Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’


 “Last Sunday, more than eight thousand of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama…”
Martin Luther King Jr.
March 25, 1965 address at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march


Back in 2006 after a video shoot in Jackson, Mississippi I made a point on my way to Atlanta to drive through Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. I took the above photo as I crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I especially thought of that trip today because it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the movie Selma is currently in theaters fresh off a Best Picture Oscar Nomination.

Related Posts:

25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking (From the Screenwriting from Iowa blog)
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip #7)
Martin Luther King Day Special (2012)

Scott W. Smith

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“He was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, a tiny village of cows, corn and mud huts in the rolling hills of the Transkei, a former British protectorate in the south.”
NY Times Obituary for Nelson Mandela

“What else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Letter From Birmingham (1963)

The former leper colony Robben Island  is located in Cape Town, South Africa and covers only two square miles on this great big planet. But I’m into unlikely places—and the people from there— that help nudge the world.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was an extraordinary man in the truest sense. Extra-ordinary. A troublemaker and an agent fighting for justice and human dignity. And like all extraordinary people from Martin Luther King Jr to Martin Luther, the reformers always have trail of supporters and haters. But the trails they leave behind are more important than even their own remarkable lives.

Mandela died this week and while he never wrote a screenplay (that I know of) while imprisoned 18 years on Robben Island for fighting apartheid, his thoughts and writings that were formed there in a 8-foot by 7-foot concrete cell that had a bucket for a toilet. Ideals that eventually led him to becoming to the first Black President of South Africa.

“The cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these. But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.”
Nelson Mandela

Mandela is the center of several documentaries and a couple of feature films including the recently released Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. (Screenplay by William Nicholson based on Mandela’s autobiography.)

In 2006 I went to Cape Town, South Africa as cameraman on a documentary. I was looking forward to seeing South Africa up close. My work in production over the years has given me many wonderful opportunities to see both great beauty and human hardship. But I was not prepared for seeing the shanty town—miles and miles of poverty with plywood, metal and cardboard homes— we drove by soon after we left the airport. Cape Town I was told at that time was one of the murder capitals of the world and Johannesburg, South Africa ranked near the top in kidnappings and carjackings. I’m not sure what crime statistics are in South Africa these days but did find a 2010 report that titled Why South Africa is so violent and what should we be doing about it? so I’m guessing there are still many problems there.

“Life is still not good. It has changed for some people, not for others. Some people still have no jobs. People are hungry.”
Siphiwe Mthembu, Mpumalanga
BBC New Online, South Africa: Life Today

Real, meaningful, and lasting change takes time—and a lot of it. Driven through parts of the deep south recently? There are still a few issues there. But go back and read Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail and know that in the last 40 years there has been positive change in the south and the entire United States. I don’t know that King changed the world—but he certainly helped nudge it in the right direction.

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)
Above quote spoken by character Henry in The Real Thing: A Play

Children of future generations will speak of Mandela and read his words long after he’s dead, because he too nudged the world a little.

A funeral will be held for Mandela in his birth village Mvezo on December 15, 2013.

Related Post:

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip #7)
Martin Luther King Jr. Special

Related links:
Robben Island Museum
Photos of Mandela’s prison at Time magazine
Nelson Mandela Foundation

Scott W. Smith

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Since today marks the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech given in Washington D.C. I thought I’d pull together many of the links related to Martin Luther King and black writers and filmmakers I’ve written about since I started this blog in 2008. The roots of this blog go back to a creative writing teacher I had in high school named Dr. Annye Refoe—who just happens to be black. She opened to me and other students a new world of creativity, literature & storytelling, and an understanding of the black experience in the United States.

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip #7)
Martin Luther King Jr. Special
Blacks in Black & White
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
Postcard # 18 (NYC Synagogue)
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Writing & House Cleaning “Whatever your life’s work do it well.” MLK
The Father of Film (Part 2) A look at Birth of a Nation.
The Father of Film (Part 3)
Jackie, Spike & Sanford, Florida
Soul of the Game
President Obama, The Man & Iowa Seeds
First screenplay, Oscar—Precious
40 Days of Emotions (Famous scene of Denzel Washington in Glory)

And I’ll close with this the video below of the multi-media performance of Three Black Kings I edited a couple of years ago with artist Gary Kelley. It was performed live by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger.

