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Contrary to racist fears of vengeance and violence, the true essence of Black power represents community, Black joy, Black creativity and self-determination. Few films in the history of Hollywood have so poetically captured that movement the way co-directors Ben Lindsey and Keith “Sneak the Poet” Daniels did with their indie masterpiece, “Fire in Little Africa: The Doc.”

Premiering for the first time at Circle Cinema on Thursday, May 26 to a diverse Tulsa crowd, the film served as a precursor to Historic Greenwood’s second annual Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, taking place May 27 – May 31. The Legacy Fest honors the last living survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre on the anniversary of the tragedy.

Yet, unlike most documentaries about Black Wall Street produced by well-known production companies, which highlight the pain, destruction and death inflicted on the most prosperous Black community in U.S. history, The Fire in Little Africa documentary takes audiences on a different ride with a different vibe.

“I’m just glad that a lot of people came out to support this film,” co-director Daniels told the crowd during a Q&A after the screening.

“We really put every single sweat and tear into making sure, like, you guys felt what it was like during that weekend. The family aspect of it, to come together and really unite with each other,” co-director Lindsey added.

Review: Fire in Little Africa documentary is a profound capture of Black joy
Directors Ben Lindsey and Keith “Sneak the Poet” Daniels answer questions after the theatrical world premiere of “Fire in Little Africa: The Doc” at Circle Cinema in Tulsa on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Circle Cinema)

Fire in Little Africa documentary is Black positivity on screen

Somehow, in just an hour of screen time, filmmakers Lindsey and Daniels were able to showcase a collective of over 50 of the most talented rappers, singers, producers, poets, musicians and visual artists from across Oklahoma who came together to create the Fire in Little Africa album during a single weekend in March of 2020. 

Overcoming rivalries and artistic egos, the group built community in the spirit of Black Wall Street to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the 1921 Massacre. 

Utilizing beautiful cinematography, illuminating interviews, seamless transitions and, of course, soul-stirring songs from the artists, “Fire in Little Africa: The Doc” had audience members mesmerized through laughter, tears and a deeper understanding of the movement the album inspires.

Review: Fire in Little Africa documentary is a profound capture of Black joy
Artist from Fire in Little Africa record a historic album in March 2020. (Documentary trailer screenshot)

More than just an album, Fire in Little Africa also includes a podcast and educational curriculum that seeks to set the record straight on the brilliance of Black Wall Street and the depravity of the jealous, city-sanctioned White mob that destroyed it.

Yet, just as Black Wall Street was rebuilt after 1921, enjoying decades of even bigger growth than before the Massacre, the FILA documentary focuses on the creativity and determination of a new generation.

Perhaps, one of the most profound moments of the film occurred when FILA artists were told they’d been signed with the legendary Motown record label. For a brief moment, diverse audience members saw something rarely captured on film: a large group of Black men and women coming together for a collective purpose, sharing their hopes, dreams and even tears. It was an hour of Black joy that left the crowd wanting more.

Review: Fire in Little Africa documentary is a profound capture of Black joy
Artist from Fire in Little Africa record a historic album in March 2020. (Documentary trailer screenshot)

Black-owned production company gives Fire in Little Africa the cold shoulder

Meanwhile, despite the positive reception of the film’s premiere at Circle Cinema, co-director Keith “Sneak the Poet” Daniels, an artist in his own right, and co-director / editor Ben Lindsey opened up about how some folks gave their project the cold shoulder.

First of all, the filmmakers were led to believe their project would be turned into a series, and that it would be landing on Amazon. Yet, those expectations never materialized despite creating a poetic work of art on a shoe-string budget.

Notably, they scored a meeting with the Black owner of a nationally recognized film production company who failed to see the magic of the movement the filmmakers captured.

“We brought it to Lena Waithe and her production company. We had a meeting with them. And they basically just kind of, excuse my French, crapped on us, you know what I mean? Said it wasn’t up to their standard, and they didn’t really want to work with us on the vision,” Daniels told the audience during the post-screening Q&A.

Fire in Little Africa
Fire in Little Africa artists pictured in front of the Skyline Mansion, a now Black-owned venue originally built by a KKK leader who helped orchestrate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. This photo is inspired by a group photo of original Black Wall Street business owners from before 1921.
Photo Credit: Ryan Cass

Lena Waithe’s decision is “a disappointment”

Lena Waithe, founder and CEO of Hillman Grad Productions, appeared to be more interested in the usual trauma porn of Black pain that viewers are accustomed to seeing on screen in Hollywood.

“It didn’t fit the mold of their vision. They really want controversial work, and ours was kind of positive, kind of raw, kind of uncut. But the way she worded it was really like the opposite of how I feel like a Black creative in her position should speak to another up and coming Black creative,” Daniels added.

Nehemiah D. Frank, founder & editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times and a 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Descendant released a statement:

 “Lena Waithe failed miserably to recognize the historical nature that the Fire in Little Africa: The Doc brought to Black America. Both the album and documentary were the only pieces of sound and visual art produced by Black creatives that highlighted what took place in 1921 Tulsa that year. Waithe, a Black woman in a position of influence, had a chance to elevate the horrific Massacre of 300 plus Black residents and the destruction of 36 blocks of Black Wall Street. She denied these Black artists, the living survivors, and the descendants the opportunity to rise, much like the White mob didn’t allow Greenwood residents to rise again during and even after 1921. Her decision shows that she’s not for the culture. And as a descendant of two families that survived the massacre, it truly is a disappointment.”  

Still from Fire in Little Africa ‘Shining’ music video, filmed at LowDown

Creating a movement of Black power, Black joy for the next generation

Ultimately, the minor setbacks haven’t stopped the filmmakers from believing in the power of their work, as they announced plans for more projects in the future.

When asked what they want little kids in north Tulsa to learn from the film, the co-directors told The Black Wall Street Times they want the next generation to encapsulate a few things.

“One that it takes a team, no matter what anybody says, you can’t do it alone,” Daniels said. “Don’t be afraid to reach for a hand, even if it looks like you. I think a lot of Black people, sometimes we have trouble trusting other Black people. To get that fear out of your mind, and that we can come together. We can produce amazing work on amazing levels.”

Co-director and editor Ben Lindsey emphasized the importance of collaboration.

“The ability to just work with one another, to trust one another, even though it might not go the way you want it to. I believe that the end goal is to create something really wonderful outside of just yourself,” Lindsey told The Black Wall Street Times.

The film won ‘Best Documentary Short’ at the Simply Indie Festival, was a finalist at Red Dirt Film Festival, and won third place at Urban Media Makers Festival. The film received recognition as ‘Official Selection’ in these festivals: Roxbury International Film Festival, San Diego Black Film Festival, Baltimore International Black Film Festival and African Film Festival Atlanta

Circle Cinema will host additional screenings throughout Memorial Day weekend and the film will be available for streaming on the Fire in Little Africa YouTube account beginning May 30, 2022. 

YouTube video

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...