The story happens in Harlem in 1943. Two sisters, Elizabeth, Bess and Quilly live together in Bess' apartment. The population in Harlem is African-American. They are happy to be living in such a community because it seems peaceful. There are many conflicts between the sisters. They are always quarreling even without a particular reason. Quilly is angry with Bess for renting a room to a young man and Bess is unhappy with her life in general, which makes her very sensitive and vulnerable.
We can see the sisters talk to each other harshly numerous times. The first time is when they enter the apartment and the radio is on. Bess criticizes Quilly for not turning it off saying that she doesn't live in Brooklyn any more and that there is no need to leave the radio on in order to make potential burglars believe that the place is not empty. From this we see that they live in a good neighborhood. There is also a hospital across the street at which both of them stare when they want to avoid talking about something.
The main reason there is a conflict between Bess and Quilly is the fact that Quilly married Herman, the man Bess loved. Quilly is so selfish that she put a photo of herself and Herman in the living room for everyone to see. When Bess sees it, she becomes furious and we find out that she blames her sister for staying unmarried. Quilly confesses that Herman had left her for a younger woman and Bess feels sorry for her, because previously she had claimed that it was her who left him.
Later Quilly shouts at her sister for going out at 2 am with Husband, their tenant. She is both jealous for being left alone and worried about Bess.
When Husband proposes to Bess, who is more than twice his age, and she accepts to marry him, Quilly is very angry and she won't even speak to Bess. She does tell her that she might get hurt, but Bess believes that it is her second chance for happiness. In the end Husband leaves Bess all alone and goes back to his ex-girlfriend who manipulated him. He is young and Bess understands that, but she is very sad anyway. Quilly comforts her and the message is that family bonds are stronger than any conflict.
The Old Settler. Dir. Debbie Allen. PBS Pictures, 2001. Film.