This is a story I've wanted to tell for many years.
Originally, I envisioned "Master Piece" to be a full length, two act play. In 1996, while in grad school at Cal State, Long Beach, I wrote in one of my journals this idea of "confronting" D. W. Griffith, the director of "The Birth of A Nation." The first act would be as it appears in my short film: Griffith is getting ready for the premiere of the film and the black woman in the room is a voice from the future cautioning Griffith that his words and work will have meaning and with have consequences. The second act takes place in the present. The black woman is in present time and the man is still Griffith, but he looks homeless, unkept and raggedy. He's in a sort of limbo, warning the young woman about the potential consequences of a screenplay she was writing. Now, in 1996 I didn't know what her story would be but I knew it had to be as dark and as possibly polarizing as TBOAN. The second act would be Griffith warning the young black female writer that her "masterpiece" could bring danger. We'll come back to the story itself in a moment.
In 1996, I was completely disenchanted with the film industry for lauding a film with damaging and ugly images of blacks during the Reconstruction era." Add to that, the romanticizing Klu Klux Klan, and Griffith's "Nation" was no home for me or mine.
Without much question, I demonized Griffith and the first act of "Master Piece" would be MY opportunity to confront and hold accountable this fellow artist. I saw the film for the first time in undergrad at James Madison University. It came back up for me in grad school because my MFA thesis would be about the interwoven nature of black theater, black film, black history, and black politics in America. I decided to dig in on "The Birth of a Nation" and research Griffith to glean some understanding of why he made the film. What I learned was mind blowing. Griffith and his wife were near bankrupt after producing over 400 plays and short silent films. He wanted to be a successful storyteller so desperately that he left himself and his wife just shy of ruined. He was presented with an opportunity to adapt Thomas Dixon's novel, "The Clansman." Griffith wanted no parts of this at first...at first. Once money and fame, exposure and opportunity were involved, the deal felt better. Griffith also made it clear all around him, his focus was to make the best movie he could. He wanted it known that he nor his wife, in no way, endorsed the Klan. He would soon discover his disclaimer would fall on deaf ears. He was a supporter by association and that sealed his fate.
Due to the outcry by the NAACP, protesting the film, Griffith's next film would his attempt to steer correct the ship. "Intolerance" was to be both his apology and his atonement to glorifying the Klan. While artistically and critically, "Intolerance" surpassed TBOAN, it never matched the sensation of the Klan propaganda film.
SO...I tucked away the idea for a few years...until I took a position at the University of Virginia in 2000. I was the Program Director of the African American Heritage Program for the Commonwealth of Virginia at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. It was one of the greatest opportunities of my life...and for as long as I live, it will continue to be among the highest experiences. I am a child of Virginia...born and raised. I walked the grounds of every major planation and slave quarter in the state. Somewhere along the way, I became angry...and then cynical. My thoughts,
"If I walk one more plantation..."
"If one more sweet and nice white person tell me about the history of the ground and then take me to the slave quarters as the LAST stop on the tour..."
"If I have to listen to these people talk about the greatness of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison and how they are the greatest Americans who ever lived...while OWNING humans..."
"What if one day...they just decide to send us back?"
And there it was...my second act. There it was, while standing at the foot of Monticello, the idea for "Passage Home". The "masterpiece" of the second act of "Master Piece" is "Passage Home". I told one of my co-workers, a fellow writer, that I had this idea and it scared the shit out of me. I didn't want to explain the details, not because I thought he would take the idea, I simply didn't want to speak the idea out loud. The events of the next few years would then shape me creating "Passage Home": continued work at the VFH; the events and aftermath of 9/11 as it related to the economy and immigration; I moved BACK to Los Angeles in time to experience city and statewide protest over pending immigration laws and reform; and finally relinquishing my own personal fear to tell the stories I want to tell.
And so...here we are in 2013, and I'm cuttin' loose! I wouldn't be surprised to run into Griffith some time soon to help me continue this story.