The book was made into an award-winning television movie, broadcast on CBS in 1974. The film holds importance as one of the first made-for-TV movies to deal with African-American characters with depth and sympathy. It preceded the ground-breaking television miniseries Roots by three years. The film culminates with Miss Pittman joining the American civil rights movement in 1962 at age 110. Critics have noted the language to be difficult to understand by viewers not familiar with the dialect and accent of the characters.
The movie was directed by John Korty; the screenplay was written by Tracy Keenan Wynn and executive produced by Roger Gimbel. It starred Cicely Tyson in the lead role, as well as Michael Murphy, Richard Dysart, Katherine Helmond and Odetta. The film was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was notable for its use of very realistic special effects makeup by Stan Winston and Rick Baker for the lead character, who is shown from ages 23 to 110. The television movie is currently distributed through Classic Media.
Differences between the novel and film
Preceding Alex Haley's miniseries Roots, the film was one of the first films to take seriously depictions of African Americans in the plantation south. The film, like the book, also suggests a comparison between the contemporary moment of the Civil Rights Movement and the plight of African Americans at various points in history. The film, however, has some noticeable divergences from the novel. In the film the person who interviews Miss Jane is white (played by Michael Murphy). There is no indication of the interviewer's race in the novel. In fact after the first couple of pages the interviewer completely falls out of the frame of the story though he continues to appear between flashbacks in the film. The film also opens with the book's final story about Jimmy coming to an almost 110-years-old Miss Jane to ask for her participation in a Civil Rights demonstration. The film appears to be a series of flashbacks that happen during this time of Jimmy's Civil Rights organizing. In the novel, Corporal Brown gives Jane her name. Originally she had been called Ticey. The Corporal exclaims that "Ticey" is a slave name but then also ironically declares "I'll call you Jane" after his own girl back in Ohio. In the film however, Corporal Brown only suggests the name "Jane" as one option in a list of potential names, so that it is Jane who says "I like 'Jane'".
Anachronisms in the film
There is a scene after the war where the plantation owner calls his slaves together to tell them they are free. In the opening shot, as the slaves are coming from the fields to the house, a car can briefly be seen driving by in the distance.