Fri 8/7 @ 8:46PM
Before the pandemic hit, Terrence Spivey was one of the busiest theater directors in Cleveland. After leaving Karamu’s theater in 2016, where in 13 years he had revived the once-illustrious reputation of the theater at the oldest black cultural institution in the country, he was sought out by many other area theaters and also produced work with his own company, Powerful Long Ladder.
But the Texas native with the bottomless passion for theater, especially black theater, and how it can be used to enlighten, provoke and challenge, wasn’t bound to stay idle too long. This Friday, Powerful Long Ladder will release a short experimental film he produced and directed called Resurrection of the Black Man. It will post at 8:46 pm and anyone who knows the story of George Floyd will immediately know why. And it’s relevant to the story of the film, which is also 8 minutes and 46 seconds long.
The film’s story came from his own background as a native of Kountze, Texas, a small town in the southeastern part of the state near Beaumont. It’s based on an incident that occurred in 1933, when a black man was accused (wrongly) of the murder of a white woman and was chased down, shot, dragged behind a car and burned by a white mob.
“I had known about this incident for years, but I never knew the man’s name,” Spivey recalls. “I finally went to a family reunion in Kountze, and some friends of my late father were talking about things of the past. One of them he mentioned this guy named David Gregory. I said my goodness, that’s him! I’ve been wanting to do a documentary on Kountze and that incident for a long time, and all the myths and legends of the town.”
He’d already been thinking about how to tell Gregory’s story when Floyd was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25, triggering a nationwide reckoning on racism and justice. One thing that struck Spivey hard was Floyd calling for his mama. The mob in Kountze had taken Gregory’s mutilated body to his mother’s home to show what they had done.
“When George Floyd called for his mother, it hit me,” he says. “I called [the film’s cinematographer] Jennifer [Hearn] and I’ve got to for something, I can’t wait for the documentary. And we don’t have a theater right now. I gotta do something now.”
What they came up with was a film inspired by the 1962 French experimental sci-fi film La Jetee. All except two shots are still photos taken by Hearn, a Cleveland-based wedding/portrait/theater photographer. It stars Cleveland actors Michael L. May, Jeannine Gaskin and Sharron Foxx, and six-year-old Carter Miller whom Spivey says “I had to put in there for his innocence of calling for his mama.”
“I shot it the day after my birthday, on June 11,” he recalls. “We did it in front of Shore Cultural Center. The studio shots we did inside the Shore Cultural Center. We finished third week in July. Jennifer never did anything like this before. We were both learning.”
The result is an intense, poetic meditation with an element of surrealism that suggests the impact a person can have beyond their death, much as George Floyd has turbocharged the conversation on race in America. Spivey proudly shares that Golden Globe winning actress Regina Taylor saw it and called it “powerfully moving.”
You can watch the trailer on YouTube now. Go to Powerful Long Ladder’s page on Friday evening when the link to the film will be posted. It will air live at 8:46 and 9:30pm and there will be a Zoom panel about Kountze’s history, David Gregory, Texas and today’s racism after the second showing.