Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp on New Docu-Series on Civil Rights-Era Cold Cases
How long did it take to do the docu-series?
I would say about a year. When we started shooting, it didn’t take us but a couple of months. In terms of the whole creation of this, it took us about a year. I normally do these projects on my own, but I really wanted to get some muscle behind me and a great platform to get this work out there. So, I went to CBS [CBS Eye Productions] and got them involved. CBS’ 48 hours is extremely talented so I felt the marriage was perfect for the project we were trying to produce and they did as well.
What were some of the difficulties you experienced doing these cold cases? You’re not a FBI agent or a detective, of course, so were there things that you couldn’t do that the FBI could and vice versa?
I wouldn’t say there’s difficulty. I’m a civilian; I’m a private citizen who has a passion for all these stories and has a medium that allows the FBI and I to work together. Though they can’t endorse a series like this from a private individual, they have been extremely cooperative to my needs in terms of having them become vocal in the series. We were extremely careful because there are a lot of things that binds them by law that they can’t do. For myself personally, because I had the blessing of going through the whole Emmett Till experience and getting the recognition for that, I really never had any difficulties on the ground because people know me from the Emmett Till case. So when I went to talk to the families of the victims, they were already aware of whom I was so it made it a lot easier to get them on board. In terms of finding witnesses, we all have challenges doing that, but I have a better chance of getting witnesses to talk than the FBI because unfortunately, there is still a dark cloud that hovers over them from the J. Edgar Hoover days. But this is a new FBI. I’ve been put in a very peculiar situation where I’m able to work with the bureau totally different from anyone else. No other filmmaker has ever worked with the bureau in this way and it’s still a relationship we’re building on. But we all want to get justice in these cases and I felt it was important for me to get involved in some way and try to explain this process to the man on the street.
Every one of these families’ story is important, but was there one particular story that really resonated with you?
The first episode of this series is a very powerful episode. I can’t say necessarily there is a story that I like or don’t like. All these families are different. Every family member takes the pain in a different way, but one thing I do know is that everyone wants justice and closure, and I think that they deserve it. I don’t think these are cases that we should be putting back on the back burner and just forgetting about. These are heroes who actually paved the way for us to exist in this free society and for me to do that, that’s a slap on Dr. King’s legacy and the legacy of others. I feel it’s my moral obligation to tell these stories in the hopes of being able to educate everyone about our past history and get them to understand that the struggle still continues. Racism still exists in this country. So we can not forget, and considering the political climate that we’re in, with America’s first black president, these cases are more important now more than ever. We must understand whose shoulders we stand on and these are the people who actually paved the way for us to exist.