‘Provocative’ March on Washington documentary

“The March,” a documentary that recounts the story behind the 1963 March on Washington, is set to air Tuesday, Aug. 27, on the eve of the 50th anniversary when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“The March,” a documentary that recounts the story behind the 1963 March on Washington, is set to air Tuesday, Aug. 27, on the eve of the 50th anniversary when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of more than 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall.

‘The March,’ narrated by Denzel Washington, premieres Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m. ET.

“The March,” narrated by Denzel Washington, premieres on Tuesday, August 27, at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).

The film includes interviews with key players from King’s inner circle, including Jack O’Dell, director of voter registration for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference who was forced out of the movement over ties to Communism; Clarence Jones, King’s legal counsel and close friend; Norman Hill, a march coordinator who would continue to organize marches after King’s assassination in 1968; and Rachelle Horowitz, top lieutenant to the late Bayard Rustin, chief organizer of the March on Washington.

The film is directed by John Akomfrah of U.K.-based Smoking Dogs Films and co-produced by Robert Redford’s Sundance Productions.

Very provocative

“History has a way of repeating itself,” says Laura Michalchyshyn, Redford’s partner at Sundance Productions and an executive producer on the film. “We’re telling the story of the March on Washington in a manner that is frankly very provocative. Our hope is to create something where you feel like you’re actually there.”

Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll and Oprah Winfrey are featured. And producers also have unearthed rare home-movie footage including performances by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Edith Lee-Payne

Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit is shown on her 12th birthday at the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963.

Akomfrah and his team also tracked down Edith Lee-Payne, the 12-year-old featured in the now iconic picture from the march, and Rowland Scherman, the photographer who snapped the picture (See “An icon will march again,” Faith in Action, Aug. 5).

CBS News anchor Roger Mudd plays an important part in stitching together the narrative of that day.

One of these events

“This is one of these events that I swore as a kid if I ever became a filmmaker I would do something with,” says Akomfrah, who was born in Ghana and has produced a series of historical and music documentaries on subjects ranging from Malcolm X to British jazz composer Stan Tracey to pop star Mariah Carey.

Asked if the Supreme Court decision striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act will be acknowledged in “The March,” Akomfrah replied: “At the moment, my epilogue is the signing of the [Civil Rights Act of 1964]. So it screws with my narrative somewhat. But it’s important so we may have to say something about it.”

When you look at the Civil Rights movement, the Supreme Court was absolutely critical,” Akomfrah pointed out, citing Brown v. Board of Education. “So the idea that that very system through which redress was sought would now be the one that would be clawing back some of those gains is ironic to say the least,” he said.

Centerpiece of programming

Akomfrah’s documentary is the centerpiece of a week of PBS programming on TV and online celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Coverage will be featured on PBS broadcasts such as “NewsHour,” a five-part web series “The March @50” on the PBS Black Culture Connection site, as well as “Memories of the March,” web vignettes created and commissioned by PBS stations that feature eyewitness testimony from that day. Some of those vignettes may make their way into Akomfrah’s film, which he is still editing. It was through that effort that PBS unearthed valuable artifacts including a paper program for what was officially called The March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom.

Learn more about PBS programming related to the March on Washington at 50th anniversary.

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