The 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma race riots were maybe the most deadliest and devastating in American history. Taking place over an 18 hour period, between May 31 and June 1, 1921, the riots started when a group of angry whites attacked blacks in the Greenwood district, known as “The Black Wall Street,” the wealthiest black community in the entire United States at the time.
After the devastation ended, the entire Greenwood neighborhood had been burned to the ground, including two black hospitals, 35 city blocks destroyed, over 1200 homes lost, 10,000 black people homeless, over 6000 black people arrested by the police, and the numbers of those who lost their lives range anywhere from 55 to over 300. However no official statistics of those killed were taken.
But even today, knowledge of the riots is practically unknown to most people, and is rarely talked about. It is another example of African American history that has been lost, forgotten or betrayed – an ugly side of American history too conveniently swept under the rug.
But that may start to change, as, previously announced, Octavia Spencer has been attached to star in a two-night event mini-series, “Tulsa” (working title), which was in development at the OWN network as of late 2015. The mini-series will center on Mattie Clay (Spencer), a journalist from Tulsa who moved to Chicago with the hopes of getting off the society pages and away from racism. Mattie’s journey eventually brings her back home to Tulsa where she must face the demons of her past and decide where her future lies.
Further details as to who will be writing, directing and producing the project, along with possible broadcast dates, weren’t announced, and we don’t know at this time whether it’s even still in development.
In addition to that project, WGN America announced last year that it had partnered up with John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Company (following the hit series “Underground”) for another historical series – this one on Black Wall Street – with Tika Sumpter also on board to executive produce.
This project however will be set prior to the above race riots in 1921. Instead the Legend/Sumpter series is to be set during the oil boom of the 1910s, and will examine the prominent African American community that built and lived in the city.
But with recent news of WGN America’s parent company, Tribune Media, being bought by Sinclair, and the announcement by the CEO of Sinclair that they plan by reduce spending on high-end original series, the Black Wall Street project may be dead – at least at WGN. Legend and Sumpter could take it to another network. We’ll wait to hear on what happens next…
Announced today, add a 3rd Black Wall Street project that’s been put into development. This one comes from Zero Gravity Management and director Tim Story’s production shingle, The Story Company, who are teaming up on a feature film about the 1921 race riots, based on the book “Holocaust in the Homeland: Black Wall Street’s Last Days,” by Dr. Corinda Pitts Marsh.
A summary of the book reads: “Holocaust in the Homeland” tells the story of one of the darkest days in US history. Envious locals in Tulsa dubbed the Greenwood section “Black Wall Street” because of its economic success, but that success was obliterated by a riot in 1921. The riot completely razed Greenwood, destroying the lives of its 10,000 residents. This account sees the events through the eyes of a fictional reporter. It offers perspective and hope. The events of Memorial Day, 1921 were hidden for the better part of a century, but knowing the truth about that day is critical to understanding ourselves and our motives and will ultimately make us all safer in an unsafe world. Today, just as in 1921, media hype too often obscures truth and embraces hype because hype is more interesting. The truth about this event must no longer be kept secret. Follow Sam Stackhouse, an old man remembering, as he discovers truth and wisdom.
If you’d like to pick up copy click here.
Story will direct from a screenplay penned by Christopher Kubasik; Story will also produce via his The Story Company, alongside Christine Holder and Mark Holder of Zero Gravity.
This will be a rare heavy-duty period dramatic feature for Story whose resume is loaded with mostly contemporary comedies or comedy-dramas.
No ETA on the project yet, or on either of the other 2 mentioned in this post.
Deadline was first to report the news on the Tim Story film.