EXCLUSIVE: Minneapolis-based production company, Winterstate Entertainment is quickly prepping a feature project about Minneapolis civil rights leader and the state’s first female African American attorney, Lena O. Smith.
The production, written by Hamid Torabpour, is currently casting the lead role of Smith as well as supporting roles with casting director Matthew Barry (The Notebook, John Q and most recently Jamie Foxx’s directorial debut All Star Weekend). The untitled historical biopic is being produced by Hamid and Camille Torabpour, Dr. Mark Smith, and Kenneth L. Brandy with a director to be announced shortly.
Added writer and producer Torabpour, “In the wake of the protests that have shaken the nation, there are strikingly modern echoes in the life and times of lawyer and activist Lena O. Smith. We find it especially profound that George Floyd was murdered less than ten blocks from where Lena bravely stood in the face of danger, to fight her landmark battle against injustice. With all that has transpired in Minnesota, we are compelled to tell this amazing woman’s story and hope that it inspires people to create the change that we all need.”
A shoot on location in and around Minneapolis where the historic events of the story took place is being planned implementing COVID-19 safety protocols.
Smith found her calling in the nascent civil rights movement, including a ten-year stint as president of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP from 1930 to 1939. A self-made career woman at a time when that sort of ambition was shocking, Smith broke ceilings most people did not even contemplate – becoming the first African-American female lawyer to be licensed in Minnesota.
The movie will center on her most famous and groundbreaking case — in 1931 Smith represented a black couple facing a volatile white mob violently protesting their purchase of a home in a white neighborhood. Shoring up political allies and police protection, Smith counseled the couple to stand their ground.
Jonathan Weinhagen, Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce’s President & CEO said: “In 1921, Lena O. Smith filed her first lawsuit challenging housing discrimination, just 11 days after becoming Minnesota’s first Black woman attorney. Her goal was not just to win cases, but to give a voice and visibility to African Americans being cheated out of their homes, their safety, and their rights. Her legacy of leadership for housing and equality lives on today and represents a vital part of Minneapolis history. We’re looking forward to working with the filmmakers coming to Minneapolis to help tell her story, and we hope that the production of this film will be part of the healing process for the city.”
Said Brandy,“By bringing Lena O. Smith’s story to light, we aim to honor Lena’s legacy and that of so many others, including my late mother, who became icons in the continuing fight for civil rights. There’s a parallel to the issues that have in the past and continue to affect the African American community today. The relevancy between then and now is based around policy and those in power that execute those policies. Americans must continue to speak out, hold accountable, and correct the wrongs that policy and those in power have inflicted upon African Americans for centuries.”
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