Written by Caballero Oscura
A Man Named Pearl is a rarity in the world of documentary film: an unabashed feel-good film that has little agenda save a look at the work of its fascinating subject.
As a young black man in South Carolina in the ‘70s, Pearl Fryar was discouraged from buying a home in a predominantly white neighborhood due to the stereotype that black people don’t keep up their yards. In an act of retaliation, Pearl and his wife settled in a black neighborhood where he set about creating a topiary showcase on his expansive grounds. With no topiary training and utilizing castoff plants from a local nursery, Pearl slowly coaxed his plants into amazing original designs. His understated goals were to defy stereotypes, attract positive attention to his community, and hopefully be the first black winner of his town’s “Garden of the Month” award.
Thirty years later, Pearl ’s simple garden has morphed into a nationally recognized wonderland of complex, original, and magnificent creations that attracts visitors from around the world. His passion has spilled over to his neighbor’s yards as well, where their more modest designs further beautify and unify the community. This one man’s simple actions have caused a positive and sustained ripple effect in his community, changing its appearance as well as inspiring the imaginations of its residents and visitors. The interest in his garden also helps to steer tourist dollars to his community, providing a much-needed boost to the poorest county in the entire state. In spite of the acclaim, Pearl is as humble and dedicated as ever, welcoming all visitors and spending hours per day maintaining and adding to his garden.
While there’s clearly a racial factor at play here, the film barely touches on the adversities faced by Pearl, instead keeping the focus on his magical creations and his always upbeat outlook. It would have been an easy play for the filmmakers to use his story as little more than a launch pad for a diatribe against greater racial and social injustices, so it’s refreshing to find that they sidestep this approach in favor of focusing fully on Pearl and his garden. He’s an outstanding subject, and his topiary creations truly have to be seen to be believed. Some of them stretch as high as 30 feet, while others sprawl out for yards on the ground, such as his massive welcoming sign crafted out of flowers: “Love, Peace & Goodwill.” It’s amazing that one man has created and continues to maintain such an impressive garden of topiary delights, and completely enlightening to learn about the warm-hearted man behind the magic.
A Man Named Pearl is now playing in New York and opens in LA and OC on July 25th before expanding to additional markets over the next few months. For more information and a list of theaters, visit the film’s website.