Director Raymond De Felitta has created a somber, soul-searching documentary with "Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story".
The documentary, which is part of the Tribeca Film Festival and now available on VOD, reinvestigates a story that took place 40 years ago in Greenwood, Miss. It was in this southern town, amid a national conversation on civil rights, that De Felitta’s father, Frank, filmed a documentary about race relations for NBC. The resulting portrait of the American South left an indelible impression for TV viewers sitting at home, and that’s mostly because of one segment involving Booker Wright, a kind black man who worked as a waiter at a local restaurant.
Wright opened up to Frank like no other subject in the film, telling the camera how he deals with the constant racism around him. His pacifist answer was simple, but resoundingly powerful: he smiles on the outside, but cries on the inside.
At the time, when the documentary hit the airwaves, Wright faced heightened scrutiny for his truthful words. It didn’t take long for him to lose his job, forcing his family into an upheaval. And the repercussions didn’t stop there.
Raymond revisits Wright’s life by interviewing his daughters, granddaughter and others who lived in Greenwood. The subject matter is engaging and often harrowing. Watching the harsh reaction to a few spoken words is depressing and quite telling of the time period. This was an American South steeped in segregation, Ku Klux Klan meetings and daily, debilitating prejudice. The fact that Wright spoke up at at time when it was dangerous to do so is the definition of brave. The fact that he met his community with a big smile is the definition of courage. Here’s a man who wanted to provide for his family in an honest, hard-working way. Society had other plans for him.