I spent many years on a journey to finish film school. I’m talking nearly two decades. Okay, 18 years! Why is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that by the time I finished, a lot had changed. I sank into a bit of a depression as I tried to determine what direction made sense to pursue next. I could try to return to Los Angeles, where I’d once relocated as a much younger woman. Or, I could hang back in Chicago for a while longer — maybe indefinitely.
I chose to stay in Chicago and moved into a new creative direction. I started creating things with my hands. First paper art, then jewelry, then household items and some art. It reanimated me.
I still love the movies, though. And, I never officially closed the door on being involved in some way in movies. Thankfully, Hollywood producer and director Christine Swanson has given me some interesting opportunities to be involved on the periphery of filmmaking. I first met Christine when I lived in LA and she was a budding filmmaker. I saw her first feature, “All About You,” (starring a young Renee Goldsberry of “Hamilton” fame) produced with her husband Michael Swanson, at the Hollywood Black Film Festival. Though I long ago left LA, we managed to stay in touch, even if tangentially, through the magic of social media.
Christine Swanson (center), me (kneeling center) and some of Christine’s students after a successful screenwriting workshop in summer 2018 at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
While Christine was in town a few years ago to direct an episode of the NBC police procedural TV show “Chicago PD,” I helped her put together a daylong screenwriting workshop that she taught to dozens of eager, aspiring filmmakers at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. According to the student accounts I heard, it was an excellent affair!
Fast forward to a few months ago last fall. Christine gave me an opportunity to cross-pollinate my interests with a surprising and much-welcomed challenge: replicate the jewelry worn by Civil Rights Movement icon Fannie Lou Hamer as she testified at the 1964 Democratic National Convention about her brutal experiences fighting for voting rights in Jim Crow era Mississippi.
Me last fall with Christine Swanson in front of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
The earrings Fannie Lou Hamer wore during her 1964 DNC testimony (left) and the replica by Jean Williams Studio for the film (right).
The film, to my great delight, stars accomplished actress Aunjanue Ellis, who most recently starred opposite Will Smith in “King Richard,” the story of tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams’ father. She also starred in the acclaimed “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” directed by Christine and written by another friend, Sylvia Jones. Aunjanue’s performance in “Fannie” is breathtaking! I’m uber proud to have participated in my small way in the costuming realization.
I hope to discuss in a later blog entry my creative approach to reproducing and, in one instance, re-imagining the jewelry — including two necklaces and a simple ring. For now, I’m just ruminating with glee on the opportunity and sharing the film link, some production stills and other memorable photos.
Christine Swanson works with Aunjanue Ellis on set in Chicago while filming “Fannie.”
I hope you’ll take a look at “Fannie” and consider the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer anew. Voting rights are imperiled once again in America despite the blood, sweat, tears and tremendous sacrifices of leaders like Mrs. Hamer.