Left of Black with Beth Hubbard

Welcome to Left of Black. I’m your host
Mark Anthony Neal. We’re joined today by a very special guest Beth Semans Hubbard
who is a television stage and theatre producer. She’s also an alum of Duke
University and she is back this weekend for DEMAN weekend. Talk a little bit
about why you’re back here and what DEMAN weekend is. Well it’s a sort of a
congregation gathering of all entertainment alumni and we’re coming in
from film studios, from television studios, from production companies,
marketing branding. So it’s for us to be able to integrate with the student body
and young alums back here to talk about everything from branding, marketing,
scripts, how do you get your film made, etc. So you’ve been involved in some
really amazing projects the last couple of years and stuff that I think is
very relevant to the Left of Black audience. You know the first one being
the film on Recy Taylor. Also the one-man stage show Turn Me Loose
which looks at the life of Dick Gregory. And you’re currently working on a
project on Arthur Ashe. Let’s talk what to start with the Recy Taylor story. How
did you get connected with that project? So there is a book called At the Dark
End of the Street that- Daniel McGuire right who’s a former guest
on Left of Black. So um I was looking for a project to do with Nancy Buirski who-
from the Loving Story. She wrote and directed The Loving Story. She’s Duke
connected also through- she created Full Frame. So she sent me that book. Somebody gave
it to her and she sent it to me and she said we have to go shoot this woman
there. Look at the first three chapters and it’s really the whole book is about
as you know about the fact that a black woman has never been able to really own
her body period. And Miss Taylor was still alive at the time? Yes she was. And
so we a month later we find ourselves in Abbeville, Alabama shooting Recy Taylor
who was raped by seven white men young men from 16 to 21 in
1945. And they were of course never convicted by any of the white grand
juries that were you know in existence back then. So we felt this was
a really important story to tell because her entire life she never stopped
talking about what happened to her, even though she was physically threatened. So of course I fell deeply in love with the story because here’s a woman
who could have spent her entire life being angry and upset and a giant
chip on her shoulder and instead because of her faith she was able to move on
with her life. And her life was not an easy one. But the fact is that it was
you know she triumphed over something really horrific that happened to her. And
she was a real example of something that happened consistently and is still
happening to African American women. And so when Nancy said we’ve got to go down
there, we went right down there and got her and it was the last interview that
she ever did. She died last year two three days before Christmas. And one of the
reasons why her story also resonates it’s that it’s really the entry point
for the career of Rosa Parks as an activist. That’s correct. She goes
down and she investigates the case and you know many folks think about Rosa
Parks initially becoming active around the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But Recy
Taylor’s story actually tells us that this is something that was part of her
DNA if you will. She was very influenced Rosa Parks by her grandfather who was a
big Marcus Garvey follower. And she was actually very militant
growing up. In fact, there’s a very famous story about how her husband approached
her but because he was light-skinned she was she was not going to really deal
with him. He was a barber. And then she found out that he was actually an activist and you
know they ended up getting married. But she was that kind of woman. And
Recy’s- she was very careful about the way she approached the Recy
Taylor in specific that particular case. She was Secretary of the NAACP
at the time in Montgomery which was the actually in history it’s the most
strongest chapter of the NAACP in its history. And she knew that the
NAACP didn’t necessarily want to go on record
as helping sexual assault victims at the time for a number of
reasons. And she was obviously going around and interviewing people about the
lynchings etc. She was very active and remember now as the secretary of the
NAACP she held the membership list which was
one of the most dangerous positions because of that. Because the KKK and all
them- they could get access to it. Right. And if they did- they were supposed to be endangered. Right. So she had to be
very careful about the way she handled something like the Recy Taylor case.
