After the screening of Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story, attendees at the 2022 ESSENCE Festival of Culture sat in on a Q+A panel with the creatives who took part in the film, including entertainers Ledisi, Vanessa Estelle Williams and Columbus Short, director Vince Allen, and writer Ericka Malone.
When asked about the casting process for the iconic Mahaila Jackson herself, Malone didn’t hesitate to sing Ledisi’s praises. “We wanted to have a woman who can play it and embody this character,” she said. “And there was nobody better in our hearts than Ledisi.” This sentiment was shared amongst the members of the panel and the audience, who had recently watched the film.
Ericka also admitted that the emphasis on Mahalia and Martin [Luther King Jr.]’s relationship was definitely not just coincidental, sharing that she intentionally wanted the project to tell the story of Mahalia and Martin. Opening up about her preparation process for the film, Ledisi detailed the work that went into portraying the singer and how her previous experience studying Mahalia for her role in Selma somewhat helped prepare her for this role. However, she also noted that it took a substantial amount of work to get to the performance seen in the film, stating, “The singing, I felt like that was the hardest part for me.”
Ledisi later recounted the strenuous process of learning about Mahalia’s history,.“It was exhausting studying her. I think our ancestors then did more than we’re doing now,” she said in regards to not only Mahalia, but many others who took part in the Civil Rights movement. “With Mahalia, she didn’t think; she just did it,” Ledisi later added. “She didn’t consider anything; she just thought, ‘somebody needs my help.'”
Columbus Short, who delivers an amazing performance as Dr. King in the film, spoke of the importance of creating films like this when creating a change in how Black history is seen. “We’re educating through film, music, art,” he said. “I believe art is the way to educate.” When the topic of Black resistance came up later, the ever-talented Vanessa Williams emphasized the need to recognize the true impact of joy. “The resistance is in the joy,” she said. “And when we seek that, we overcome.”
As the Q+A came to a close, director Vince Allen explained how stories such as Mahalia’s are integral to creating change and need to continue to be produced. “Our stories that we tell, and how we tell them, should be told through us,” he noted.
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