Scott W. Smith

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DSC_0572Proving that all beautiful sunsets aren’t only found at the beach I took the above picture yesterday in Villa Rica. I was in route yesterday from Orlando, Florida to a shoot in Athens, Alabama  when I pulled off Interstate 20 in Georgia between Atlanta and Birmingham because I was intrigued by the name of the historic town. The area was originally Creek Indian territory and received the name Villa Rica in the late 1800s during a gold rush. Villa Rica is derived from Spanish for “rich village.”

I used the street lights and the hood of my rental car to add some design elements to make the sunset shot less pedestrian.

Actress Maidie Norman (1912-1998) —who in 1977 was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame—was born in Villa Rica, and the movie Randy and the Mob (2007) was filmed mostly in Villa Rica. But perhaps most of all, Villa Rica is known as “The Birth Place of Southern Gospel Music.” Thomas A. Dorsey known as the “Father of Gospel Music” was born and raised in Villa Rica.

Dorsey is featured in the 1982 documentary Somebody Say Amen. He wrote the song Take My Hand, Precious Lord which was recorded by Aretha Franklin and  Whitney Houston, and Mahalia Jackson sang it at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr.  (It was said to be King’s favorite hymn):

Here’s the Elvis version:

Scott W. Smith

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“Whatever your life’s work do it well.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the women going about her household task, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
Martin Luther

Before David Sedaris became David Sedaris the best-selling author, humorist & storyteller extraordinaire David Sedaris, he was just a college drop out working various jobs including house cleaning. After he was discovered by Ira Glass doing a public reading of his diary he began to gather a following on NPR but still cleaned houses in the day to earn a living. In a radio interview in 1993 Terry Gross interviewed Sedaris asking him if it bothered him that he had to clean houses as his day job instead of devoting his full time to writing.

“I like to think that all work is pretty much equal. It doesn’t really matter what you do—it doesn’t bother me, the work. I like it. There’s a before and an after. I mean I like cleaning someone’s home if they’re really filthy, that’s my favorite. But some of the people I clean for it’s clean when I get there and there’s not really that much for me to do. So you don’t really feel like there is a before and an after. So I’d much rather go to a slobs house… because afterwards they look at it like you’ve done something they could never possibly do. Like you have retuned the engine to the car, like you have removed their kidney. Like you did something that required such skill, and it was a skill that you could ever master.”
David Sedaris
Fresh Air Writers Speak with Terry Gross

His first book was published in 1994 and over the years several books have followed and I think it’s been a while since he cleaned houses for a living. Perhaps one of the reasons that Sedaris embraced his various jobs was because it was not just a paycheck it was material. Material that went into his daily diary and that could one day find itself in one of his books. In 2004 he was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Spoken word for Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Cinemablend announced in May of 2010 that feature film writer/director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier with Practice) had optioned one of the stories from Sedaris’ book Naked.

Scott W. Smith

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©2007 Scott W. Smith

Let’s put political views and rhetoric aside for the day and just step back and look at this moment.

Just a few minutes ago Barack Obama became the first African-America president in the history of the United States.

To put this in perspective when Obama was born in 1961 the Voters Rights Acts that allowed blacks to vote was still four years away from being signed by President Johnson. And when Obama stood before that sea of people in Washington D.C. today he stood on the shoulders of those who went before him. There was Jesse Owens who was shunned by Hitler, there was Jackie Robinson who was shunned by a chunk of the nation, and there was Martin Luther King Jr who was stunned by a bullet.

If we just look at the last 47 years from a racial perspective since Obama’s birth the change while not necessarily swift has been sweeping in scope. Sure there are struggles. There always will be because we are human. But this day is a symbolic mark for the United States.

As far as Screenwriting from Iowa? How about screenwriting and Iowa? Two things come to mind.

