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Documentaries on the Tulsa Massacre tackle a tragic chapter in American history

Several documentary filmmakers, including some sponsored by NBA superstars, are focusing light on the historically overlooked Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, one of America's most horrible disasters.

History channel, National Geographic, CNN, and PBS will air films, some of which are backed by NBA stars.
LOS ANGELES ENTERTAINMENT WRITER JONATHAN LANDRUM JR (AP)

Several documentary filmmakers, including some sponsored by NBA superstars, are focusing light on the historically overlooked Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, one of America’s most horrible disasters.

Among those releasing documentaries about the racially motivated massacre are LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. The improvements coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Black-owned business sector and residential area.
Each film gives a fresh look at how the prospering Greenwood neighbourhood — called Black Wall Street because of the large number of Black-owned businesses — was demolished by a white mob in a two-day onslaught. At least 300 Black people were slain as a result of the incident. More than a thousand homes were destroyed and others plundered, displacing and displacing 10,000 people and destroying the Black commercial sector.

“This is about African Americans being systematically driven off their land and having their possessions and property destroyed,” Stanley Nelson, who co-directed “Tulsa Burning: 1921 Race Massacre” with Marco Williams, explained. Westbrook, who used to play for the Oklahoma City Thunder, is an executive producer on the History channel series, which premieres on Sunday.
Documentaries will be shown on National Geographic, CNN, and PBS. Cineflix Productions is distributing another documentary, “Black Wall Street,” but no network has picked it up yet.

All of the projects, according to Nelson, are critical and necessary, especially as the commemoration of the massacre approaches the one-year anniversary of the racial reckoning started by the death of George Floyd last year. (A former Minneapolis police officer was later found guilty of Floyd’s murder.)

“The more the (Greenwood) narrative can be brought to light, the better,” Emmy winner Nelson said. “I’m confident that each film will be unique. I believe there is a unique time here.”

Salima Koroma, the director, believes the storey should be recounted more than once. She proposed her Tulsa massacre documentary to a few networks nearly five years ago, but no one was interested because the “gatekeepers” weren’t ready to accept the storey, she believes.

Koroma’s initiative eventually found a home at The SpringHill Company, which is run by James and Maverick Carter. She believes Carter’s affiliation with the Los Angeles Lakers great played a key part in moving the project forward.

“It was simply a matter of getting it to the appropriate gatekeepers,” said Koroma, director of “Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street,” which premieres on CNN on Monday and will be streamed later on HBO Max.

“They see how important it is for us to communicate Black experiences,” she explained. “Everyone is scrambling to tell it now.” Finally, share these tales. That, I believe, is what’s going on.”

The storey was difficult to tell, according to several filmmakers, because most of the content no longer exists.

“How do you tell a feature documentary?” says the narrator. “Now people are investing resources to do more than just take pictures,” Koroma remarked. “You have the ability to perform animation or graphics.” It’s difficult to say. But we can convey this storey if we unite all of our abilities.”

The Tulsa massacre was mostly forgotten or unknown until HBO’s “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country” aired in the previous two years, shedding light on the tragic event. MTV Entertainment Studios just struck a contract with Courtney B. Vance and Angela Bassett’s production business to make a limited scripted series on the tragedy.

DeNeen L. Brown, a reporter who features in two documentaries, believes that all of the initiatives documenting the massacre are necessary for educational purposes, as most of it was left out of textbooks, newspapers, and journals from the library. Even her father, a Tulsa pastor, had never heard of the massacre, according to the Oklahoma native.

She stated, “White survivors of the genocide stopped talking about it.” “There was a genuine dread among Black people that it may happen again, and it did in other locations,” says one victim.

Brown said she first learned about the killing as a curious child while reading about the history of enslaved Black people in school. She claims that the efforts documenting the atrocity might also be educative.

“It will be something that people and schoolchildren learn about,” said Brown, a Washington Post reporter who has covered the massacre in more than 20 columns. In the PBS programme “Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten,” she interviewed relatives of Greenwood residents and business owners.

In National Geographic’s “Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer,” which premieres June 18, Brown will report on the search for mass graves. She believes that documentaries like hers, as well as those concerning the American Revolution, Civil War, and World Wars I and II, should be told.

“(The Tulsa massacre) is not well-known in the greater community, and certainly not in white America,” said Jonathan Silvers, who directed the PBS programme with Brown. “I believe the African-American experience has been exaggerated. We, the white people in the United States, have no concept. That ancient atrocity has left an indelible mark.”

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