SON OF THE SOUTH Exclusive Interview With Director And Academy Award Nominated Editor Barry Alexander Smith

SON OF THE SOUTH <font color=red>Exclusive</font> Interview With Director And Academy Award Nominated Editor Barry Alexander Smith

Vertical Entertainment's Son of the South is now available to watch in select theaters, and VOD and Digital, and we recently spoke to director Barry Alexander Brown about making this hard-hitting biopic.

Son of South is set for release in Select Theaters, VOD, and Digital on February 5, 2021, and follows the grandson of a Klansman who comes of age during the early 60's in the deep south before eventually joining the Civil Rights Movement. Based on Bob Zellner's autobiography The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, it's a hard-hitting, and often surprisingly humorous, look at this period of history. 

Executive produced by legendary filmmaker Spike Lee, the film stars Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class), Lex Scott Davis (Training Day), Lucy Hale (Fantasy Island), Cedric The Entertainer (Power), and Julia Ormond (The Walking Dead: World Beyond). Barry Alexander Brown wrote the screenplay alongside Bob Zellner, while he also directs the movie. If the name rings a bell, it's because he's a frequent collaborator of Lee's who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing in 2018.

That was for BlacKkKlansman, of course, and we recently had the privilege of catching up with Barry to discuss why now was the right time to tell this moving story which is, sadly, more relevant than ever. In this interview, he takes us behind-the-scenes of key creative decisions, what led to the casting of Cedric the Entertainer, including some levity in the movie, and a whole lot more. 

You can take a look at the filmmaker's thoughts on directing a Marvel movie by clicking here.
 


What was it about Son of the South that made this a story that you wanted to not only write, but direct as well? 

That’s a good question. A lot of my childhood was spent in the Deep South; Mississippi, Alabama, North of Florida. I always wanted to find something I could do that would say something about the South I grew up in. In certain ways, it’s a wonderful place, but in other ways, there was a lot of deep-seated racism in the old South. I had a lot of problems with that by the time I became a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama. I knew Bob [Zellner] from decades ago in the 80s, and I knew his story was something very cinematic and that I could do something I believed would inspire people, but also take you back to that place and make everybody real. That meant I could say something about that place and time. I wanted to do a movie that really felt like the South. Some do feel that way, but many others don’t. They just don’t. There’s been a lot of films about the Civil Rights Movement with cardboard characters. Sometimes the hero, sometimes the villain; they just come across as two-dimensional. I wanted to do a story in which everyone was real whether or not you perceive them as good as bad. I wanted to call it Son of the South to reclaim that phrase and make it mean something different. 

Cedric the Entertainer has a small, but very important role here as Ralph Abernathy, but what, for you, made him the right actor to play such an important figure from the civil rights movement? 

I was just thrilled when it went out to him, and he said he wanted to do it. I didn’t think he would, so when he said he would, I went, ‘Wow! Great!’ Getting back to this thing about making everyone real, people like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reverend Ralph Abernaffy and Rosa Parks, those were real people that had real senses of humour. You never see them portrayed that way. You always see them as hyper serious and hyper dour. It’s not that Ralph and Rosa are comic characters, but at times, they can be wry and funny. They are real people that have a sense of irony. These are people who, in 1961, are already deeply mired in the Civil Rights Movement and have already put their lives on the line multiple times. They see this young guy come along, this 22-year-old white southerner whose heart is in the right place, and they can see he wants to do something. However, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into [Laughs]. They’re constantly questioning him, and as Ralph says, ‘Son, I’m not sure you’re aware of the poison in the apple you’ve bitten into.’ Cedric the Entertainer could just so beautifully deliver these lines. They’re not big laugh lines, but the intelligence and wryness behind that is there. Sharonne Lanier, who plays Rosa Parks, is able to breathe such humanity into this character. You feel she’s a real person, not an angel or a legend. Just a real person. That’s really what I wanted in Son of the South. 

Despite the serious subject matter, there are some moments of levity, whether it’s Ralph’s surprise at the naivety of the boys or the “knee” scene in the diner; did you find it hard to include those lighter moments given what else we see happen throughout the film or was it, almost, a welcome relief?

I wrote it that way, and one of the reasons for that is because I grew up down there. The South is a very, very funny place. People like to be funny, and like to play with language down there. No matter if you’re rich or poor, white or black, people like to be funny. It was easy for me to incorporate that into the scenes. It would have been much harder to make a film which had no humour in it. I would really feel this isn’t the place I know. The place I know is a little funny.
 

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That car ride...they’re taking Bob to hang him in the country. I wrote a scene that, taken from another incident in Bob’s life, but is funny. If you haven’t grown up in the south, you don’t really know you can write a funny scene for someone on their way to being hanged! You just don’t even think that’s possible. The driver says, ‘Why don’t you shut up, you New York Commie bastard?’ The guy in the back, his friend, who is not very smart, says, ‘Are you really a Communist? Can you say something in Communist for me?’ That happened to Bob! He was actually in a jail, and it was a little girl who said it to him. I used humour to say something about the place, just like with Joanne and Bob out on the porch. She wants to smell his hair because she’s never really come close to white people as a young African American woman who has grown up on the campus of a black college because her parents are professors, and she speaks five languages and is very worldly. However, someone has told her that their hair smells like chicken feathers when it gets wet, and she’s thinking, ‘Well, some of them do have hair that looks like chicken feathers.’ That’s another incident taken from Bob’s life. A girl, at a college in Alabama, asked Bob this!

As Bob says, there was a lot of curiosity among the Black and white Civil Rights workers. You’re young, and you’ve grown up in such a segregated society, that the young African Americans activists really didn’t know white people, and the white people didn’t know Black people. They were very curious about each other. 

You find some really interesting and unique ways to incorporate flashbacks using the scenery around the characters here, but what made you want to try that, and how challenging was it to pull off as a filmmaker?

It’s always nice to play with form. As you know, my career has mainly been as an editor. As an editor, it teaches you to play with form. I’m an avid reader, and novels for quite some time, have played with time and form. The narrative structure is often freer in a novel. You just want to try things and play with them, and see what you can make work. That’s really what that was about. I found it interesting to play with it. 

Given everything that happened last year with Black Lives Matters and even recent events in Washington, has that changed your perception of the film at all, especially as it’s arguably even more relevant now than when you shot it? 

It’s amazing. When we were making it, it felt like it was more relevant then to have made it due to what was happening in the spring of 2019. I was thinking then, ‘Wow, we’re making this at the right time.’ Because of the pandemic, it has come out later than I thought it would, but it seems it was made to come out at this time. It is very relevant, and I think it’s become an even more important film because of the landscape of the times. Quite frankly, I couldn’t be more thrilled it’s coming out when it’s coming out. 

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