09 Jun 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
Special to the Tri-State Defender
Award-winning filmmaker, Keith Beauchamp found his calling while making his first documentary about Emmett Louis Till, the 14-year-old black boy who was abducted and tortured to death in August of 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The suspects subsequently arrested for the lynching were all acquitted by an all white jury.
That heart-wrenching story of a young boy, beaten, shot, and thrown in a river, ignited the early civil rights movement. Decades later, the case was re-opened by the FBI because Keith Beauchamp uncovered new information in the course of his research for “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.”
Bolstered by his ability to connect with potential witnesses who otherwise might not come forward in communities where such Civil Rights crimes have occurred, Beauchamp has become a passionate advocate for survivors seeking justice for victims and has assisted the FBI by developing new leads for some of the still unsolved cases from this shameful troubled chapter in American history.
For his new TV series, “The Injustice Files,” Beauchamp combs through records; interviews family members, witnesses and investigators; and pieces together the known facts of each case. Beauchamp also attempts to interview potential suspects and individuals who may know who was responsible for these murders, sometimes confronting them in their driveways after attempts to contact them for interviews prove unsuccessful.
Here, director/producer/host Beauchamp talks about “The Injustice Files,” which airs on the Investigation Discovery Network. (Check local listings for airtimes, or visit: http://investigation.discovery.com/tv/injustice-files/episode-guide.html)
Kam Williams: Hi Keith, thanks for the time.
KW: What gave you the idea for “The Injustice Files?”
KB: “The Injustice Files” is an extension of my previous work profiling Civil Rights murders from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s my third TV production produced in collaboration with the FBI’s Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative that began in 2007.
KW: Tell me a little about the series?
KB: The series is a three-part docu-series produced by CBS News’ heavyweight, Susan Zirinsky and Eye Too Productions and premiered on Investigation Discovery. It follows the investigative efforts of myself and the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit Chief, Cynthia Deitle. There are three unsolved civil rights murders from the 1960s, of Wharlest Jackson, Oneal Moore and William Lewis Moore, that we hope to get solved.
KW: How hard was it to get the series off the ground, given the popular notion of America being post-racial?
KB: It’s challenging to get a project of this nature green-lighted for TV. When I walk into a network, I always have to prove why this project is so important for this day and time. When you speak about injustices and the civil rights movement, many feel that it’s a thing of the past and it’s a black issue, but in reality it’s an American issue. These are murders that need to be solved to help bring justice and closure for the victims’ families and we have all benefited from the American Civil Rights Movement. Racism still exists in this country and to forget our past we are doomed to repeat it.
KW: Do you ever feel concerned about your own safety while reopening these cases?
KB: Dr. (Martin Luther) King once stated, “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” This is a quote that I use everyday of my life investigating these murders, so my own safety has never been a concern. Although, I’m completely aware of the dangers that exist, I fear no man but God.
KW: Are you getting support from the federal and local authorities when you are able to identify a perpetrator who is still alive?
KB: Yes, that’s what makes this new project so exceptional. It was done with the full participation of the FBI and these cases are active investigations. It’s the first project of its kind where you have a filmmaker and the FBI working side by side for a common goal, which is to get justice and closure for the families and the communities stricken with this pain.
KW: How do you want viewers to react to episodes of “Injustice Files?”
KB: I want people to understand that these murders need immediate attention. This is not just about learning our history; we need to solve these murders. As each day passes, perpetrators and witnesses to these murders die off. So, it’s a race against time to get justice for those who paved the way for us to exist in this “free society” and for their families.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
KB: Yes. Have I ever received financial and moral support from prominent African-Americans?
