-- approximate times given are marked from the beginning of the film, not the video tape --
0:00.00 Opening credits
0:02.20 First images
The audience receives the first images of the island in waves. A woman's voiceover speaks in the Gullah dialect. Bilal Muhammed is on the beach, singing his Islamic morning prayer.
00:04.27 A boat arrives for Viola Peazant and Mr. Snead
A rowboat pulls to shore to carry Viola Peazant and the photographer, Mr. Snead, to Ibo Landing. The boat already contains two passengers, and Viola recognizes one of them as her cousin Mary Peazant, who has been living in Cuba for many years. Wryly, Mary introduces herself as "Yellow Mary." Her companion, Trula, does not introduce herself, but rather eyes Mr. Snead suggestively. Viola explains that Mr. Snead will be photographing the Peazant family's "crossing-over" to the mainland, which will be occurring the following day.
00:06.43 Introduction of the Unborn Child
The Unborn Child begins her first narration as the audience is shown more images of the people who live in Ibo Landing, including her parents Eula and Eli Peazant, and "the newlyweds."
Mr. Snead has shown Trula a kaleidoscope which he has brought for the Peazant children to play with. He is explaining how it works, but Trula is too busy giggling with Yellow Mary to listen. The group passes a house where an old uncle Peazant once lived, and Viola recalls him.
00:12.15 Love letter
Iona Peazant, a young woman and the daughter of Haagar Peazant, receives a love letter from her Cherokee lover. He implores her not to leave tomorrow with her family. One of Iona's cousins tells her that her mother will never allow her to stay behind.
00:15.14 Peazant graveyard
Nana is tending the graves of the Peazant ancestors; her grandson Eli has come to give her a gift of chewing tobacco. Eli jokes with Nana about her herbalist ways, but the conversation turns to Eula, Eli's wife, who has been raped by a white man and is now pregnant. Eli is afraid that the baby belongs to the rapist; Nana tells him that Eula would never have a baby unless it was "sent" to them. Eli, in his grief, has lost faith in Nana's magic and rejects the old ways.
00:24.08 Images of magic
A series of images of Nana's charms culminates in Eli taking a piece of wood and smashing Nana's bottle tree - a tree with colored bottles placed on the tips of the branches. The bottles were a place for the ancestors' spirits to dwell and watch over the family. Eli and Eula argue, because Eula will not tell her husband who raped her. Nana calls to the spirit of the Unborn Child to come and prove to Eli that she is indeed his child; the Unborn Child speaks in voiceover of how she heard Nana call to her.
Iona and her sister Myown, sitting on the bank of the river, see Yellow Mary's boat approaching. Meanwhile, the Peazant women are beginning to prepare food for a going-away picnic, to be held later that day. Nana talks in voiceover about her time in slavery, and the audience sees her going through the tin can that contains the things she uses to make her magic. One of Nana's daughters plays with the Peazant children, teaching them what little of African language she can remember.
The boat arrives, and the Peazant women come to greet Viola and Mr.
Snead, whom they are expecting. Yellow Mary receives a chilly welcome
from Haagar and the other women, who gossip about how Mary is "ruined." Mary smiles and gives Haagar a gift of store-bought biscuits, ignoring their insults. She and Trula then stroll off with Eula, who seems to be the only Peazant other than Nana who is glad to see Mary.
00:37.13 Preparations continue
The Peazant women have gone back to their cooking. Viola gathers all the children together and begins to read the Bible aloud, teaching them about her new-found Christianity.
00:39.38 St. Christopher
Nana greets Yellow Mary, and they talk. Nana notices that Mary wears a St. Christopher medal, a Christian charm to protect travelers. Nana seems surprised that Mary would believe in such a silly notion.
00:41.47 Up a tree
Mary and Trula sit in a tree smoking and laughing, while Eula remains on the ground. She tells Mary how she has used traditional magic to summon the spirit of her mother, to whom she talks to about her troubling pregnancy. Mary laughs at her cousin's superstition but also talks to Eula about the rape, and advises her not to tell Eli who her rapist was.
