CULTURE, ET CETERA
Nina May speaks with the zeal of a modern-day emancipationist, crusading to rescue the Republican Party’s history on civil rights.”The Republican Party was founded specifically to abolish slavery,” says Mrs. May, a writer who lives in McLean.
“The first nine planks for the Republican Party dealt with civil rights for blacks. Republicans fought for the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments .. [against] total opposition from the Democrats.”
Her quest to bring that history to life has resulted in a documentary, “Emancipation, Revelation, Revolution,” which will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at McLean Bible Church and is available on digital video disc in time for Black History Month.
The film features interviews with black leaders and activists, including Shelby Steele, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Deroy Murdock, Armstrong Williams and Star Parker.”
Emancipation, Revelation, Revolution” also connects the present generation of black conservative leadership with the historical civil rights movement through interviews with Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality and son of civil rights leader Roy Innis; Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King; and Gloria Jackson, a descendant of Booker T. Washington.
Ironically, the documentary was inspired by a famous Democrat. Mrs. May said she conceived the idea for the film in December 2002 during the press uproar over remarks by Sen. Trent Lott, in a tribute to Strom Thurmond, that eventually forced the Mississippi Republican to resign his position as Senate majority leader.”It began with Bill Clinton when he said that all Republicans are racist,” Mrs. May said, referring to a televised interview in which the former president accused Republicans of being “pretty hypocritical” in criticizing Mr. Lott’s praise for Mr. Thurmond at a celebration of the South Carolinian’s 100th birthday.
Republicans had, Mr. Clinton told CNN, “tried to suppress black voting, they’ve run on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina. .. So I don’t see what they’re jumping on Trent Lott about.”
Those remarks angered Mrs. May, a white native of Memphis, Tenn., who grew up in Georgia and Florida during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
“Coming out of the South, knowing the history of segregation you couldn’t be a Republican in the South,” she said, recalling the “Solid South” era of Democratic dominance in Dixie. “I’m tired of being called a racist. The Republican Party is the party of civil rights. .. So I said, I’ve got to do something about this.”
She found that others shared her concerns.
“Black conservatives feel there is a double standard out there,” Mrs. May said. “A lot of black people are saying, ‘There’s something wrong with this picture.'”
She began by seeking powerful assistance for the project. “Our first step was prayer,” said Mrs. May, who was editor of The Washington Times’ weekly “Rainbow Page” children’s feature for 10 years and has written commentary columns for the newspaper. “I prayed about it and prayed about it. .. Suddenly everything just fell in place.”She teamed up with Washington-based media consultant Tricia Erickson, who “set up all the interviews,” with cameraman Adam Forster doubling as video editor. Funding the project was a challenge, but less than Mrs. May expected.
“Even without raising a dime, we just started interviewing people,” she said. “We all kept waiting for the funding to come in, but it never really came in. We didn’t realize we could do this for a fraction of what they tell you in Hollywood it’s going to cost.”
Listening as black conservatives shared their experiences was sometimes emotional, Mrs. May said. “I’d leave these interviews in tears,” she said.They recorded 100 hours of video, which were edited down to a rough cut, which was shown at “screenings all over the country, mostly in black churches,” Mrs. May said. “We wanted to get the feedback, to make sure that everything in there was historically accurate and relevant.”
The film was praised by leading black conservatives.
“Our history has long been ignored by Hollywood filmmakers, and this film corrects that oversight,” said Frances Rice, chairman of the National Black Republican Association.
In November 2005, “Emancipation, Revelation, Revolution” was shown at the Liberty Film Festival in Hollywood, Calif. In February 2006, it earned a prize as Most Cutting Edge Documentary at the Noir Film Festival in San Diego. In October, it was shown at an invitation-only preview in Washington.
A central theme of the documentary is the harsh reactions experienced by black people who challenge liberal orthodoxy.
“Look at [Republican Lt. Gov.] Michael Steele up in Maryland he had Oreo cookies thrown at him” during his 2006 Senate campaign, Mrs. May said. “Nobody in the Democratic Party stood up to condemn that.”
Mrs. May said actor Bill Cosby has seen the film “and likes it. It really speaks to what he has been going through,” noting that Mr. Cosby “was vilified” for some of his social criticism of “gangsta” culture.
Admission is free for Saturday’s showing in McLean, which is sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Filmmakers. DVDs of “Emancipation, Revelation, Revolution” are available online at www.errvideo.com.