Kirkland fled Ellisville, MS, in 1915 at age seven with her mother and siblings as her father and his friend, John Hartfield, escaped an approaching lynch mob. Hartfield returned to Mississippi four years later and was killed in one of the most horrific lynchings of the era. The act was witnessed by 10,000 spectators and memorialized on post cards.
One hundred years later, in 2015, Kirkland went back to Ellisville after vowing never to return. She did so at the urging of her son, Tarabu Betserai Kirkland, who wanted to clarify stories about Hartfield and his family that he had heard since childhood. He directed the film.
Virgil, which made the acquisition deal with Kirkland and producer Gina Rugolo Judd, plans to release the film in February.
The film’s executive producer and narrator is Barry Shabaka Henley, a character actor known for his frequent collaborations with director Michael Mann. The film’s score is by Derek Nakamoto and the soundtrack includes songs by Grammy-winning blues musician Keb’ Mo’.
Bryan Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative and was depicted by Michael B. Jordan in the 2019 film Just Mercy, said Kirkland’s voice “adds something unique and powerful as an authentic survivor’s story that cannot be duplicated. She has created a threshold of activism and courage that puts the rest of us on notice that you are never too old to do good…never too old to do justice work.” A report by the Equal Justice Initiative about lynching in the Deep South inspired the return to Mississippi by Kirkland and her son.
Mamie Kirkland’s life helped inspire the creation of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, two Montgomery, AL sites spearheaded by the Equal Justice Initiative. Each portrays racial terrorism in the U.S. and also promotes social justice. Kirkland spent the last decade of her life trying to ensure that the nation’s troubling past did not disappear from the collective memory.
“We are extremely proud and to be releasing this film,” Virgil CEO Joe Amodei said. “Mamie’s life experience is something that every American should see and learn from; she was a truly remarkable woman with a tremendous story.”
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