The 1982 film “Losing Ground” and possibly her plays “In the Midnight Hour” and “The Brothers” are among Kathleen Cornwell Collins’ most well-known works. Despite the fact that she passed away at the young age of 46, her legacy and influence on the film business are immeasurable. But a crucial part of her success story that isn’t frequently addressed is how she became a playwright and a filmmaker at a time when there weren’t many black female directors.
She began creating her own stories without any assistance and eventually finished her first script in 1971 thanks to her exceptional writing abilities. Sadly, at that time, no movie company was open to hiring a black woman as a director. One of Kathleen’s students encouraged her to start making her own movies, which gave her the motivation to do so.
She began with the Cruz Chronicles, a collection of short stories that was funded by her friends with a $5000 investment. The 1980 movie focused on the journey of three brothers from Puerto Rico who were coping with the trauma of their father’s passing. It gained popularity among moviegoers and took up the famous Sinking Creek Film Festival’s First Prize. Although she received criticism from movie critics for her interest in the topic of Latinos, she felt it was an underreported topic and devoted attention to it.
When she was a teenager, she was already causing controversy. When she was 15 years old, Kathleen performed Walt Whitman’s “A Child Goes Forth” and “I Learned My Lesson Complete” and took home the top honor at the college’s annual poetry reading competition.
As an assistant editor of The Leader, a publication from Lincoln High School, she was creating waves, according to the newspapers. She decided to pursue this interest in writing by contributing editorials to The Skidmore News, the school newsletter.Her interests were society’s need for improvement, prejudice, press freedom, and the history of her institution.
Kathleen, who was born in 1942, was raised in Jersey City and attended Skidmore and the Sorbonne, where she showed a strong interest in the civil rights struggle, which influenced her love of writing plays and films. She earned a BA in Philosophy and Religion from Skidmore in 1963.
When student activists Charles Sherrod and Charles Jones came to see her on school in 1962, she had a transformative experience. Along with other college students, they urged black communities to educate African Americans about the importance of exercising their right to vote. According to Kathleen Collins, she made news when she was given the opportunity to speak about the situation of African Americans and the need for justice for black people.She was detained, nonetheless, as a result of her civil rights activism.
After graduating from college, Kathleen decided to pursue a career in education. She taught French in Newton, Massachusetts, while still attending Harvard at night to complete her PhD studies. She was able to complete her master’s in French literature through the Middlebury program at the Sorbonne in Paris thanks to a scholarship she received from John Whitney Hay.
She took advantage of the chance to temporarily study film literature there in order to pursue her interest in filmmaking. After moving back to the US in 1966, she worked for several years in the broadcast industry for companies like the BBC, Craven Films, Belafonte Enterprises, Bill Jersey Productions, William Greaves Productions, and the United States Information Agency.
Following her initial success with the Cruz Chronicles, she ventured into other productions, including notable ones like 1982’s Losing Ground, which garnered international buzz at the box office and won First Prize at the Figueroa International Film Festival in Portugal but received little attention in the United States. Out of the $125,000 in production costs, she raised $25,000.
Kathleen passed away from breast cancer in 1988. She broke through stereotypes via her art, highlighting the problems that afflicted gender, ethnicity, and class – an incredible legacy that will never be forgotten.