Spring of next year will mark the 30th anniversary when the Atlanta Child Murders came to an end. Between 1979 and 1981 over 2 dozen African American children were brutally killed and dumped around the city. It was a time that put a strain on the city of Atlanta, especially Black Atlanta. In a post Civil Rights world, this wasn't the type of thing that was supposed to be still possible in the home town of a man like Martin Luther King, Jr. Atlanta was "The City Too Busy to Hate" after all.
Having grown up in the West End area of Atlanta and started first grade at CW Hill, just blocks from the MLK Center, in 1980, I personally remember the fear that we kids felt. Up until Wayne Williams was arrested, speculation ran rampant on who, or what group, including the KKK, could be behind the kidnappings. Strangely, as I've looked back on it, I've realized I have almost no recollection of what the mood of the city was like beyond my small corner of the world. I vaguely remember that adults were shaken to the core, but since they weren't the ones being attacked, their fears didn't seem to register with me much.
Even though the victims were all under the age of 16, the Murders have only really been discussed using two lenses. One was through the experiences of the victim's parents and adults in general, the other was via Williams's decades long quest to prove his innocence. Like a bad soap opera, and up till about 2007, the later seemed to pop back up every year or two as Williams and his lawyer would claim they had the evidence to exonerate him.
No one had substantially recounted what it was like to be a kid during that time till Tayari Jones published her 2002 novel Leaving Atlanta,"a three-voiced coming of age story set against the backdrop of the Atlanta Child Murders."
I'm ashamed to say I never picked up the book to read. It's even a bit more embarrassing, since I attended one of the first public readings at Charis Books in Little Five Points. The conversation afterwards, as a few of us who were all native Atlantans at the time of the murders shared our own memories, is still one I vividly remember.
We all agreed that the passages Jones had chosen to read were eerily dead on. And they should have been since Jones not only grew up in Atlanta at the time. She was also classmates with Yusef Bell and Terry Pugh, two 5th graders who were among the victims.
Two filmmakers, Karon Davis and Aletha Spann, are now raising money on Kickstarter to turn Jones's book into a short film. From there, they hope to progress to a feature. Already having made their $5,000 goal, they're now aiming for $20,000 by December 18th.
I'm intrigued to see how Atlanta will be rendered in both the short and the feature. Not only does much of the city no longer exists, Atlanta's status as a Black Mecca hadn't even developed yet--that wouldn't happen till around about the time of the 1996 Olympics. As evident by the way this last Mayoral race played out, even the City's racial politics of the 70s and 80s has finally started to lose its potency and ability to influence the discourse--another 30 years and it may finally be gone for good.
Making it more exciting as a project is that there hasn't been a substantial film produced about being a Black kid in Atlanta--let alone a Black kid in a 1970s Atlanta. And no, I don't count ATL-- sorry, but it's a poorly constructed, melodramatic film, that treats Atlanta's history of intra-racial class conflict too simplistically, and honestly could just as well be set in New York or LA.
Below you'll find the teaser trailer Davis and Spann have created for their Kickstarter campaign. I'll be honest, I'm not sure why they want to raise money to shoot a short when the teaser does such an effective job of communicating not only time and place, but of theme as well. True, it doesn't feature any of the characters or full story, yet I think this piece will probably have more power to sway on a purely emotional level than a 15 or 20 minute piece ever can.
Trying to convey what a two-hour feature length film will look and feel like in a truncated form is a dangerous proposition. Between the time they get the short done and the feature started, whoever they've casted in the short will probably be too old to play the same parts. And once you've got too much on film, you're mostly locked into that vision the investors, producers, whoever comes on board, walked away with.
That's just my personal take of course.
I've shot the filmmakers an email to see if they'll answer a few questions via email. Hopefully they'll say yes. Either way, I'll be following this one with interest.