Saratoga Jewish Community Arts and Temple, Sinai with a generous grant from The Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, present the Zoom discussion of Losing Ground on May 23 at 7 PM.
Kathleen Collins’ film Losing Ground, a 1982 independent romantic drama of an imploding marriage of two intellectuals, a university professor and her artist husband, struggled to find distribution at the time of its conception. And even though it made history as one of the first feature films written and directed by a Black woman, Losing Ground remained largely unseen by the time Collins died of breast cancer in 1988, at the age of 46. Collins shattered artistic barriers, but her work remained in obscurity for nearly 40 years.
“Even now, you look at that film and you think, ’We don’t see much of this,’” said Collins’ daughter, writer Nina Lorez Collins. “The kind of middle class, Black artist life, just a love story between two Black people – we really don’t get very much of that even yet. I think we will, but I think we’re just at the beginning, we’re really going to see those stories.” Collins’ film was inducted into the ranks of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in December 2020, part of a 25-film class that included a record nine films directed by women and filmmakers of color.
“Losing Ground is very much about modern marriage, Black people, actors, music and dance, and this relationship, this marriage, that was falling apart,” said Ronald K. Gray, one of her supportive and promising students, who edited, and executive produced the film with Collins. Gray talked about the early 1980s and the Blaxploitation boom. Losing Ground and its story of a professor and her painter husband was out of step with audience expectations.
“There were many films about African Americans that were just rife with mythology. Collins’ film, however, is just about the internal life of a woman trying to find herself, and a lot of people had never even seen themselves on screen at that point,” observed Gray. Collins delivered a lecture at Howard University in Washington, DC, in 1984, where she spoke about refusing to be mythologized as a Black person, in which she said, “My life is as valid and as my own as anyone else’s and I’m not going to be fetishized, I’m not going to be made into a scapegoat, I’m just writing about my loves and concerns and fears.”
Collins was a professor at New York City College, a civil rights activist in her youth, and almost 40 when she began working on the film. With a shoestring budget of $125,000 from City College and whatever else she was able to scrape together, her film was one of the first features directed by a Black woman since the 1920s. Distributors did not know what to do with a Black art film, so after a few festival screenings and an airing on public television, the film disappeared until revived by her daughter, Nina, and Milestone Films in 2015.
“It is difficult to recognize that this film is almost 40 years old when we examine the topics of race and gender, both in the film and in the life of writer Kathleen Collins. Was she ahead of her times in artistically delving into the issues or are we still behind the times? Is social justice just stalled temporarily or in perpetuity?” remarked Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of Saratoga Jewish Community Arts.