Way Backstory*

Some people might wonder why a white, “feminist” filmmaker would even consider making a movie about a bunch of young thugs from Brooklyn. So I thought it might be interesting to share the beginning of what I think of as me pulling my head and heart out of acculturated, racist fear, and getting real. With real people.

 It truly began in my family, but for the purposes of this story, I’ll begin in 1989 when I was working in the art department of the American Booksellers Association in Manhattan. There was a wonderful guy who worked there in the mailroom.

His name was James I. Salley. He was my good work friend. James was 24-years-old, very tall, maybe 6’2’’ or something. Cute as pie. Big gorgeous smile. Always ready to laugh, and he worked in the mailroom with two of his closest friends, Louie and Kevin.

At that time, ABA put on the biggest booksellers convention in the country and everyone that worked for ABA also had jobs working on the convention site. So at the time, 90% of the office had left to go to DC to set up for the convention and the only departments left in our office were the art department and the mailroom. The day before the rest of us were supposed to leave for the convention, I arrived at work to the shocking news that James was dead. He had been murdered. Execution style in his apartment in the Lehman Housing Projects in Harlem. Dead along with three other family members. One of which was his wife and the mother of his 3 year old son.

They were tied up, told to lie down on the floor and shot in the back of their heads. The next day another brother was killed–also execution style–on the roof of a building in Harlem. Overnight James went from being this beautiful, bright, soon to be entering the police academy, charming guy, to just another drug dealing black guy. Now I don’t know if James or someone else in this family apartment were dealing drugs or not, but that was the speculation regarding the murders. What I do know, is that there seemed to me to be a collective misremembering of who he was at work, as well as a disregard for his humanity and the relationships he actually had in our office.

Because the convention had to go on in another city, not a single face from ABA showed up at James’s funeral. Including my own. And although that is something that I am ashamed of, I’ve also never forgotten him. As far as I know, the murders were never solved. And if it hadn’t been for the fact that I continued to work with Kevin and Louie, I would never have even have begun to understand the world from which James came…

*(Odd aside: At the time, I was working with Director David O. Russell at what was to become both of our last straight jobs.)
Read: Way Back Story (continued)

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