Sunday, February 9, 2014

Aram Goudsouzian's "Down to the Crossroads"

Aram Goudsouzian is chair of the history department at the University of Memphis. He earned his B.A. from Colby College and his Ph.D. from Purdue University. He is the author of King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, The Hurricane of 1938, and Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon.

Here Goudsouzian dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear:
It never crossed my mind until writing this piece, but Down to the Crossroads would make an amazing movie! Set against the dramatic backdrop of hot Mississippi highways, the march not only changed the course of American history, but also had incredibly uplifting moments, harrowing violence, and strong personalities battling for influence. Hollywood, I await your call.

The march had a cast of thousands, but it most revolves around three central figures: James Meredith, Stokely Carmichael, and Martin Luther King. All are juicy roles.

Meredith was a quirky, almost mystical hero – he had long believed in his special destiny, and after undergoing the extraordinary trial of integrating the University of Mississippi in 1962, he emerged even more unpredictable, individualistic, and complex. He was a deeply conservative man in the service of a great liberal movement. When a gunman wounded him on the second day of his solitary trek from Memphis to Jackson in June of 1966, it sparked a mass civil rights demonstration – both elevating Meredith and frustrating him, since he no longer controlled the march conducted in his name. The role demands the man whom many critics call our most underrated actor, Jeffrey Wright.

Carmichael vaulted into a political celebrity during the march. Born in Trinidad, raised in the Bronx, and educated at Howard, he loved to provoke and hated to compromise. He had just won a controversial election as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, signaling its evolution into a radical organization. On the march, it was Carmichael who first led the cry for “Black Power!” He crackled with energy – appealing to poor rural blacks along the route, debating his fellow civil rights leaders, and jousting with the press. The role needs an actor of great charisma who can summon deep wells of rage and tender moments of human connection. After his tour de force in 12 Years a Slave, I nominate Chiwetel Ejiofor.

King, naturally, was the “star” of the march, as his presence pulled in everyone from national reporters to local sharecroppers. These three weeks in Mississippi tested him as never before. Again and again, he had to communicate the concrete goals of liberals while expressing the angry discontent of the radicals. He injected people with pride and resolve, but he faced his own bouts of deep self-doubt and genuine fear. The role needs an actor who can project moral righteousness with an undertone of sadness – it’s perfect for “Bunk” from The Wire, Wendell Pierce.
Visit Aram Goudsouzian's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Down to the Crossroads.

--Marshal Zeringue