The Black Eagle of Harlem

So on the last day of 2015 I find myself thinking back exactly 365 days ago. On the last day of 2014 I was one week removed from having decided what my next documentary would be on: Hubert Julian, the ultimate showman of the 20th century.

On that day, I had nothing. Correction: I had one book on him and his 1960s autobiography on the way from a used bookstore in England. Both would prove frustrating. Truth-stretching, tall tales, and outright lies would plague me in the first few weeks as I tried to learn about this man’s life. But I knew there was a compelling story despite the misinformation. There had to be. We are talking about one of the first persons of color to fly an airplane, a parachutist whose aerial stunts captivated Harlem (hence the moniker), and an all-around larger-than-life personality, so I knew there was a hook in there somewhere. Of course, the hook is the entire damn story; its nearly impossible plot points which, I had to find out with research, are true!

After eight months of research and planning I had everything I needed: primary citations, some old photographs, selected newsreel footage, and, most importantly, over 500 newspaper articles from between 1922 and 1983, putting into focus the truths within Julian’s account of his own life. So in September I started to write. Once a week. Every Friday morning. Between 8am and 1pm I was cut off from the world. I thought it would be tedious, boring, and that my discipline for sticking to the schedule I had set would falter. Wrong on all counts.

Thirty-four thousand words and 94 (single-spaced) pages later and I have a screenplay entering into its revising and editing phase. That will take a month; I don’t like to dwell especially when I have spent four months writing at a very careful pace.

The year 2015 was dedicated to the research and writing of The Black Eagle of Harlem and 2016 will be the year in which the documentary is made. It will feature a narrator and voiceover actors to tell the story. It will utilize archival materials and original artwork to create a visual for audiences to identify with. And there will be very interesting interviews with people whose interests in Julian have brought us together. In short, I’m excited to see where the journey will take me.

Here’s to 2016! Happy New Year!


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