Director from Durham opens up about Oscar-nominated film

Kevin Wilson Jr. speaks.

Director from Durham opens up about Oscar-nominated film
February 08
04:00 2018

When N.C. native Kevin Wilson Jr. first saw the infamous photo of Emmett Till lying inside a casket at Roberts Temple Church in 1955, his life was changed forever. It was at that moment; at the young age of 5, Wilson fully understood the horror of growing up black in America.

“I remember when my mother first showed me the photo and told me the story of Emmett Till and it was that moment that it just stuck with me,” Wilson said. “He was just a kid not far removed from where we are today.”

Wilson, who grew up in Durham, said although he grew up in a household where they openly discussed historic moments in African-American history, such as the Civil Rights Movement and pioneers like W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it was something about Emmett’s story that resonated with him.

The image of the 14-year-old boy, who was tortured and killed by two white men because he was accused of whistling at a white woman, stuck with Wilson from the age of 5, through childhood, his days at Hillside High school, four years of college at N.C. A&T and graduate school, and it earned him a seat at the 90th Academy Awards.

With help from his professors at New York University (NYU) Graduate Film School, last year Wilson’s latest short film “My Nephew Emmett” joined the Oscars race when he was selected for the Academy’s Live Action Short Film category.

Wilson’s haunting film, which shares the horrific murder of Till from point of view from his uncle, 64-year-old Mose Wright, who was faced with the decision of choosing between losing his nephew, who was visiting from Chicago, or his entire family.

During an interview with The Chronicle last week, Wilson said he decided to use Wright’s point of view because it was one that had not been told in the past.

“His [Wright’s] experience went unexplored in conversations surrounding the story. Mose Wright was the one who was awakened by the bangs at the door and placed with the difficult decision to choose between his nephew and his family,” Wilson continued. “I wanted to explore the helplessness he had to be feeling during that time and the strength he had to move forward.”

Since debuting last year, Wilson’s 20-minute film has won numerous awards, including the Gold Medal at the 44th Student Academy Awards in the Narrative Domestic Category, and the Director’s Guild of America Student Film Award.

The film also caught the attention of one of the biggest names in the film industry, who is also one of Wilson’s professors at NYU, Spike Lee. Lee’s production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films, including classics like “Malcolm X,” “School Daze,” and “Do the Right Thing.”

Wilson said working with Lee was like a dream come true. Along with working with Wilson on production, Lee also used his own money to help finance the film.   

“Spike Lee is a hero for me as a filmmaker. He inspired me to start making films, so it’s a great feeling to get his OK,” he continued. “He’s a very honest person; if it’s not up to par, he’s going to tell you.”

With the Oscars less than a month away, Wilson seemed confident with his chances of bringing home the trophy but, with the notoriety the film is already getting, he said it feels as if he has already won.

“It has been very exciting because I didn’t think I would be nominated for an Academy Award, but most importantly I’m excited about the opportunity to continue sharing the story because those ideals still exist today.”

Wilson noted that because of our reluctance to deal with issues of racism and bigotry, we are forced to relive the darkest parts of our lives.

“… Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown. Till isn’t an isolated event or one tragedy,” he continued. “These things will continue to occur until we deal with the root of the problem. My contribution is through film.”

“On March 4, it doesn’t matter what name they say because I’ve already won. My goal was tell Emmett’s story and the Black Experience, and I think I’ve accomplished that.”

For more information on the short film, visit Wilson’s official website

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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