Hooks production team films B-Roll footage for "Facing Down Storms." Danika Norfleet portrayed Ida B. Wells. (Courtesy photo)

“Facing Down Storms: Memphis and the Making of Ida B. Wells” debuts at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts and Education on April 19. 

The premiere film screening is being hosted by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. The feature-length documentary explores how the unique cultural and social atmosphere of late 19th-century Memphis indelibly shaped Ida B. Wells as a journalist and activist. 

The 1892 lynching of three men, including a dear friend of Wells, fueled her zealous efforts to combat the widespread acceptance of the lynching of African Americans in the United States. Wells used the power of journalism to expose to international audiences the injustices of the rising practice of lynching – a form of extralegal execution often taking the form of mob violence against African Americans.

“Facing Down Storms: Memphis and the Making of Ida B. Wells” is executive produced by Daphene McFerren, Hooks Institute executive director, and Nathaniel Ball, Hooks Institute assistant director of media initiatives and program support; and produced by Fabian Matthews, founder and owner of Spotlight Productions, LLC.

“Facing Down Storms” production team members (l-r) Daphene McFerren, Nathaniel Ball and Fabian Matthews.

“Facing Down Storms highlights Wells’ courageous and inspiring actions as she challenged white supremacy in the late 19th century and early 20th century while navigating the complicated politics of race and gender of the time,” said McFerren.

“Today, the nation continues to struggle with issues of race, class and gender. This film shows how Wells navigated those times and inspires us to learn from her activism to address the same issues in our lifetime. We are very proud that this documentary is produced by Memphians about a legendary Memphian, and we are very excited to share Ida B Wells’ story with the world.”

Rita Coburn (Photo: LinkedIn)

Rita Coburn, Peabody and Emmy-Award-winning director, writer and producer of radio, television and film, will serve as the event’s mistress of ceremonies.

Beginning her career as a producer and writer for various news outlets, Coburn went on to produce local PBS documentaries, field produce for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and Walt Disney Productions. She was the production coordinator for “Apollo Live!” and a producer for Oprah Radio.

In 2016, “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” which was co-directed and co-produced by Coburn, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Festival, aired on American Masters and won a Peabody Award in 2017. The director, producer and co-writer of “Marian Anderson: The Whole Wide World in Her Hands,” her documentary premiered Feb. 8 on “PBS American Masters” and is currently on PBS online. 

Coburn addresses African-American culture from a multi-generational lens. with a passion for the untold stories of prominent figures that enlighten our world history.

“I believe African American history is best viewed through the life and times of individuals as our history was seldom written down, discussed, taught or acknowledged,” said Coburn.

“During her time, Ida B. Wells broke that mold and embodied the courage of a true journalist investigating and reporting our history. Risking her own safety and becoming an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement, she is one of the few women we hear about as a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“As we stand on the shoulders of her strength, determination and grit, we are just now seeing one of the fruits of her labor with the passing of the Anti-Lynching Bill. I’m honored to be a part of sharing her story with an institution, producer and director who advance the cause of social justice.”

Also members of the “Facing Down Storms” production team are animator Tonya Smith, a graphic designer with 27 years of experience in television and fine arts, and Anthony Smith, music supervisor and music director in residence at Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, Virginia.

A reception for film’s premiere will begin at 5:30 p.m. followed by the program and film screening at 7 p.m.

(Information about tickets and sponsorships is available at memphis.edu/facingdownstorms. Proceeds support the programs of the Hooks Institute. Organizational and corporate sponsorships are also available. Contact [email protected]. Visit memphis.edu/benhooks for more information.)