Seanne N. Murray
More Heroes Please
It was sometime in 2016.
I walked into the Soho house in Beverly Hills, STOP gun violence cap on my head, ready to rumble.
Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
The reality is that I was there for an introductory meeting with the iconic Rosanna Arquette to discuss gun violence and what we could or should do about it.
Unassuming, humble, and always recognizable, Rosanna was kind, astute, and interested.
Rosanna, a seminal actress, director, Emmy nominee, and BAFTA winner is part of the vanguard, a pioneer, an artist, and an enemy of social injustice of all kinds.
We shared intimate stories about our families, how we grew up, what and who we care about, what got us here.
We talked about gun violence, how the urgency, the stories, come and go, come, and go.
I shared some background on one of the genesis stories of violence from the gusty city of Chicago, where I’d been frequenting to meet with the underworld of agents for, victims of, and advocates against gun violence.
Some spoke freely. Others did not.
They all told me to be afraid.
I was not.
Rosanna, imagine 8 days where violent gangs pursued, tortured, and killed us right here in Beverly Hills, I said.
Imagine this entire city up in flames and nearly destroyed.
Now, observe the violence as a representation of fear, resentment, and lack, a desire for more.
This is the story of Chicago 1919, over a week of discriminant violence sparked by the loss of a Black teenager who merely drifted to the prescribed “white” side of the beach. His life was submerged in brutality and left to decay in a grave left unmarked for almost 100 years.
His name was Eugene Williams.
Go ahead and say it out loud.
For some reason, I think he’ll feel it.
This is a story that must be shared, exclaimed Rosanna. Please you must get this story out. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it!
Mission established, I wrote the treatment that very day, shared it with my new compatriot and we were in the midst of a new adventure.
Spiritually motivated and with an intentional prerequisite to its completion, I sought the participation of two male writers. Grammy award winning song writer, Greg Lawson, and Broadway actor and screenwriter, Robb Edward Morris.
We wrote the final script together, each of us injecting our essence, disposition, and earnestness into the story.
Rosanna graciously agreed to play the character I’d written for her, a commanding and principled Irish immigrant fighting for the survival of her family and the humanity of her sons.
Film director, writer and producer, Julie Dash, the first Black woman ever to have wide distribution of a film in the United States, you’re welcome Black filmmakers, joined us as the director.
Later, Hawthorne James, a character actor and director, known for his role as Big Red Davis in the 1991 film The Five Heartbeats committed to the role of a character with the humor of a comedian, the intellect of a soldier, and the love of a father.
Perri Irmer, the CEO of the DuSable Museum, our historical consultants, introduced me to Juilliard trained Keith David, known for his signature deep voice, and commanding screen presence. Keith joined us as a producer.
So, that’s the background.
Now, I’ll get to the point.
I’ve learned that so called Black stories, inherently human stories, that represent the complexity of our condition, no matter how meaningful, significant, or relevant, are sequestered to the back seat.
Is it a documentary?
No, it’s a feature film, a story that evolves through characters.
Will the audience riot?
Did audiences riot after Apocalypse Now, Lincoln, or Malcolm X?
Do we need another film like this?
Allow me to expound on this one a bit. The real question is do we need another “slave” movie, code for Black suffering and emergence.
Absofuckinlutely, we need a film like this!
I may have said that. I’m not sure. LOL!
Is there a limit to the number and categories of stories we tell?
I can’t think of a time where I’ve ever heard that question asked about any other group that we divide humans into.
Over the last several years, it’s become unquestionably clear that we need more stories about all kinds of people, stories that enlighten, urge our vulnerability, enhance our compassion, and lift our integrity.
It’s important for you to know that these questions have come from both white and Black people.
I don’t blame them, but it breaks my heart.
It makes me wonder if my personal stories are considered less important, or legitimate because I experienced them as a Black woman.
I have not filled the roles of Robert and John, the two main characters of the film, brothers, and Eugene’s best friends.
Robert is a typical teenager, tortured by the demands of his parents, blind to the realities of what they’re teaching him, clear that he knows more than they and everyone else.
John is his boisterous and hilarious, free spirit of a brother who hates being the baby, the dreamer of great things to come.
Imagine Robert and John lighthearted and jovial at the 29th street pier beach.
Can you picture them, watching their best friend, Eugene, the nicest guy in the world, with dreams beyond the time, that he can be a professional baseball player in the big leagues, shot down with rocks, stoned to death before their eyes?
Do you see Robert and John and all of the beach goers running and fighting for their lives?
Can you envision the people of the South Side of Chicago watching their community be destroyed by gangs, lives desecrated, childhoods instantly at an end?
What will Robert and John and their friends decide from moment to moment about how they respond, who they become, what they stand for?
What and who will they lose, and who if anyone will be redeemed, resurrected?
Now, imagine the most transformative experience of your own life, the pivotal choices you had to make.
See the connection?
In reference to his latest film, Emancipation, Willow Smith asked her father if we really need another slave movie. He said, “I promised you I wouldn't make a slave movie. This is a freedom movie.”
And so is every other story about any human who’s experienced the oft noted hero’s journey.
When the triumphant hero returns to the ordinary world changed, armed with wisdom, courage, and love, that’s when the elixir for healing flows right into our red, not Black, white, or other, hearts.
Perhaps that victor is you right now, or in the future.
That’s the power of film, of the arts.
That’s when the world becomes a tiny bit better, when people think, blossom, and change because a story was shared, seen, and heard.
I hope your own journey is on track for self-actualization, compassion, and enlightenment.
Seanne N. Murray, is the founder of Attain 9, Inc., Stop. All Violence, and is the creator, writer of the upcoming feature film, Chicago 1919, featuring director, Julie Dash, and actress Rosanna Arquette, and the unscripted show, The Elevator. She is also on the board of Cure Violence Global, the 9th ranked NGO in the world.