Overcoming obstacles and misfortune in order to create what’s eventually considered to be a landmark event is a noteworthy, life-affirming event. That’s certainly the case for the cast and crew who worked on the revolutionary 1936 production of ‘Macbeth’ that was performed in Harlem, which is presented in the new period drama, ‘Voodoo Macbeth.’
The narrative film is opening theatrically in New York and Los Angeles today, with additional markets to follow soon after, courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment. In honor of ‘Voodoo Macbeth’s release, ShockYa is premiering an exclusive clip from the feature, which is titled ‘The Curse.’
The movie is based on a true story of young Orson Welles and a group of committed artists as they set out to create the titular play, which is now considered a landmark event in African-American theater history. The film follows leading Broadway actress Rose McClendon (Inger Tudor, ‘Goliath,’ ‘On Time’) and producer John Houseman (Daniel Kuhlman), as they try to convince a gifted but untested 20-year-old Orson Welles (Jewell Wilson Bridges, the national tours of ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ in his feature film debut), to direct Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ with an all-Black cast in Harlem.
Reimagined in a Haitian setting, the production, which came to be known as ‘Voodoo Macbeth,’ would change the world forever, but the road to opening night proves to be a difficult one. Orson and Rose – who is to play Lady Macbeth – clash over everything from scene blocking to crew hires, while Houseman contends with a congressman hell-bent on shutting down what he deems communist propaganda. The duo must overcome political pressure, personal demons and protests to realize their groundbreaking vision.
The production was highly controversial, as it provoked heated protests from Harlemites, who considered it exploitative, and by politicians who thought it subversive. The play debuted to packed audiences and was wildly successful, playing the Lafayette Theater for 10 weeks and then touring across America.
‘Voodoo Macbeth’ beautifully showcases the seminal moment in Welles’ career – the first project that put him on the map. At the same time, a bright light is shone on the phenomenal McClendon, a strong Black woman who was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance and who started Negro Theater Units in 11 American cities. As the film portrays, she was an essential mentor to Welles in his first important directing job.
The drama marks the first theatrical release from USC Originals in association with Warner Bros., and was overseen by veteran producer and USC professor John Watson, (‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,’ ‘Backdraft’ and ‘The Outer Limits’), who serves as an executive producer. ‘Voodoo Macbeth’ had 10 directors: Dagmawi Abebe, Victor Alonso-Berbel, Hannah Bang, Christopher Beaton, Agazi Desta, Zoë Salnave, Roy Arwas, Tiffany K. Guillen, Ernesto Sandoval and Sabina Vajra?a; eight writers: Erica Sutherlin, Agazi Desta, Morgan Milender, Jennifer Frazin, Molly Miller, Amri Rigby, Joel David Santner and Chris Tarricone; and three producers: Jason Phillips, Miles Alva and Xiaoyuan Xiao.
The movie began in a writers’ room where screenwriters collaborated on each facet of the writing process. Then the film’s helmes, who each embody different perspectives, styles,and tastes, came together to form a common vision. With seasoned cast and crew, ‘Voodoo Macbeth’ is a launching pad for the next generation of filmmakers and demonstrates the power of community over the individual.
With a run in over 20 film festivals, ‘Voodoo Macbeth’ has received 14 wins and three additional nominations, including Best Film, Best Production and Best Actress at the Harlem International Film Festival; Best in Festival and The Audience Choice Award at Sedona International Film Festival; and Best Feature Film at Dances with Films.