But she came down twice. She was thrown out the second time by the sheriff out
of Reese’s house physically and told never to come back and followed to the
state line. So it was dangerous. But it was amazing work. And the film really
debunks the whole you know this theory that she started because she was tired
one day on the bus. So you’re right. The film also resonates now
obviously for folks because of the MeToo moment. How has it been traveling around
the country with the film and engaging particularly young audiences? I think
it’s been fascinating. I will tell you that as a white woman you know one of
the first things that I say you know having produced this and other
African-American content, I am very very aware that I am not black. And by the way
I have two African-American children that remind me of that every day. But I say all that to say that you know we
are Nancy and I are very very aware that you know we’re two white women talking
about a very personal subject to black women. But we both say that it would
have been complicit in racism and the racism of our race
to not do this story. And we felt an obligation responsibility to do it. And that having been said, we have found profound depth in our audiences in
their response to this. Many have had intergenerational rape in their family
that has never been talked about except anecdotally. And they
stand up and we had one woman for instance in Montgomery who was I would
say about 65 70 years old light-skinned woman. And she stood up and she was part
of the school board for Montgomery, Alabama. And she stood up and she said to
me and Robert, Recy’s brother, “How do you think I got
here?” And the whole audience stopped. So it’s extremely relevant and it’s been
very powerful. And I think what we’ve tried to do is use it as a conversation
starter for people to understand and be aware. Many white folks they’re not aware at how this is still very prevalent and affecting you know
great-grandchildren today. You’re also involved with a project on Dick Gregory,
Turn Me Loose. It was launched in New York two years ago with Joe Morton.
It’s been in LA. It’s been recently run in Washington DC. How did you
get connected to Dick Gregory? So well I met dick with my mother when I was six
years old and he stood out to me because he was the only guy in a very sort of I
want to say basically three-quarters white cocktail party. And he came over to
me and he had drink and a cigarette in his hand. And he leaned down and he said,
“Are you having anything?”. And I thought, “Who is this guy?” I fell in love with him
then. And my brother and I used to listen to his albums along with Richard Pryor
who was obviously very influenced by Dick.
So that was way back. So one of the producers and the director came to me
and said you know once again I’m a white director. I’m a white producer. We would
like someone who you know is African-American that can
get involved with us and make sure that we’re presenting this the right way.
And Dick was already involved and he was approving every draft, but they also
needed some some star power really. So they came to me and they said let’s
go to Laurence Fishburne. Let’s go to Sam Jackson. And I said, “You know, those are
great ideas and amazing people. I have somebody I’d like you to think about and
it’s John Legend.” I said, “I think he’s going to win an Oscar this year. I think
he’s going to win-” for Selma. Yep. And I said, “I think he’s going to win a Golden Globe
and I think you’re gonna find he’s a real humanitarian.” And I had been working
with John Legend and his company and Mike Jackson and Get Lifted for about
five years on another project. And I just find him an incredibly deeply
committed individual to what he gets involved with. And so we brought John on.
I came on as a producer. And that started the relationship. And you know
knowing Dick was one of the true blessings of my life. I mean he- I don’t
know that I’ve ever met any more anyone more dedicated to service than Dick
Gregory. To the point where it actually almost hurt him in many ways. Physically,
financially. It didn’t matter. And he knew he was taken care of. And that’s part of
the message of Turn Me Loose is we are all taken care of. Everything we need is
right here. But what are we gonna do about it?
Are we gonna connect with it? Are we going to persevere? Are we going to open
up to that strength that we have? Or are we gonna just complain and be victimized?
Yeah. You know Joe Morton’s a great actor. You know folks who knew him from The Brother From Another Planet or might remember him as Senator Byron from A
Different World. But by the time he shows up you know doing Turn Me Loose,
most folks know now is Papa Pope. How was it to have someone you know who had been
obviously a incredible veteran actor for so long who suddenly has this moment
where he blows up and then he’s now attached you know to this great story?
