Personal Problems

Personal Problems

Director: Bill Gunn

1980, USA, 165 minutes

Program Notes

Three Screenings Only!
This entirely African American-conceived and produced ensemble drama is the result of a collaboration of a pair of pioneering Black artists: writer Ishmael Reed and filmmaker Bill Gunn, who wrote and directed the underground classic Ganja & Hess and wrote the screenplay for Hal Ashby’s The Landlord. Originally intended to air on public television in 1980, it went unseen for many years; the original tapes have been carefully restored by Kino Lorber and the film is now available in its full-length version for the first time in decades!

Johnnie Mae Brown (Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor) and Charles Brown (Walter Cotton) are a working-class African American couple in New York at the beginning of the 1980s. While reliant upon one another, the husband and wife have grown emotionally estranged and are each having relationships outside the marriage. Charles’s father, Father Brown (Jim Wright) lives with the couple, and their lives are further complicated when Johnnie May’s brother Bubba (Thommie Blackwell) and his wife Mary Alice (Andrew W. Hunt) come to live with them. After the sudden death of Father Brown, a funeral wake allows simmering family tensions to rise to the surface. Charles spends an introspective day reminiscing with Father Brown’s friends. As a result of these events, Johnnie Mae and Charles rediscover their love for one another and make a conscious effort to strengthen their relationship.


“Embodies the spirit of independent film. Bill Gunn is one of the most under-appreciated filmmakers of his time.”
— Spike Lee

“Bill Gunn’s long-lost, wondrous opus Personal Problems feels it’s own organic way into the unsung lives of it’s African-American characters.”
— Howard Hampton, Film Comment

NYT Critic’s Pick: “Personal Problems retains a vitality and an integrity that practically bounds off the screen.”
— Glenn Kenny, The New York Times