Perry’s swagger is moving into the Hollywood mainstream via acting roles in newsworthy pictures ranging from “Away girl” for “Don’t Look Up” may have expanded the audience for his directorial work. And with his recent deal with Netflix, that directorial work has entered new territory. His new picture, “A Jazzman’s Blues,” in which Perry does not appear, is from a script he says he wrote 27 years ago. In a recent appearance on “The Today Show,” Perry said, “I had to be strategic in what I was doing before, so I had to make sure I had hit after hit after hit, so this one would I just have to take my time and do it at the right time.” Telling this story now, he says, became imperative as Perry experienced modern book banning, the distortion of black history, where “the homogenization of slavery and Jim Crow” is an aspect of what particularly worries him.
From the beginning, “A Jazzman’s Blues” shows that Perry has developed a real fluidity as a filmmaker. The setting of the story is a frame, something straight out of John Grisham maybe: Sometime in the not-too-distant past, a black woman watches a political pitch on TV from the current attorney general of Hopewell, Georgia, and despises his racist views. Nevertheless, this old woman soon appears in the man’s office, carrying a stack of letters and making a request. “You want me to look into a murder that happened over 40 years ago,” the bureaucrat says in disbelief. (As it happens, the woman knows everything, but intends the inquiry as a lesson.) We flashback to 1937, and a rural black community, and a lot of unhappiness.
The sensitive, cautious young man nicknamed Bayou (Joshua Boone) comes from a family of itinerant musicians. Including a dad who huffs “Boy’s got to learn to be tough at some point.” The fact that Boone can sing but cannot play makes him an object of contempt for that father and for Boone’s brother Willie Earl (Austin Scott); with the latter, there’s a real Cain and Abel vibe going on. Good luck smiles at Boone in the form of LeAnne (Solea Pfeiffer), an outcast of another species. “I can still smell lavender and moonlight,” Boone says in one of his letters. For a short time, the two shared a secret love. She teaches him to read. But she is snatched away by her avaricious mother, who takes her north and marries the girl, who can become white, to a wealthy Caucasian. 1947 brings an unfortunate reunion of Bayou and LeAnne. “What’s wrong with these niggers down here?” asks a member of LeAnne’s new people as Bayou is so forward as to take a seat in a white family’s kitchen. “Oh, we’ll keep them in line,” replies a local law enforcement representative.