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Old Settler
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The Written Word
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Director Role & Bio

The DP In-Depth

The Production Designer In-Depth

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Debbie Allen: The Director In-Depth


The Written Word

Choosing the Source

"I got involved in The Old Settler after my sister, Phylicia Rashad, optioned the play by John Henry Redwood. I read it and felt it spoke so much to me about who Phylicia and I are to each other as real sisters."

"I loved that the main characters [in The Old Settler] were sisters, with a mirrored history, and that there were conflicts between them. I loved that they were real people living in the time of the Harlem Renaissance. The story was rich with culture and character. It's rare to find parts where you see two women who relate to each other in that very natural way, with a lot of humor and pathos at the same time."


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Debbie Allen video

Debbie Allen on what drew her to The Old Settler

Working With the Screenwriter

A page from The Old Settler script with the script supervisor's notes for the editor


Set Plans

EnlargeProduction designer John Iacovelli's floorplan of Elizabeth & Quilly's apartment


"The screenwriter's role was very instrumental, because it's difficult to take a stage play and adapt it for the screen.

Shauneille Perry, the screenwriter, had quite a task to shape what was already well-liked material and condense it to a 90-minute film and at the same time open it up visually -- while staying true to the language of the play."

"I was really specific with the screenwriter about the actual physical makeup of the apartment, that there were going to be big windows, a fireplace, a kitchen, and two bedrooms that came off that central living room space."

"Our production designer, John Iacovelli, gave us a floor plan so the writer would have a framework of where the characters could go and what they could do."


Capturing the Period

"As one who loves literature, art, music and history, I've been deeply rooted in the Harlem Renaissance for many years.

I actually did a film called Stompin' at the Savoy,about four women who worked as domestics and were trying to get out of that life and into a better one.

But that is such a rich era, and it's the era my parents grew up in -- they were young lovers at that time."

"There are certain things they would say then that we don't quite say now. I had never heard the term 'old settler,' which refers not to the Old West but to a woman who is over 40 and has never been married and doesn't seem to have any prospects. This more or less is what Quilly and Elizabeth [The Old Settler's main characters] are at this point in their lives.

Phylicia [Rashad, Debbie Allen's co-star and real-life sister] and I had two aunts who were very much like these two women. We remembered how they dressed. Phylicia and I grew up in the South, so we could also relate to that part of the story.

People are very slow to make changes there. They may wear the same hairdo for 30 years.The houses never change, so I could talk about the doilies and pictures of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln that would be on the walls. So being steeped in this period is natural for both of us due to our upbringing by our mother, Vivian Ayers, who is an artist and poet."

"Michael Ralph brilliantly plays the street prophet, a West Indian who foreshadows the Harlem riot.

The riot isn't seen in the movie, but it is alluded to. He has this one speech that gives a great sense of texture and paints a picture of what was happening in Harlem then."


Crowd Outside the Savoy, Harlem
Crowd Outside the Savoy, Harlem

© Bettmann/Corbis


Mantelpiece from the Set
Mantelpiece from The Old Settler set with real pictures of Debbie Allen & Phylicia Rashad as children


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Michael Ralph as a West Indian Street Prophet

Michael Ralph as a West Indian street prophet


Introduction   |   The Written Word   |   The Look



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