Share & Connect
Painter Beverly McIver was enjoying a skyrocketing career when she promised her mother, Ethel, that she would take care of her mentally disabled sister, Renee. Years later, following Ethel’s death, that promise came due.
Filmed over the course of six years, the compelling HBO2 documentary ‘Raising Renee’ chronicles Beverly McIver’s efforts to make good on her promise. A testament to the power of family bonds, this thought-provoking film is produced and directed by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan (the Oscar-nominated “Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern”).
Marked by drama, humor and unexpected twists, Raising Renee begins in 2003, as Beverly McIver is savoring opening night of her first solo art show in New York, joined by her mother, Ethel, and mentally disabled sister, Renee, a 43-year-old who functions at the level of a third grader. When Ethel dies the next year, Beverly’s pledge to care for Renee is put to the test.
Beverly grew up in a Greensboro, NC housing project with her sisters, Renee and Roni, and their mother, Ethel, who singlehandedly raised them while working as a maid for white families. Segregation in Greensboro was notorious: When Beverly was 17, an anti-KKK rally resulted in five people being shot dead by the Klan in front of the McIvers’ home.
Though most of her relatives stayed in the area, Beverly’s talent led to fellowships in New York and a professorship at Arizona State University. The politics of race would inform her art, and she vowed never to live in the South again.
Renee had lived with Ethel her whole life, making colorful potholders and doing good deeds with her mother. After Ethel’s death from cancer, Beverly moved Renee to Arizona to live with her. She was concerned that this added responsibility would end her life as an artist, but Renee was happy to be with her sister.
After a few years, Beverly decided she needed help caring for her sister, so she and Renee moved back to North Carolina, where she has been offered a position at North Carolina Central University, to be closer to their sister Roni and her family.
Though her sister seemed happy, Beverly worried that Renee was at home much more than when she lived with their mother. In fall 2009, shortly after Renee turned 50, an opportunity arose for her to live independently in an assisted-living apartment complex, something that was unthinkable when their mother was alive. Renee’s astonishing response to this challenge at age 50 raises key questions about disability and ability.
Beverly McIver is currently the Suntrust Endowed Chair Professor of Art at North Carolina Central University. Her work is in the collections of the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro and the Baltimore Museum of Art, among other institutions, and has been reviewed in Art News, Art in America and the New York Times.
Critic Irving Sandler has described McIver’s art as a merger of “personal confession and social commentary, photography and painting, and realism and expressionism.” Husband and wife team Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan have been making documentary and fiction films for more than 20 years.
Their feature documentaries include 1995’s “Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern,” which won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance, the Prix Italia, and Peabody and IDA awards, and received an Academy Award nomination. Their documentary “So Much So Fast” premiered at Sundance and was broadcast worldwide.