Narratives of violent bigotry opposing a taboo love have long been popular with writers, even more common for American writers to staple that conflict on a Southern backdrop to supersize the effect.
There’s plenty to say, and more that should be said, on the polarizing disgrace of discrimination and prejudiced abuse in the world. Audiences will never stop needing to hear from those embattled lines to keep the imperative of a well-told injustice in plain sight.
But the complexities of the South’s lines, the many facets of the Southern experience and the array of perspectives arising from them, have been deceptively hard for storytellers to tame and frame successfully. Movies have been particularly challenged in creating a well-rounded portrayal of the South’s many dualities, considering an abbreviated and single-tone conflict between good and evil is typically the recipe for screen success.
Wedged in those challenges is the Manhattan-born director and screenwriter Maggie Greenwald’s (“Songcatcher,” “The Ballad of Little Jo”) newest feature, “Sophie and the Rising Sun.”
Adapted from Augusta Trobaugh’s 2001 novel of the same name and shot in McClellanville, the film stars Julianne Nicholson (“Masters of Sex,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “August: Osage County” and “Black Mass”) and Takashi Yamguchi (“Letters from Iwo Jima”) as a couple whose romance across racial and cultural lines tests the capacity for human understanding in times of hysteria.
On the brink of World War II, the nation has divided over nationalities and race, pitting politics against people as a country grapples with the American identity in a time when the world had lost sight of itself in war.
In a small Georgia town, Sophie, a white, but socially alienated woman, and Mr. Oto, a Japanese American man who has fallen ill while passing through, are united by one another’s outcast status among the townspeople. The pair is drawn to learn more about one another from the isolation, and soon a romance is filling the space between them. Tensions mount, however, when war marks lovers as enemies, with Sophie and Mr. Oto desperately restraining a love that time and place have left unable to unfold safely.
“Sophie and the Rising Sun” turns its light to the same stereotypes — both true and untrue, some exaggerated and others downplayed — of the South that have baffled so many for centuries. At the story’s core is the dichotomy of the South, the one forever warring with its own nature, populated with giant hearts filled with either love or hate but always tenaciously so.
This is not a new dance for Greenwald and Trobaugh’s story to learn. The American South has confused outsiders for nearly as long as it has existed, mostly because it has either refused or has been unable to speak in a language others can understand. Those frustrated with its silence or inept at deciphering its tangled record have tried to translate the South before, usually with simplified depictions mangled by bias and ignorance.
With “Sophie and the Rising Sun” making its debut as one of the esteemed 16 Sundance premieres at the Salt Lake City gala in January, buzz is building around what the film may offer as the latest peek into Southern culture, as well as its examination of race and xenophobia through the rarely seen lens of the Asian-American perspective.
With a Charleston-based casting director and three regional actors — one is Colie McClellan, a C of C theater graduate and McClellanville native — in principal roles, the Sundance debut also serves as a credible spotlight for the local film community. Go to www.Sundance.org for more information on the festival and its January premieres’ lineup.
For nearly three decades, many of Russia’s highest-trained ballet dancers have been brought to the U.S. to perform the annual “Great Russian Nutcracker” for the Moscow Ballet.
The company’s North America operations split the dancers into two companies of 35 to 40 each, one on the West Coast and the other touring the East Coast to cover roughly 100 American cities between Nov. 1 and Dec. 30. The East Coast company will reach Charleston for a special Christmas Eve performance at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive.
Both companies comprise dancers from top Russian dance schools who have competed in elite international ballet competitions to earn their audition for the tour.
The classic ballet, penned by famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, tells the story of a young woman, Masha, who falls in love with her Nutcracker Prince on Christmas Eve and awakens her to the confines of sheltered life.
The Moscow Ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker,” officially called the “Great Russian Nutcracker,” includes both the traditional ballet and creative spins that range from puppetry, traditional Russian folk characters, such as Ded Moroz (Father Christmas) and Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), who take Masha and the Nutcracker Prince on a journey of peasant folklore to a world free to dream, one so full of possibility that the Dove of Peace is there to deliver them to the Land of Peace and Harmony (or the Land of Sweets).
The “Great Russian Nutcracker” also includes Spanish, Chinese and French dances, characters, costumes and backdrops to bring an international flair to the classic tale.
Thursday’s early performance will begin at noon, followed by an encore performance at 4 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $90 and are available at the North Charleston Coliseum Advance Ticket Office, online at www.Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000.