Blackfin, an eOne company, has partnered with Peabody- and Emmy-winning director Stanley Nelson and NBA star Russell Westbrook for docuseries Terror In Tulsa: The Rise and Fall of Black Wall Street.
The news comes days after the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, one of worst acts of racial violence in American history, in which mobs of white residents attacked and ultimately destroyed the Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK, at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”.
Terror in Tulsa, which has been in development for nearly a year, is aiming for a spring 2021 release to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the tragic events. It joins another Black Wall Street project in the works, a documentary produced by NBA great LeBron James & Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment and directed and executive produced by Salima Koroma, which was unveiled last week, amid nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death.
Directed by Nelson, produced by Blackfin (Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez) and Nelson’s Firelight Films and executive produced by Westbrook, Terror in Tulsa will include input from historical organizations including the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, and the Historic Vernon AME Church, among others. Featuring past and present-day narratives, it is described as both an exploration of America’s past and an urgent, sobering look at the social, economic and political lines that continue to divide the country.
“There is no story more poignant or relevant to the racially charged events unfolding before us today, the frustration, the outrage, the outcry for justice in the wake of the George Floyd killing,” Nelson said. “The story of Tulsa reveals a significant chapter in the American experience leading up to this moment. It is a story that needs to be treated with dignity, grounded in cultural authenticity, and portrayed with historical accuracy in order to truly understand the impact it has had on our nation. From the cover-ups of the massacre in 1921, to the uncovering of the mass graves left in its wake, the story of Tulsa is the harsh example of not only the history of violence against black people in America but also the great American sin of burying it out of sight and pretending that it never happened.”
Nelson is a leading documentarian of the African-American experience. His latest film, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, premiered at Sundance in 2019.
“Spending 11 years in Oklahoma opened my eyes to the rich and sordid history of the state,” said Westbrook. “When I learned about the heartbreaking events that happened in Tulsa nearly 100 years ago, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell. It’s upsetting that the atrocities that transpired then are still so relevant today. It’s important we uncover the buried stories of African Americans in this country. We must amplify them now more than ever if we want to create change moving forward.”
Westbrook is a nine-time NBA All-Star and earned the NBA Most Valuable Player Award for the 2016-17 season. He spent his first 11 seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder after playing at UCLA.
On May 30, 1921, Memorial Day, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old black man working as a shoeshiner, rode the only elevator of a nearby building to use the top-floor restroom, designated for black people. The only other person in the elevator was Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white girl who was the elevator operator on duty. What happened inside the elevator was never officially established — one of the most circulated versions involves Rowland tripping and instinctively grabbing Page’s arm, prompting her to scream — and Page did not press charges, but the low-key incident ignited the simmering racial tension in the city.
On June 1, 1921, white rioters descended on Greenwood, looting and burning black houses and businesses. Martial law was declared, and the National Guard was brought in. When it was all over, 35 city blocks had been burned down and more than 800 people were treated for injuries. At the time, 36 deaths were reported, most of them African Americans. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have been killed, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
The Tulsa race massacre, which had been largely overlooked for decades, recently entered popular American culture when the horrific event was depicted in the opening scene of HBO’s Watchmen.
In 2016, John Legend, Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorious’ Get Lifted and actress-producer Tika Sumpter teamed to develop Black Wall Street, a scripted series for WGN America about the thriving middle-class African-American community in Greenwood and the devastation brought upon by the 1921 rampage.
After several books about the massacre and lobbying by descendants, the Oklahoma Legislature passed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act in 2001, providing scholarships and creating a memorial to the victims that was dedicated in 2010.