It was great. I will tell you we met with Joe at the Soho House and it was John
Legend and Joe Morton and the director and Jackie Judd, the producer. And the
director is John Gould Rubin. And I- Brother From Another Planet’s actually
one of my favorite films of all time and I’d watched it quite a bit as a little
girl. And I was just in awe. So to me that’s who he was. He was from John
Sayles’ movie. But I’d also watch Scandal and I got what everybody loves about him. It was incredible. You he came to the table and he said you know, “I have an
issue with the n-word. But after reading the script and watching
everything online about Dick Gregory, I get it.
I get what he’s saying and I’m willing to buy into it.” And what happened was
this man became Dick Gregory in many ways. And you know that’s the beauty of
an actor like Joe. I mean he’s profoundly talented. But on top of that
he agreed with most of what Dick was saying and understood that Dick was
you know prophetic in so many different ways. And so he was in awe of playing
this role. And on opening night, it was very funny because you know Dick’s sitting
in the audience still alive. He’s you know- we’re at the
Westside theater. The curtain goes up and he’s on the third row. And Joe was you
know he said, “I was affected by that.” And Dick turned to his wife during – Lily –
during the production and said you know, “How do you think about-‘” She said, “Shut up.
I’m watching my husband on stage.” What are you gonna say? That’s what Joe
does. You will appreciate this question. At least the spirit of the question. Are
we still at a moment in 2018 whether we’re talking about television, film, or
stage where you really do have to have white producers to be able to tell the
stories of African Americans? Or do you think there’s been some sort of shift? I
think there’s been a shift but I don’t think it’s enough.
And I am constantly perplexed at my race and the way that they tout themselves
with and decide to tell these stories and take credit for it. It’s
not appropriate and I could do a whole podcast on that. I will say to
you that what has come to be is that Tyler Perry, whether you like him
or not, you know- there are individuals- Spike Lee, whether you like him or not,
they have proven that you can make money off of this. This. And I hate to say this.
But that is- it is a product. That is the way people look at it that are spending
the money to make this stuff happen and distributing it. But I you know I was
in an argument the other day about this. I said you know it’s
interesting because I find that even with all of the success around Shonda
Rhimes and Tyler Perry and Black Panther, it’s still designated as its own
genre, which is upsetting because the fact is that it’s entertainment.
That’s what it is. So we have a long way to go. And you know I’m lucky enough to
be involved in this stuff. The product leads. I don’t need it.
So you know I’d have to tell you that I think there is unfortunately you know
Hollywood like the tech industry and other industries are run by
white men period. And I think that’s changing, but we have to work harder you
know to change it. Not to get into too many trade secrets. Are there stories
that you want to tell that you haven’t told yet? Yes, for sure. For sure. You
know there’s a story I’m working on now which is the story of a -it’s a true
story of a Puerto Rican American young teenage boy who- young man who was in
Florida and became homeless. He was a baseball star
at a high school. His mother lost her house and had to go back to Puerto Rico.
And he literally spends a year by himself and becomes homeless. Nobody at
the high school knew it. He goes to a pastor of a friend who says basically I
only know one place you can stay and he opens the door of the motel and it’s
Michael Keaton. And Michael Keaton plays a recovering drug addict who takes him
in and they weather Hurricane Maria together. And as his mother’s house
collapses in Puerto Rico. And it’s- he becomes a metaphor for Puerto Rico and
and as Puerto Rico is to America. And it’s a fascinating story of laughter. It
includes laughter and joy, but it’s of redemption because he ends up against
all odds graduating from high school. And so I want to tell stories that not
only can affect folks right but also that have a life after you walk out of
the film. And we’ve brought the Raven group on, which is an amazing marketing
group out of Washington DC who lobbies and has helped raise 35
million dollars for Puerto Rico. We want to create a whole program with Puerto
Rico and having Puerto Rican kids come into the crew. And you know that’s the
kind of film I want to be involved in. And then there’s a couple of others that
I have. That will all bubble up. We’ve been joined today about Beth Semans
Hubbard, Duke alum, producer of stage, film, and television. Thank you, Beth, for joining us. Thank you for
having me. Thank you for all you do. Thank you, Beth. Alright, bless you.

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