An American Story: Margaret Brown and Joycelyn Davis in Descendant | Interviews


JD: Well, we filmed under the bridge, which is a sacred place, you know? All of us in the Africatown community know this place. And it’s a safe place. It is a place where one can meditate. So I really didn’t have a problem with this space. It was perfect.

One element of the film that I found incredible were the VHS tapes of interviews with previous, now deceased, descendants held by Dr. Jackson. Margaret, how did you come across what are essentially time capsules?

MB: Oh man. Dr Kern Jackson. I have known him for a very long time. I knew about the tapes. But he kind of downplayed them. And then when we went to his office that day to film, he wanted to do the interview in his president’s office, so everything looked perfect. But I will always meet Kern in his office, which looks like a folklorist’s office – which is a mess. Kern is like an absent-minded genius, you know? So I was like, “Can we just shoot in your office, please?” It’s ridiculous. This other reality is not your life. So we went to his office and he just started pulling out the tapes and we were all like, “What the…? You stood up to us.”

I had seen a few in the library because some of them are digitized there, but he had more in his office than I had ever seen. And I was just like, “Don’t rewind that. Is that saved somewhere? And he said, ‘I don’t know. I just want to show it to you.’ I was captivated by the richness of the material. We were so shocked at how crazy these pictures were. I think everything is saved now. I don’t know Joycelyn if you know if it was saved at the time. Do you know?

JD: I don’t know. But I was delighted to see this sequence because my grandmother is there and my aunt too. And my cousin, she’ll be 25 next month, she’s in there. And I’ve always wanted to see actual footage of the festivals in Lewis Quarters. And just to see my grandmother, she went to be with the Lord in 2010. So just to see her and my great-grandmother’s house, with all the quilts and everything hanging outside , it was amazing. It was filmed in 1999. My great-grandmother died in 1997.

It’s incredible. And speaking of characters from the past, at one point Michael Foster, the descendant of Captain Foster, appears at the Joycelyn Festival. Margaret, when did you know Michael was going to show up?

MB: We knew he was in town because he was touring with ’60 Minutes’ and Joycelyn can talk about it more than me because ’60 Minutes’ didn’t want me near that team. We didn’t know if he was going to come to the Joycelyn festival. And then it happened and I think my producer, Essie [Chambers] was like, “That’s Mike Foster?” Either Kyle [Martin], my other producer, or Essie went to see if it was him. I think he was trying to lay low, but then we started filming him. I had never met him before then.

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