mills) survive an ambush by die-hard Confederate sympathizers. As the Reconstruction Era dawns, the devastated South is plundered by Carpetbaggers and terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan. During this upheaval, Ticey rechristens herself Jane and endures 12 more years of plantation work for food and shelter. As Ned (Thalmus Rasulala) grows up and cultivates a political conscience, Jane shields him from bigots. Ned relocates to Kansas and Jane married the love of her life, cowboy Joe Pittman (Rod Perry); a horse drags him to his death and she never remarries. Ned later returns home to organize his neighbors; racists respond by hiring Cajun fisherman Albert Cluveau (Will Hare) to kill him. At the age of 70 Jane becomes a house servant, as freedom marches proliferate and after a protestor at her church is murdered, Jane trades in her stoicism for activism. The elderly Jane drinks from a whites' only fountain and media pressure protects her from the retalliayion that would almost certainly have been meted out to someone younger: With this simple act, Jane changes the course of history. Based on the 1971 novel by Ernest Gaines, which was in turn inspired by Rosa Parks' quiet act of bravery — sitting the white section of the bus after a long, hard day of work — this landmark TV-movie brings history to vivid life, never sacrificing moving personal drama to score sociological or political points.