A frequent backdrop throughout the civil rights era, Tuskegee University will become the setting for a chapter in that story and a location in the feature film “Son of the South.” The movie, executive produced by Spike Lee, is based on the Bob Zellner book, “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement,” published in 2008.
The film will take viewers back to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1961, where Zellner — grandson of a Klansman — was a junior heavyweight college boxing champion. The 22-year-old white Southerner finds himself caught in a time and place when the civil rights movement challenged everyone to pick a side. His choice to champion for social justice and racial equality found Zeller befriending civil rights legends Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Virginia Foster Durr and Congressman John Lewis.
“Bob Zellner often told me stories of his experience in the early civil rights movement – every story was jaw dropping and inspiring,” said Oscar-nominee Barry Alexander Brown, who is serving as the movie’s director in addition to writing its screenplay. “We stand on the shoulders of people like Bob. I have been compelled to remind an older generation — as well as teach a younger one — about the courage of those who chose a dangerous, impossible path in order to change our world for the better.”
“Son of the South” continues a longstanding collaboration between Brown, a Montgomery native, and Lee — the most recent being the Oscar-winning film “BlacKkKlansman.” “Son of the South” stars include Lucas Till (“X-Men’s” Havoc and TV’s “MacGyver”), who will play Zellner, along with Julia Ormond (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and TV’s “Mad Men”), Lucy Hale (TV’s “Pretty Little Liars”), rapper/actor T.I., actor/comedian Cedric the Entertainer, and Brian Dennehy (“First Blood,” “Cocoon” and the “Jack Reed: Badge of Honor” telemovie series).
Scenes filmed on the Tuskegee University campus April 11 and 12 will recount the consequences of Zellner’s choice. This will include the defining moment for Zellner when he found himself confronted by 50 members of the Ku Klux Klan intent on beating a group of African-American high school students who were protesting the murder of tenant farmer Herbert Lee — a black man gunned down in broad daylight for the simple crime of trying to register to vote. Zellner took action when he joined the march and almost lost his life in the process.
Filming on Thursday, April 11 — which will include the Klan mob scene — will necessitate the closing of West Montgomery Road. Barricades from the university’s main gates at Margaret Murray Washington Hall to its gates at Brimmer Hall will be manned from 7:45 a.m. and extend past 5 p.m., during which time motorists will be detoured through the university or encouraged to use alternate routes. All pedestrian gates on that stretch of West Montgomery Road will be closed as well, and pedestrians are encouraged to avoid the area to help expedite filming.
Other filming on the campus interior both Thursday and Friday will be centered on “The Yard” between Tompkins Hall and White Hall. At times throughout both days, pedestrian traffic in this area will be limited while filming occurs. During these days, access to employee and student parking around Logan Hall, Armstrong Hall, The Oaks and The Yard will be limited, and University Avenue from the Kellogg Conference Center to the rear of Brimmer Hall will be closed to all traffic.
Casting has already taken place for scenes being filmed on the university’s campus; however, filming will continue into May, with casting opportunities available for extras to appear in scenes shot in the Montgomery area. Those interested in being considered as extras for the movie can apply online. Producers expect the film’s release in late 2019.
The university’s Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing will be sharing more specific details with its students and employees regarding parking and navigating campus during Thursday and Friday’s filming. For questions regarding the university’s participation, please contact the university’s communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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