Opening remarks: Eureka Gilkey, executive director of Project Row Houses; and Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH

Introducing the film: Alvia J. Wardlaw, MFAH honorary trustee and director of the University Art Museum at Texas Southern University

Just added! Free screening of part 2 on Sunday, July 15, at 3 p.m.

A true discovery, this ensemble piece—originally made to air on TV in 1980—explores black middle-class lives with candor and emotional intensity. Actor, screenwriter, novelist, and director Bill Gunn teamed with writer Ishmael Reed, who called Personal Problems a “meta-soap opera.” The film stars Walter Cotton, Vertamae Grosvenor, Sam Waymon, and Jim Wright, with music by Carman Moore and cinematography by Robert Polidori. Released theatrically for the first time in 2018.

“A rediscovered milestone in independent black cinema” —Bomb magazine

“Gunn and Reed illuminate under-represented African American realities and critique the reductive banalities of television. The saga of Johnnie Mae Brown, a professional nurse’s aide, leads viewers through the stresses of her professional and personal life, rendered with a penetrating irony.” —UCLA Film & Television Archive

“A total reconstruction by Kino Lorber from original first-generation camera tapes, complete with a remixed soundtrack that fetches much lost dialogue from the thickets of talk, allowing both episodes to be screened in the best shape and most complete form that they’ve been seen in in recent memory.” —Artforum

“Gunn (himself a polymath with two novels, numerous plays and a trio of films of various levels of availability) teams with legendary writer Ishmael Reed for this breathtaking film that’s part formal experiment and part wide ranging familial epic that feels as intimate in its artistry as it does contextually broad in its narrative.” —

Friday, July 13: 10-minute intermission between part 1 & part 2 (approximately 8:50 p.m.)

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Bill Gunn
Running Time
165 minutes
Digital, Color