Voodoo Macbeth opens in theaters on October 21
USC Original Film in association with Warner and distributed theatrically by Lightyear Entertainment
Voodoo Macbeth, a narrative feature film about the Negro Theatre Unit’s revolutionary 1936 production of “Macbeth,” opens theatrically in New York, Los Angeles, and other major markets on October 21, from Lightyear Entertainment. Voodoo Macbeth is based on a true story of young Orson Welles and a group of committed artists as they set out to create what is now considered a landmark event in African-American theater history.
With FDR’s New Deal providing funding for the Federal Theatre Project, director Rose McClendon convinces co-director John Houseman to help her bring Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to the Harlem community at the Lafayette Theater — with an all-Black cast. Well before “Citizen Kane” and “War of the Worlds,” they chose for their groundbreaking production a gifted but untested 20-year-old Welles, whose reimagined Haitian vision for the Scottish play is as daring and fresh as the cast and crew themselves. He exchanges the witchcraft of the original play for Caribbean voodoo.
The production was highly controversial, provoking heated protests from Harlemites who considered it exploitative, and politicians who thought it subversive. The play debuted to packed audiences and was wildly successful, playing at the Lafayette Theater for 10 weeks and then touring across America.
The film beautifully showcases the seminal moment in Orson Welles’ career, the first project that put him on the map. At the same time, a bright light is shone on the phenomenal Rose 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.
In a 1982 interview, Welles said, “By all odds, my great success in my life was that play, because the opening night there were five blocks in which all traffic was stopped. You couldn’t get near the theatre in Harlem. Everybody who was anybody in the black or white world was there. And when the play ended there were so many curtain calls that finally they left the curtain open, and the audience came up on the stage to congratulate the actors. And that was magical.”
Voodoo Macbeth 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, eight writers, and three producers.
Voodoo Macbeth began in a writers’ room where screenwriters collaborated on each facet of the writing process. Then the film’s directors who each embody different perspectives, styles, and tastes came together to form a common vision. With a 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.
ABOUT THE CAST AND CREW:
Inger Tudor (known for “Goliath,” “On Time” and “The Social Network”) stars as Rose McClendon, and Jewell Wilson Bridges (known for the national tours of Trevor Nunn & Matthew Bourne’s revival of “My Fair Lady” and Terry Johnson’s revival of “La Cage Aux Folles”) as Orson Welles in his feature film debut. Other cast members include June Schreiner, Jeremy Tardy, Ashli Haynes, Daniel Kuhlman, Wrekless Watson, Gary McDonald, and Hunter Bodine.
The Voodoo Macbeth directors are Dagmawi Abebe, Victor Alonso-Berbel, Hannah Bang, Christopher Beaton, Agazi Desta, Zoë Salnave, Roy Arwas, Tiffany K. Guillen, Ernesto Sandoval, and Sabina Vajrača. The writers are Erica Sutherlin, Agazi Desta, Morgan Milender, Jennifer Frazin, Molly Miller, Amri Rigby, Joel David Santner, and Chris Tarricone. The producers are Jason Phillips, Miles Alva, and Xiaoyuan Xiao. The executive producers are Tracy ‘Twinkie’ Byrd and Jenna Cavelle.
ABOUT LIGHTYEAR ENTERTAINMENT:
Lightyear Entertainment is a distribution company that previously theatrically released Tanna, which was Academy Award-nominated for Best Foreign Film. Additionally, Holland and his team released The Etruscan Smile, which starred Brian Cox (HBO’s Succession), Maze, Jirga, and Goldstone.
ABOUT USC ORIGINALS:
USC Originals represents a new approach to creating feature films and other creative commercial content under the auspices of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Projects under the USC Originals banner engage teams of recent alumni and advanced students in working collaboratively on each part of their development and creation, with multiple writers, directors, and producers working on the same film. The group-creators approach maximizes opportunities for diverse crews of both above and below-the-line talent. USC Originals are Executive Produced by veteran producer and professor John Watson.