From criticizing Obama to supporting Trump, Black conservatives have endured quite a rollercoaster ride for the past 12 years of American politics. And that’s without even considering the volatility of current events.
A topical new documentary from Dallas filmmaker Justin Malone — called Uncle Tom: An Oral History of the American Black Conservative — doesn’t disguise its intention to amplify that passion and legitimize those viewpoints.
The film will screen on Sunday at the Angelika Film Center as part of the rescheduled 50th edition of the USA Film Festival, which was postponed two months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It really does lay out the contradictions and the hypocrisy that a lot of people have,” Malone said. “The film isn’t meant to be divisive. The narrative is driven solely by the subjects. We wanted to make sure the entire film would be told from their perspective.”
Malone, 37, began the project locally by interviewing Chad Jackson, who owns a Mansfield plumbing business. That led to on-camera segments with prominent Dallas conservative activist Eugene Ralph and with pastor and political commentator Stephen Broden.
About two years ago, after putting his commercial directing career on hold and running out of money, Malone took an abbreviated rough cut to Los Angeles, and eventually secured support from outspoken author and talk-show host Larry Elder.
“Larry raised the money for the film in probably two weeks. He allowed me the time to cut it without having to rush. He let me do my thing,” Malone said. “Once Larry got on board, Herman Cain and Candace Owens were a phone call away. It just opened the door. Not only did he help on the financial end, but he helped with credibility.”
As its title suggests, the black-and-white film probes the past several decades of American political and socioeconomic history through the lens of Black Republicans, many of which have been labeled as traitors or outsiders by their own community.
“There was an explosion of Black conservatives because of Trump,” Malone said. “I knew there was a story there.”
Malone (Undocumented), who is white, wanted to combine a historical exploration of conservatism with a unique cultural perspective. He hopes viewers will be open-minded.
“I’m a film director and not an activist. I’m not trying to be Michael Moore or Dinesh D’Souza,” he said. “I’ve had some people comment that I almost don’t have the right to make this movie because I’m white. If I’m curious and it’s on my heart, you can’t really help that.”
A gala premiere on June 19 in Southlake coincided with the online release of the documentary on the Uncle Tom website, where it exceeded all expectations during the first weekend, almost entirely through social media word-of-mouth.
“It’s much bigger than I thought it would be,” Malone said. “The timing couldn’t be any better. The film celebrates Black excellence. We’re inundated with negative, polarizing stuff constantly. We need something positive.”
Malone will attend the festival on Sunday along with Jackson and Elder for a post-screening Q&A.
With most theaters on the brink of reopening in the next few weeks, the event will be one of the first of its kind anywhere to test the waters in a new cinematic landscape.
The five-day festival runs through Sunday with a set of safety protocols, such as facemask and social distancing requirements. All screenings are free, but require tickets that must be ordered by phone in advance. Also on the slate:
- A handful of upcoming theatrical features from Magnolia Pictures and IFC Films, such as a biopic of inventor Nikola Tesla starring Ethan Hawke.
- Several short-film blocks, including a Texas collection highlighted by Illegal, a narrative short about immigration and racial profiling that was shot in Dallas.
- A new documentary from Dallas filmmaker Byron Hunter about the historic 1985 football season at Yates High School in Houston.