My friend Eli Saslow wrote this story for The Washington Post. As soon as it was published I hit the ground running. I talked extensively with Derek Black and in the end he decided that he wasn't ready to put his story on screen. Brad Pitt and Plan B also wanted to tell this story. I never thought I'd be 'competting' with those folks.
Here's the film we proposed.
Proposed: Feature length film adaptation of Derek Black’s coming of age story set against the growing socio-economic, class and race divisions facing our nation.
Writers: Elgin James and Rod Blackhurst
Their public conference had been interrupted by a demonstration march and a bomb threat, so the white nationalists decided to meet secretly instead. They slipped past police officers and protesters into a hotel in downtown Memphis. The country had elected its first black president just a few days earlier, and now in November 2008, dozens of the world’s most prominent racists wanted to strategize for the years ahead.
“The fight to restore White America begins now,” their agenda read.
This is where we meet Derek Black, 19 years old, a Florida community college student, son of Don Black, and the promising face of the modern white nationalist movement.
At it’s heart, this is a film about the relationships, beginning with the relationship between Derek and his parents, Don and Chloe, who always taught Derek to question indoctrination, to be independent and ideological and to speak his beliefs even when doing so resulted in backlash. Following their advice ultimately leads Derek to renounce the culture and people he was raised by. This coming of age creates a tragic divide in his family amongst people and a community that he loves dearly but that at the end of the film no longer identifies with.
This is also a film about the relationship between Derek and Matthew Stevenson, his classmate at the New College in Florida who invites Derek to Shabbat dinner at his apartment after learning about Derek’s upbringing. The friendship that develops between these two young men on opposing sides of a dogmatic spectrum is unlikely at first but becomes a powerful catalyst in Derek’s life.
Finally, this is also a film about the relationships between those who sit and operate on opposing sides of any conversation or ideological spectrum. As our society and culture grows more and more divided, we frequently ignore those who do not see the world through the lens we do. We find ourselves seeking comfort and connection with those who reinforce the beliefs we already hold. We do not consider those who feel or think differently than us. But it is finding the humanity at the heart of anyone - enemy or ally - that allows us to consider them as human beings and to grow and learn. Beyond Derek’s relationship with the white nationalist movement, his relationship with his family, and his friendship with his classmates at college - this is a film that will show the growing cultural divides, recent political events and the violence simmering and boiling over across America.