Screenwriting: At least in fiction, the first black American president (as far as I know) actually happened back in 1964 in the novel The Man by Irving Wallace which became a film in 1972  starring James Earl Jones as President of the United States with the screenplay written by Rod Serling. The pen has always had power to lead the way which is why Plato wrote a few thousand years ago that poets should be banned as a danger to society.

Iowa: I ended up seeing 12 presidential candidates in this last election and the first one I saw speak was Obama in Oelwein (pop. 6,692), Iowa in the summer of ’07. That’s where I took the above photo. I ended up being hired to videotape him in Waterloo, Iowa and happened to be at the Iowa State Fair when we crossed paths once again. I was always interested to watch the people and how they responded to him. But even as his momentum grew it was still a surprise that he won the Iowa caucus.

And the chances are good that without that win in Iowa Obama wouldn’t have been sworn in as President in Washington today. Depending on your political view you can credit or blame Iowa.

“What you started here in Iowa has swept the nation.” Barack Obama

“I don’t think we’ll ever quite capture the feeling of that night in Iowa when we won. This is hallowed ground for us.” David Axerod
(Huh, this is Field of Dreams territory and sometimes confused with heaven. )

Just one more example of big things having their seeds planted in small places. And let’s all hope that Obama does a great job as President.

And lastly, I’m not a 100% sure but I think those large lights you saw in the wide shot as Obama spoke at the inauguration were Musco lights that are made here in Iowa. They are also not strangers to film shoots where large areas need lit with portable lights.

Words & Photo Copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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How about that Kurt Warner? If you don’t follow pro football you may not know that his underdog story is one of the greatest in sports history. And now, with a win in yesterday’s playoff game, the 37-year-old adds another chapter to his hall-of-fame career by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. If you like comeback stories Kurt Warner is your guy. And, yes, he does have a connection to little ole’ Cedar Falls, Iowa.

When Warner graduated from Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1990 his dream was to play down the road for the University of Iowa. But he didn’t get a scholarship from them or any Division 1 major college. But he did get an offer from a Division II school, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where he thought he’d at least get a lot of playing time at a smaller school. But he ended up sitting the bench for three years. 

But in his senior year he was the starting quarterback and at the end of the season he was named Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and hoped he’d get drafted in the NFL. He didn’t and was cut when he tried out for the Green Bay Packers. He returned to Cedar Falls where he was an assistant coach at Northern Iowa and a stock boy at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. With no NFL teams interested he went on to play arena football for the Iowa Barnstormers in ’96 & ’97 where he was named to the AFL’s all arena team both years. From there he played in Europe where he played for the Amsterdam Admirals and led the league in passing, then he was finally welcomed in the NFL.

He started the 1999 season as a back-up quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and ended up the MVP of the league and after winning the Super Bowl was named the Super Bowl MVP. The press enjoyed telling and retelling the quick rise of the former stock boy to Super Bowl MVP. Then he was injured in a loss at the 2001 Super Bowl and considered a has been by some. He should just retire they said. But he kept doing his thing and now he’s leading a franchise that’s never been to the big game to Super Bowl XLIII.

You can read more about him at KurtWarner.org where he has a foundation called First Things First that among other things provides trips to Disney for children with life threatening conditions, and has helped with flood relief efforts.  

It seems he does just about everything except write screenplays, but maybe he’ll try his hand at that after his football career is over. Some day his story will make an excellant film as it is one full of conflict, struggle, disappointments, loss and faith. Perhaps you can identify with what Warner told Sports Spectrum’s Chuck Swirsky about his unorthodox journey:

“This isn’t how I had it planned. I didn’t want to work in a grocery store then go to Amsterdam and play in the Arena League. But as I look back over my life, I realize that I had a lot of maturing to do. I had a lot of growing in my faith.”

Warner kept his hand on the plow and did his best in whatever arena he was allowed to play. He believed in his dream and his talent even when he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay his bills. Most people won’t find the wild success that Warner has found, but at least his story gives some hope and purpose to taking the bumpy roads of life. And that is fertile ground for writers in life and in the stories they write.

Related posts: Speaking of bumpy roads & faith check out the post Screenwriting & Martin Luther King Jr.


Scott W. Smith

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