December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Most people wouldn’t describe 170th Street and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx as a place where the light has its own beautiful quality. But 30ish writer-director Darnell Martin has a knack for finding poetry in unlikely places. After I Like It Like That, her seriocomic chronicle of a young mother’s coming-of-age, premiered to unanimous praise at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Columbia began promoting the film as the first major studio feature to be directed by an African-American woman. That’s a distinction Martin, a Sarah Lawrence grad who got her start as an assistant cameraman on music videos, dislikes for its patronizing undertone; she’s a filmmaker — period — and indeed battled the studio to keep her debut’s highly charged moments intact. ”They wanted to cut all these scenes and turn it into a romantic comedy,” she explains. What audiences got instead was something they don’t often see in Bronx tales about ”people in desperate situations, people who have got a chunk of their humanity missing.” The new ingredient? ”I think it’s hope.”

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