JONESVILLE — Saturday night Yadkin Valley residents felt the impact of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot first-hand at the Starmount Cinema in Jonesville during the screening of Nelson Oliver’s “The Red Cape.”
The film follows the story of the only successful violent takeover of a local government in American history through the eyes of a young African-American boy. “Every North Carolinian if not every citizen should be aware of this piece of history. The riot disenfranchised a thriving and prosperous black community and thrust our nation deeply into the segregationist Jim Crow era,” explained Oliver.
“This project exists because I learned of a huge piece of North Carolinian history that I had previously not known about. The more I read about and researched the history, the more I felt compelled to inform people about it,” stated Olivier. “I can’t imagine a more fulfilling experience than taking something you’ve learned and turning it into an informative and emotionally engaging experience for others.”
Others were impressed in spite of the technical difficulties that three minutes before the film was supposed to end created an impromptu question-and-answer session before the screening was able to resume.
Cicely McCulloch was “struck by the ugliness with which people were treated. [The Red Cape] was pretty powerful. It was heartbreaking.”
“It was emotional,” agreed Becky Wood. “What they did to those poor people.”
“I thought it was interesting to see the parallels of Nov. 8, 1898, and Nov. 8, 2016,” noted Camilla Edwards. “People say history repeats itself and I’m afraid to see what happens if we are not strong enough to stand up for the rights of all people.”
Suzanne Puckett agreed, “We’ve made some progress, but there doesn’t seem to be much change when you look at the news.”
The docudrama also elicited emotional response during the making of the film. Taking nearly a decade to complete in addition to his duties at Steven Spielberg’s Amblin/DreamWorks, Oliver had to learn details about the film-making process including the insurance necessary for creating such sequences as the burning of the black-owned Daily Record building. “It’s a common film industry joke that the pains of film-making are the closest thing men will ever experience to child birth,” joked Oliver. “I love my beautiful baby and I am so infinitely proud of it, but I don’t recommend a nine-year gestation period for anyone, man or woman.”
Oliver, a Jonesville native, wasn’t the only one proud of “The Red Cape.” Local residents also expressed delight in the film as well as its creator. Local ophthalmologist Wells Stewart, a longtime friend and colleague of Oliver’s father, was instrumental in bringing the docudrama to the Yadkin Valley. “I was invited to the screening in Wilkesboro,” explained Stewart. “I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share it with people in the Elkin/Jonesville area, as this is where Dr. Oliver grew up and the family has many friends here.”
Many of the Oliver friends and family were involved in the making of “The Red Cape.” “His grandfather constructed the building façade of the set in his workshop in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, and trailered it Wilmington where they were allowed to burn it on location in the historical district. His grandmother is listed as caterer on the set, and his father as head painter,” noted Stewart.
Others involved were friends that Oliver made during his studies at the University of North Carolina including Brendon Murphy, who has created visual effects for “The Walking Dead” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” Corey Howard, who has worked on movies like “Iron Man 3” and the History Channel, and Will Purcell, who worked on the “Hunger Games.”
Although Oliver loves the finished product, the process, which included a thorough understanding of the Wilmington Race Riot Commission’s Final Report, was daunting. “Film-making is such an unwieldy and unpredictable endeavor that it really requires the belief that anything is possible with the right preparation and approach. The unfortunate and inevitable limitations of time, funding and practicality gradually erode even the greatest optimist,” Oliver said of creating such a high quality docudrama.
“I can feel how much the process of making the film has taken out of me, both emotionally and physically, but simply watching the film and appreciating the enormity of our accomplishments reminds me of the power and potential of youthful optimism.”
The time, effort and energy were well worth it, according to Oliver.
“The Red Cape” is available for viewing through special events. The next showing will be at the Charlotte Black Film Festival, which occurs between March 30 and April 2. For future screenings or to view the trailer, go to theredcapemovie.com or follow The Red Cape on Facebook or Twitter.
The Wilmington Race Riot Commission’s Final Report can be found at history.ncdcr.gov/1898-wrrc.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.