Boston, MA: On Monday, May 19, 2014, noted playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who died at the age of 34 in 1965, would have celebrated her 84th birthday. In celebration of her artistic impact, producers of a documentary-in-progress about Hansberry’s life have launched a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter campaign is designed to help raise money to finish the documentary by next year in time to honor the 50th anniversary of the death of the woman best known for writing the play, A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry’s fans are invited to support the documentary project as a special gift in her honor.
(l-r) Documentary producers Jamila Wignot, Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry are working diligently to reach their financial target to make the documentary a reality.
Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is arguably the most famous black play ever to hit the stage in the United States. This groundbreaking work of art is taught in high schools and colleges across the country. It is continually in rehearsal or production on stages of all sizes across the world. Today, audiences are again flocking to the Barrymore Theater in New York City to see the Tony-nominated revival starring Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington in the lead role. Academy Award-winner Sidney Poitier and the original cast first brought down the house in 1959, when the play opened in the same theater.
Academy Award-winner Sidney Poitier poses with Tracy Heather Strain, co-producer of the documentary about Lorraine Hansberry, which is being funded through a Kickstarter campaign.
“What shone through in the play was Hansberry’s artistic and political honesty,” wrote Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in a recent blog post on The Root. What has gotten lost over time, though, is the full character of the play’s author. Often reduced to being a one-hit wonder who died young from cancer, Hansberry was much more than A Raisin in the Sun. Far from the bright lights of Broadway, a small team in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood has been working to change that limited perspective of the outstanding writer.
Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee in the original rendition of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’
Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry, who operate as The Film Posse, are producing the documentary about the life, art and times of Hansberry. Nearly a decade in the works, the film will uncover Hansberry’s complex and compelling life. Often positioned as an integrationist when A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway, her message was much more revolutionary and radical. Her great friend James Baldwin wrote, “Lorraine made no bones about asserting that art has a purpose, and that its purpose was action.”
Denzel Washington and LaTanya Richardson lead an impressive cast in the current revival of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’
Strain and MacLowry are making the film with a diverse group of professionals who live in various locales. New York-based executive producer Chiz Schultz, a veteran producer of feature films, documentaries and children’s television, lives in Nyack. Jamila Wignot, a two-time Peabody award-winning Brooklyn-based filmmaker joined the the team officially last year to co-direct and produce. Harlem-based Kim Miille, an editor whose credits include The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross has signed on. And so has acclaimed clarinetist and composer Don Byron to write the musical score.
Loorraine Hansberry’s treasure trove of literary works.
Hansberry demanded a public voice at a time when women were meant to be content to support the aspirations of their husbands. One of the headlines about her success read, “Housewife’s Play Is A Hit.” That was just one of the boxes she was put in. When challenged, however, she didn’t back down, tangling with the likes of Mike Wallace, David Susskind, Norman Mailer and Robert Kennedy.
“Her interests were wide and deep, and she was interested in all people,” remarked Heather Strain. “Yes, she fought for African-American civil rights most of her life, but she also was committed to fostering a fair and just global society. Her weapon of choice was her words, and she explored a multitude of issues in her writing that we are still wrestling with today.”
The current revival of the iconic play runs through June 15.
Though documentaries have increased in popularity, bringing Hansberry’s story to the screen remains challenging. Compared to personal or contemporary vérité documentaries, historical documentaries are expensive. One issue is the cost of licensing archival material used to craft a story of this nature.
“We estimate our rights cost to be $300,000,” says producer MacLowry. “After we locate materials we’d like to include in the documentary, we have to pay for almost everything that ends up on the screen. This includes photos, archival footage, movie clips, newspaper headlines and personal papers, as well as period music and literary rights.”
Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington has garnered acclaim for his lead role in the current revival of the play.
In 2005 when the rights began to expire for Eyes on the Prize, the landmark series about the civil rights movement, the challenge of rights costs became public. Almost a million dollars needed to be raised to re-license the archival material and music.
The filmmakers have made great progress in realizing their goals. They have shot 19 interviews, including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Glynn Turman as well as Lorraine’s sister and cousin, among others. Recently, the project received a highly competitive production grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise some of additional funds they need to reach their production budget. For Strain, it is worth the effort.
Lorraine Hansberry, who blazed a scorching trail in the literary and entertainment worlds, would have celebrated her 84th birthday on 5/19. Her life story is being told in a documentary which is funded via a Kickstarter campaign.
“The campaign also allows us to make connections with all sorts of people who are interested in Lorraine Hansberry, which is extremely motivating,” she said. “I also strongly feel that understanding the past is key to solving issues that face us today. In this media-rich environment, we must continue to make films that examine the past, no matter if the path to do so is challenging.”
To support the Kickstarter campaign, contact the filmmakers toll-free at (855)-TFP-FILM, twitter.com/hansberrydoc and facebook.com/hansberrydocumentary. –OnPointpress.net.