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KB: Wow, that’s a hard question. Considering the type of work I’m doing, it does have its downside. Dealing with death daily can really play on your mind and you find yourself often in dark places. I’m happy when I’m in the field working and producing my work. I still haven’t found a way to balance my personal and business life because I eat and breathe this work day in and day out. There are so many families who need help. I often joke that I will need some serious therapy when I’m done.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
KB: When I look in the mirror, I see a man with a lot of potential to change minds and inspire, but not enough time. I’m still searching for higher knowledge of man and I’m not ashamed to admit I have room to do better.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
KB: That I might become successful enough doing this work to be able to fully take care of my parents who have sacrificed so much for me and my career.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
KB: My earliest childhood memory, which I speak about often, is when I first saw the photograph of Emmett Till at age 10 in Jet Magazine. I can honestly tell you, if it wasn’t for the murder of Emmett Till and seeing that photograph, I would not be a filmmaker today.
KW: The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what you do?
KB: I love doing this work, because I’ve seen in my lifetime the fruits of my labor. My biggest accomplishments was the production of my first film, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which took me nine years to produce, and getting his half-century old murder case reopened in 2004. It’s rewarding to know that I have the power to alter history and to undo some of the wrongs of our past by using the powerful medium of filmmaking. It is truly a blessing to receive emails and letters of encouragement almost daily regarding my work letting me know that I’m impacting lives and inspiring others.
KW: The Zane Question: Do you have any regrets?
KB: My only regret is not being able to focus on my own personal life. Since I’ve been doing this work – I’ve been in and out of relationships and haven’t been able to spend enough quality time with family. I’m the blame for that. I’m married to my work but I know that in time, the Creator will open a door for me to finally focus on myself.
KW: The Dulé Hill question. Do you think that the success you’ve achieved in your career is because of you, because of a higher power, or because of a mixture of both?
KB: I would have to say that my success is a mixture of both but the majority is driven by my faith and a higher power. I realized that early on when I discovered that the work that I do is my calling in life. I’m guided by the spirit of our ancestors and I never fight that spiritual connection.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
KB: The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome is doubting myself and hesitating to follow my gut instinct. There’s so much negative energy at times when you are trying to do good that it’s hard to become motivated to move forward.
KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
KB: It’s still a learning process for me. Being that I am a self-made indie filmmaker that didn’t have any training, I continue to look for ways to reinvent myself to make a living. Civil rights activists will tell you that doing this type of work does not come with a steady pay check and that’s my reality. But I have learned that prayer, meditation and frequently speaking to my mother helps me to stay focused and on the right path.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
KB: My parent’s would have to be first, because they instilled in me the value of speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves, for the young and the old and those who have been affected by injustice. Secondly, without a shadow of a doubt would be the mother of Emmett Till, the late Mamie Till- Mobley who I worked with for 8-years until she passed away in 2003. She was the most influential person I every met and she continues to have a major influence on my life. The remarkable courage and dedication she had from the moment of Emmett’s murder until the day she passed away will forever be a part of my psyche.
KW: The Dr. Cornel West question: What price are you willing to pay for a cause that is bigger than your own self interest?
KB: I’m paying that price now, I was 23-years old when I started working on my first film that focused on the murder of Emmett Till and I’m 39-years old now still producing the same type of work. At times I feel that I’m running with the last of the dinosaurs, but I must push on because this mission is a much bigger cause than my own. Besides, the spirit in me won’t allow me to stop.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KB: I will have to say follow your passion and learn perseverance. Fighting social injustice is a full time job, which has many ups and downs. To be successful in your quest you must be persistent and believe in yourself no matter what people tell you. I’m a true testament of what one person can do to spark change and I know I won’t be the last.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to that at this point in your life?
KB: I want people to remember me as someone who was dedicated to the cause and who was able to become a ‘freedom conductor,’ sparking change in his own way - a true example of the power that one holds, but understanding that there is still much to be done.
KW: Thanks again for another great interview, Keith, and best of luck with Injustice Files.
KB: Thank you, Mr. Williams for your time and the opportunity.
(To see a trailer for The Injustice Files, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoZvEyhVfeQ&feature=related)