“Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story,” a critically acclaimed documentary, will be screened at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at UALR’s Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. Film critic Roger Ebert called the film a must-see documentary, and Indiewire named it the best documentary this year so far.
The film is the culmination of research that Yvette Johnson, a former student at Arizona State University, began in a Family History Writing class under the direction of Dr. Sherry Rankins-Roberston while she was on the faculty at ASU. Rankins-Robertson now directs the first-year composition program in UALR’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing.
John A. Kirk, UALR’s George W. Donaghey professor and chair of history, and David Briscoe, professor of sociology, will join Johnson for a panel discussion following the screening. Both the screening and panel discussion are free and open to the public. Tickets are not required, and seating is a on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open at 6 p.m. with seating beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Labled “a powerful, personal portrait” by the Los Angeles Times and “an essential American story” by the New York Daily News, “Booker’s Place” tells the story of Johnson’s grandfather, Booker Wright, who died the year before she was born. He had spoken boldly in a 1966 NBC news program about the treatment of blacks in the South.
For years, Johnson searched for the details of her grandfather’s story and attempted to locate the film footage. To document her search, she blogged about her grandfather, family, and issues of social class and race relations at www.bookerwright.com.
Around the same time, director Raymond De Felitta started putting the documentaries of his father, Frank De Felitta, online. One of the documentaries included “Mississippi: A Self-Portrait” which featured Booker Wright. De Felitta’s producing partner, David Zellerford, saw the footage of Booker Wright and connected Johnson and DeFiltta.
In the summer of 2011, the three headed to the Mississippi Delta with a film crew in search for answers about Booker Wright’s life and death. The end result was “Booker’s Place.”
Johnson’s story to uncover her grandfather’s legacy was the subject of a one-hour “Dateline” special that aired in July 2012 and will re-air in October.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2012 and is currently available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, and Comcast on Demand. To view a trailer of “Booker’s Place,” visit http://www.tribecafilm.com/videos/146190255.html
Johnson grew up in San Diego, California, a world away from her Delta roots. She attended predominantly white schools while her parents drove luxury cars and enjoyed the blessings of her father’s professional football career. Deep down, Johnson had developed a festering wound about being racially different from her peers and economically different from her extended family.
At the age of 29, after a successful career planning black-tie fundraising dinners for local nonprofits, Johnson returned to school. In 2008 she received a certificate in Family History Writing from Arizona State University and graduated summa cum laude from Northern Arizona University with a bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies. After graduation, she home-schooled her two children while working as a professional writer.
Johnson has published a collection of blog posts and journal entries titled, “Searching for Booker Wright.” The ebook chronicles her often emotional and complicated journey to uncover and bring together the pieces of her grandfather’s story. She is currently working on a book about Booker Wright’s life and the town that he changed.