‘Deadline’ tells a Sad and Often Neglected American Tale

With stars like Will Smith reigning the box office and directors like Tyler Perry cranking out movie after movie, you’d think there would be more great films about the most American of stories: the legacy of slavery and racism on both white and black Americans.

They’re few and far between. Films like Glory, Malcolm X, Amistad, Mississippi Burning, and Do the Right Thing come and go, but Hollywood in general is skittish about touching a raw and touchy issue.

Like Oscar nominee The Help, Deadline seeks to shine light on shameful and dark episodes in America’s history.

A young man is gunned down in Alabama. Wallace Simpson is missed by his mother Mary Pell (Jackie Welsch) and the African-American community to which he belonged. Justice, however, turns a seemingly blind eye. No one investigates. No one is charged. After all, the victim is black and in this racially charged South, it’s best to not ask questions.

Heiress Trey Hall (Lauren Jenkins) likes to ask questions. She starts her own investigation, one that will lead to Nashville reporters Matt Harper (Steve Talley) and Ronnie Bullock (Eric Roberts). Together, the three uncover the legacy of dark Southern racism, coverups, and violence. However, they also shine a light on dignity, justice, and the emerging New South.

Adapted from the novel Grievances by Mark Ethridge, Deadline is based on the true story of Ethridge’s journalistic investigation of the 1970 murder of Wallace Youmans in South Carolina.

The murder was not only conceived by white men in a racially motivated act, but justice was thwarted by a system of authorities who turned a blind eye or actively covered up the crime.

This is an essentially American story that continues to this day, as evidenced by the attention circling the case of George Zimmerman, accused of murder in the shooting of a black youth while Zimmerman acted as a Neighborhood Watch volunteer.

Still, we don’t see much of it on screen. For every Crash or Grand Canyon, there are fifty Avengers that sidestep the thorny questions of race relations.

That may be changing.

With the success of The Help, which managed to put a warm, gentle, and kind face on fighting racism, more movies about the issue are in the pipestream. Most notably, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained will hit theaters in December. Reported to be a brutal and relentless story of vengeance acted out by a former slave, it will be neither warm nor kind. Jaime Foxx stars.

An all star cast is lined up for Steve McQueen’s  Twelve Years a Slave, due out in 2013.

Is America ready to deal with its past onscreen? We’re about to find out.

After all, one of the widely acknowledged American movies of all time addresses the issue: To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Sometimes a little bravery creates something truly great.

 

This article was written as part of the Patheos Movie Club for Deadline.

‘Deadline:’ The Real Story of the Murder of Wallace Youmans

The movie Deadline is based on a real story, one that echoes a dark side of American history even as it offers characters so wild they could only be real life.

Here is the real story:

In 1970, Wallace Youmans was 18 years old. The  African-American man was gunned down in Fairfax, North Carolina, returning home after visiting his girlfriend. He was shot as he passed a white-owned grocery store in the night.

No charges were filed. It seemed the case was bound to languish.

Then, in 1972, a former constable in Fairfax gave a shocking confession as he lay dying. He said that he and five other white men had conspired to shoot the next black man who walked by. It was apparently in retaliation for violence on a white man the week before.

Despite this allegation, authorities did not investigate the case or charge the men.

The next year, in 1973, a wealthy South Carolina aristocrat named, appropriately, Beekman Winthrop, read about the story while vacationing with his family. Winthrop, a direct descendant of the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, earned multiple degrees at Columbia,  had studied divinity at Harvard, and was in his early 30′s. Heir to a massive bank fortune, he lived and worked in Washington DC, but vacationed at the family plantation of 25,000 acres in Allendale County.

He was the last person one would expect to be a Civil Rights crusader.

Shocked that such brutal racial violence was allowed to occur in his South Carolina of the 1970s, Winthrop made it his business to investigate the murder and pester the authorities. One day he walked into the offices of The Charlotte Observer and said he had a story.

