A Star without a Star: The Untold Juanita Moore Story REVIEW By Edward Brown
The documentary, the directorial debut of Kirk E. Kelleykahn, might sound from the title as though it is exclusively focused on a crusade to get Juanita Moore a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, the recognition that a deserving African American actress is without this specific honor is really just the starting point for a broader discussion about race in Hollywood and beyond. Kelleykahn does bookend the movie with scenes of the Walk and conversations he has with the powers that be at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the folks who administrate the tourist attraction, but the bulk of the film really focuses on the life, times, and prolific career of Juanita Moore.
This is an interesting structural choice because it seems to suggest that the film’s presentation and praise of Juanita Moore is (pun intended) more important than getting her a star on the Walk. I personally like this approach because it makes it apparent that a star on the Walk of Fame does not deliver the justice that people like Juanita Moore deserve. The purpose of the film seems to be to highlight the resiliency, competency, and contributions of black actors in Hollywood rather than to grovel at the feet of whoever doles out Walk of Fame stars.
I think it’s cleverly subversive in that way. The documentary reveals the absurd amount of money, bureaucracy, and politicking that goes into getting a star on the Walk of Fame. It feels like such a grift! The whole system reeks of ego and ostentatious frivolity rather than professional merit. And I don’t say that to disparage anyone who wants to advocate for the merits of any one underappreciated actress or star. Kelleykahn is fighting for Moore’s legacy, and pointing out that this is an honor that she quite frankly deserves is a legitimate way of trying to preserve that legacy. However, the fact that such a prolific career can be reduced to the question of whether or not someone deserves a star painfully proves the documentary’s primary point: Racism in the motion picture industry not only reflects negative cultural norms in America, but exacerbates them through reinforcement in a sickening cycle of hate. It’s enough to make people want to riot. (And they did…several times.) However, the quiet grace and professionalism that Juanita Moore puts on display throughout A Star Without A Star effectively manage to assuage the indignity of her plight.
That her modesty comes through gives us a glimpse of the kind of person Juanita Moore was in addition to the accomplishments she achieved. A Star Without A Star does a great job of showing how she developed and utilized that humility and resiliency throughout her career and life. It also shows how her contemporaries did the same. Sidney Poitier gives several interviews throughout the film where he attests to the racism, typecasting, and industry ire that he and Moore endured. Kelleykahn shows us a tearful yet proud Hattie McDaniel being forced to sit apart from all the other white actors while she waited to accept her Oscar for best-supporting actress for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939). The documentary makes the unwavering dignity that Juanita Moore and her contemporaries always comported themselves with feel almost saintly. Almost as if the Walk of Fame doesn’t even deserve Juanita Moore or them.
At the beginning of the documentary, the narrator, Jeffrey Poitier, the son of the late, great Sidney marvels, “If Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Tinkerbell can all have stars, why doesn’t someone like Juanita Moore?” The narrator’s point is obvious. Painfully obvious if you’re a person of color. It’s a rhetorical question that Kelleykahn cleverly spends the rest of the film answering. It is a film that conspicuously, but fairly addresses historical racism in Hollywood and, subsequently, America. It will make viewers uncomfortable in a way that it should. It exposes the fallacy that America exists or has ever existed in a post-racial era. The film offers a profound scene where JFK asks, “Can we honestly say that it doesn’t affect our security and the fight for peace when negros and others are denied their full constitutional rights?” That should be a powerful moment for anyone that watches this movie or reads this review. And to be clear, the intention of the movie is not to shame America, but to expose the pervasive and insidious nature of racism and how it steals the spotlight away from people like Juanita Moore.