00:47.32 Camera tricks
Mr. Snead has been photographing all the members of the Peazant family. As he calls the men together for a portrait on the beach, he becomes confused; he can see the Unborn Child through his lens, standing beside her father Eli.
|00:49.20 Mary talks about Cuba
Back at the tree, Yellow Mary explains to Eula how she gave birth to
a stillborn child, and how she hired herself as a nursemaid to make money. This is how she became a "ruined woman." Later, as the
three women stroll on the beach, they find a tattered umbrella in the sand. Eula seems to be cherishing every moment she has with her cousin Mary, since she and Trula will most likely disappear tomorrow when the rest of the Peazants cross over to the mainland. Mary has talked of moving to Nova Scotia.
00:53.21 Haagar complains
Back at the picnic preparations, Haagar complains about Nana's stubbornness in holding on to the old ways. Viola defends her as much as her new Christianity will permit, but Haagar is immovable; she will not press Nana to come away to the mainland tomorrow.
01:00.25 Eli and his cousin talk
Eli meets a male cousin on the road and the two wrestle; at first it is play-fighting. The cousin tells Eli about a movement among other island Blacks who are trying to pass an anti-lynching law and asks Eli to become involved. When Eli refuses, his cousin accuses him of being selfish, of allowing Eula's rape to make him run away from the islands. Their wrestling then turns to actual fighting, as Eli is offended by his cousin's accusations. Later, the Unborn Child manifests her spirit to Eli and leads him back to the Peazant graveyard, where there is a flashback to slaves working on the indigo plantations.
01:11.14 Farewell service
A minister has come amongst the Peazants, and there is a kind of non-denominational religious service to commemorate their passing over to the mainland. He charges the younger Peazants not to forget their family's past despite their leaving the islands. Nana talks in voiceover about how important it was for slaves to keep mental family records and pass them down through oral tradition, much like the African griot.
01:14.07 The legend of Ibo Landing
Eula has been walking alone by Ibo Landing, and the spirit of her Unborn Child is seen running towards her and disappearing into her body. Standing on the shore looking out to sea, Eula tells her baby the story of how the Ibo were brought to the islands as slaves, but that they turned and walked back to Africa as though the water were solid land. While she speaks, Eli emerges from the woods and walks on the water to touch a wooden statue of an Ibo man that floats yards out from shore. When he returns to land, he and Eula embrace.
The long-prepared-for picnic on the beach begins.
|01:27.13 Nana makes charms for the
After everyone has eaten, they gather around Nana, who is sitting in her chair stitching charms for the Peazants
who will be leaving the next day; into these charms she incorporates items from her tin can, remnants of the Peazant ancestors. Viola chides her, tells her that they
will not need charms to keep them safe. Nana becomes upset and insists, "There must be a bond, a connection between those that go North and those that remain, between us who are here and us who are across the sea! We are as two people in one body - the last of the old and the first of the new!"
01:32:35 Mary makes her decision
Yellow Mary embraces Nana and speaks, telling everyone that she will not cross back to the mainland tomorrow, but stay with Nana on the island.
01:34.09 Eula chastises the family
Eula, deeply upset by the way the family reacts to Yellow Mary and her decision, makes a long speech about the family and how its members are all connected. "Do you understand who we are?" she cries. "We are the daughters of those old dusty things Nana carries around in a tin can!" She, Mary and Nana embrace.
Nana makes medicine using one of her charms and a Bible; she attaches the charm to the book and talks about how it is important not to forget the past when moving into the future. Mary, Eli, Eula, and other family members come to Nana and kneel before her, each pressing a kiss to the Bible and Nana's charm. Trula, distraught that Mary has turned away from her and will not be leaving the island with her tomorrow, runs away. Viola's mother kisses Nana's Bible and Viola begins to have hysterics. Haagar too becomes angry, calling the whole thing "hoodoo mess." Nana calls out to Haagar that she loves her, but Haagar turns away and leaves. Mr. Snead, who has been exploring the traditional folkways during his day on the island, is overcome with emotion and runs to Viola, pressing a kiss to her lips; he has fallen in love with her and with her family. His kiss inspires an epiphany in Viola, who then comes to Nana and kisses her Bible.
01:43.57 The next morning's departure
The final scene of the film takes place the next morning as the Peazants board the boats that will take them to the mainland. At the last minute, Iona's Cherokee lover comes riding up on his horse; Iona leaves the boat and jumps up behind him and the two ride away from Haagar's anguished cries. Eli and Eula have decided to stay behind as well, and we see Eula, Mary and Nana walking together on the beach. The Unborn Child tells us that she was born in time to know Nana before her death, and that together they "remain behind, growing older, wiser, stronger."