Because such tips rarely lead to big stories, he was handed off to a cub reporter named Mark Ethridge who determined that there was a story indeed.

They started publishing in 1974.

People magazine picked up the story. The pressure led to an indictment of the five surviving conspirators, including a former magistrate and a former policeman.

But they were never convicted. A jury of seven African-Americans and five Caucasians aquitted two defendants. Charges were dropped against the other three.

Still, the African-American community is said to have felt justice was served because the deeds of darkness were exposed in the light of the justice system.

Ethridge went on to be Editor of The Charlotte Observer and write Grievances, on which the movie Deadline is based. Some characters were changed for the film, most notably Beekam Winthrop altered into a beautiful young heiress. The newspaper was moved to Tennessee and the murder to Alabama.

 

Sources for this story: People Magazine 1974: A Rich Do-Gooder Named Winthrop turns Detective to Solve a Brutal Murder

NewsObserver.com: Drescher: ‘Deadline’ Illuminates Newspapers’ Vital Role

This article was written as part of the Patheos Movie Club for Deadline.

Guess what? All your ancestors are white: Aronofsky Casts All Europeans for ‘Noah’

Do you look like this?

That’s the Biblical Noah and, um, Mrs. Noah, as cast in Darren Aronofsky’s movie based on the Biblical story of Noah, due out next March.  Russell Crowe will play the titular character and Jennifer Connelly his wife.

New casting news from Deadline.com has Noah’s sons cast as Douglas Booth as Shem, Logan Lerman as Ham, and Saorise Ronan as (perhaps) a love interest for one of the sons. They look like this:

Booth

Lerman

Ronan

They’re all lovely, beautiful people and fine actors. But, hold the phone, there’s a problem.

Isn’t something missing? Like, maybe, melanin?

Traditionally, Shem is supposed to be the father of the Semites (Jewish people, Arabs, etc) and Ham of Africans and the third son Japheth of the Europeans. (I’ve always wondered where Asians were supposed to have come from. I’m sure some Biblical scholar could tell me.) Japheth has not been cast, but apparently his genes were the strong ones in the family.

That boy don’t look Jewish and that other boy don’t look black.

They look like the scions of a WASPy country club, or maybe members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Booth is the only one without blue eyes. I don’t consider that diversity.

Target ads are more diverse. Heck, toothpaste ads are more diverse.

I know, I know, it’s just a movie. And movies are hard to cast.

In some ways, we can’t take the stories too seriously.

On the other hand, we must take them very seriously indeed, in all their complexity.

We all know there has been centuries racism and hurt associated with these origin stories, especially with the supposed justification of the mistreatment of “Hamitic” peoples.

We don’t want that all over again. But is the answer to leave non-Europeans out of the story all together?

Along with Adam, Noah is described as the father of all humanity in the Bible and many people believe this to be true. Shouldn’t he, and his family, look a little bit more like the breadth and diversity of humankind?

Read more: Urban Daily proposes Black Moses for Spielberg’s Biblical Epic

Race and The Hunger Games: Stand Down, People

Sadly, race has become an issue in the blockbuster hit “The Hunger Games.” A few fans have tweeted their disappointment that the characters Rue, Thresh, and or Cinna, are black. It’s all the more strange because Rue and Thresh are described as having brown skin in the books.

One misspelled, often printed quote even uses the racial epithet beginning with “n.”

Sad. Disgusting. Wrong.

Still, by my admittedly rough math, some 140,000 people saw “The Hunger Games” last weekend.

There are about ten racist quotes making the rounds on the web, only one that I’ve seen with the racial epithet.

I don’t want to excuse racism. Not at all.

But I ask: Aren’t we focusing on the wrong story? Shouldn’t the headline be: “Of the 140k that saw The Hunger Games, ten are racist?”

Or, “Nation tells the racist .07% of Hunger Games Fans that Racism is Not OK?”

I mean, good grief. If white people as a whole were upset about Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, would the film have made 152.5 million?

Isn’t this outrage snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?


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