Jeffrey Wright is (Almost) Too Old

It happened when I saw Jeffrey Wright in the play Topdog/Underdog. That night, in my head, I cast Wright as Crispus Attucks in the script I decided to start writing. My story became a “people’s history” of the inciting event in the American Revolution: “The Boston Massacre.” Great title.

When British troops opened fire on a crowd of Bostonians in 1770, a former slave-turned-whaler-turned political activist was the first man killed. His name: Crispus Attucks. Total badass. Our hero was part of the same terrorist caucus as Paul Revere. The two were buds in the North End. One was an outsider because his father was French (the universal enemy in the 1700s) the other was an outsider because he was part African American and part Native American.

They bond, they break down barriers, they betray. The story follows the months-long movement to organize lowly poor people to stand up against a shocking series of police (Redcoat) violence. Such violence was aimed at the non-Anglos and people of color all over the upstart English Colonies. I saw it as a civil rights story, and an anti-police violence story – underpinning the inciting incident of the American Revolution. I got some good notes from friends. I wrote a few key sequences, but then I shelved the project.

Why? Because the more dysfunctional the U.S. gets, the more people long for a man on a white horse to “restore” its greatness. And at this point, I just don’t think Americans will accept any story portraying the Framers of the Constitution as anything less than superhero geniuses from heaven who built THE best country on the planet with actual guidance from Jesus. Which is to say, our country is a mess. A complete and total mess. Now so much that we’re not willing to look back honestly.

Because in reality, men from the underclass like Crispus Attucks didn’t want to merely replace the British aristocracy with an American aristocracy of Adams, Jefferson and Washington. The rich were hated, whether they were born here, or there. Before the Boston Massacre, major conflicts and debates along this “1% vs. 99%” divide flared up all over the Colonies. Even some violent peasant uprisings. There was a slave rebellion in New York City, aided by gangs of outcast Irish, Native Americans and Afro-Caribbean peoples. There was a nasty riot in Worcester, Mass where the poor went around burning down rich people’s houses. Another anti-oligarch riot in Marlborough, Mass took out the courthouse. Before the Constitution was signed, those poor-people’s riots escalated into Shay’s Rebellion. Ultimately… well, look at the very existence of the U.S. Senate to see who won out: obviously the 1%.

I tried to keep the Crispus Attucks story about one black dude and his white best friend Paul who, in the end, fucks him over. Of course, it had some fun sequences where Attucks throws harpoons into whales, or escapes from slavers, or escapes from Royal Navy conscription, and of course there is the epic night of the title.

Then, inspired by Trayvon Martin, I did another take that was much more like The Battle of Algiers, it showed the gradual conflagration of police violence – met by protests and marches of poor people. Mostly poor people of color. It showed that how no matter what pushback each act of police aggression was met with, be it counter-violence or peaceful protests, the powers-that-be acted as if the affront was a declaration of war. Something big and horrible was inevitable. The question became how could the upstart colonists (or the peace and justice movement) use that big event for their own ends.

But mostly I wanted these two guys, Paul Revere and Crispus Attucks, for differing reasons, to be okay with getting sucked into this political avant-garde who were spoiling for a fight. They both think that by contributing to the movement, that they might be able to make life better for their own kids. The jury is out about who really succeeded and who failed, but however you slice it, “The Boston Massacre” wouldn’t be the kind of movie screened at the RNC. So I put the script aside.

Recently though, I realized that, hello! — the French didn’t make The Battle of Algiers. Nope, Italian producers did. Of course. Which leads me to ask the internet, are there any Chinese or Russian production companies out there that want to make a movie where… oh, never mind. I’ll just wait for the next piece of agitprop garbage about the Battle of Bunker Hill or the Midnight Ride.

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