Expired February 24, 2023 4:45 AM
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Operating in defiance of the racially exclusive Hollywood studio system, novelist Ishmael Reed, director Bill Gunn and a renegade group of artists banded together to film a “meta soap opera” about the struggles of a working class African American couple in New York City in 1980.

In Episode 1 (1 hr. 33 min.), we meet Johnnie Mae Brown and Charles Brown, a working-class African American couple in New York at the beginning of the 1980s. While reliant upon one another, the husband and wife have grown emotionally estranged and are each having relationships outside the marriage. Charles’s father, Father Brown lives with the couple, and their lives are further complicated when Johnnie May’s brother Bubba and his wife Mary Alice come to live with them.

In Episode 2 (1 hr. 12 min., streaming immediately after Episode 1), Father Brown unexpectedly dies, and his funeral wake allows simmering family tensions to rise to the surface. Charles spends an introspective day reminiscing with Father Brown’s friends. As a result of these events, Johnnie Mae and Charles rediscover their love for one another and make a conscious effort to strengthen their relationship.

Personal Problems is an experimental Black soap opera written and produced by Ishmael Reed and directed by Rockland County filmmaker Bill Gunn. It was shown once on PBS and was rediscovered and restored in 2015. The video quality remains poor, reflecting the relatively inexpensive 3/4" tape format that was used when the film was produced.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    165 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
    United States
  • Director
    Bill Gunn
  • Screenwriter
    Ishmael Reed
  • Producer
    Walter Cotton
  • Executive Producer
    Ishmael Reed
  • Cast
    Vertamae Grosvenor, Walter Cotton, Bill Gunn
  • Editor
    Bill Gunn, Walter Cotton, Roberto Polidori, Kip Hanrahan, Niamani Mutima
  • Composer
    Carman Moore