1 year ago

Barry Alexander Brown, Spike Lee filming ‘Son of the South’ in Montgomery

When Bob Zellner’s “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek,” his memoir of a white Alabamian joining the ranks of some of the greatest figures of the civil rights movement, came out in 2008, a movie was in the works almost immediately.

Now, a little over a decade later, it’s going to happen. Directed by Barry Alexander Brown, longtime editor for director Spike Lee’s acclaimed movies, “Son of the South,” based on Zellner’s book and life, is in pre-production in Montgomery. Finally.

“It’s definitely happening,” Brown says. “I read recently that the average number of years to get a movie made is nine. You hear that movies are a miracle, and this is a miracle.”

No casting has been announced, yet, but Brown says to expect some “very, very well-known names” when they’re made public. They’ll be playing Zellner and the myriad civil rights leaders and figures he encountered, including Rosa Parks, Virginia Foster Durr, Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Zellner, whose book is newly available in paperback from Montgomery’s NewSouth Books, first crossed paths with Brown in 1968, when, as a student at Montgomery’s Lanier High School, Brown contacted Zellner – by then a well-known figure in civil rights – about his high school not being allowed to lower their flag to half-mast following King’s assassination.

“That was the beginning of his activism,” Zellner says.

Zellner’s activism had begun much earlier, when he was studying at Montgomery’s Huntingdon College and became involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). That was quite the leap for the son and grandson of Klansmen, and it began a career in activism that continues to this day.

Zellner took notes along his journey, but about the time the movie “Mississippi Burning” was released in 1988, he got serious about writing a memoir. The result was “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement.”

“I saw it as a movie early on, because at the time, there were not that many young white people from the Deep South who were on the front lines of the SNCC,” Zellner says. “Mostly the leadership were young black women and men from the South, mainly with a church background. We had a small group of white activists.”

Brown wrote the script for “Son of the South” almost a decade ago.

“He had so many stories, and every one of the stories was jaw-dropping, so I knew there was a movie there,” Brown says of Zellner. “I just didn’t know what the movie was. Then it hit me to do it about his transition about being somebody about to graduate from Huntingdon College – sort of a good ol’ boy – and in a matter of a few months, he was in the center of the civil rights movement.”

Though he has directed his own films (including the Oscar-nominated documentary “The War at Home”), the British-born Brown is best-known for his work with Lee, beginning with “She’s Gotta Have It,” the 1986 feature that launched Lee’s career. Brown has been his editor on films such as “Malcolm X,” “Inside Man,” “Do the Right Thing” and last year’s “BlacKkKlansman,” for which he earned an Oscar nomination.

“We came along together in the movie business and learned so much as we were growing,” Brown says of Lee, who is an executive producer of “Son of the South.” “We learned so much about how to make movies with each other. We work together easily, and we like it.”

Brown, whose mother still lives in Montgomery, has been back in Alabama since September working on pre-production aspects of “Son of the South.”

“We’re going to shoot all of it right around Montgomery,” he says. “About 60 percent of the original story takes place right here, so I was hellbent to shoot it here. There was some pushback because the sense was that there wasn’t enough support in Montgomery, Alabama, to make a movie. But I don’t like to hear that. I’m from here, and there’s got to be more people like me. Turns out there are incredible people here.”

The plan is to begin shooting in April and finish in the middle of May. “Son of the South” doesn’t have a distributor, yet, and Brown is particularly proud of the movie’s homegrown financing. “All of the investors for this movie have come from Alabama,” he says. “Every single one.”

“Quite frankly, it’s so personally satisfying to me that people here in Alabama have shown up for this movie and see that it’s important,” Brown adds. “One of the things I’m trying to do with this movie is dispel the perception of the civil rights movement that young students came down from the North and turned the South around. That is not what happened. It was a fight fought by local people across the South – mainly African-American people, but not all African-American people.”

Brown promises authenticity in his depiction of the South.

“I’ve seen movies set in the South, and I don’t recognize the place at all,” he says. “When you see ‘Son of the South,’ it’s going to feel like the South. Every person is going to be a human being, not some cardboard character. You’re going to see real people and a real place.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.


Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.


Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

5 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.


“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”


Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.


Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.


“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95