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Monday, March 27, 2017

Dear Hannah: LEarning - Crossing Paths (The Story of Tim Reid, New Millennium Studios, and The Spook Who Sat By The Door)

Dear Hannah,

Sometimes detours help you see what you might have otherwise missed.



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"LEarning (Crossing Paths (The Story of Tim Reid, New Millennium Studios, and The Spook Who Sat By The Door) - in 11 minutes)"
By Derrick Brown

A long time ago (1997) in Petersburg, VA (where my wife Keisha was born and raised), Tim and Daphne Maxwell Reid launched New Millennium Studios - a 15,000-square-foot full-service movie production studio on 60 acres of land ... land with a rich Civil War history.

It was the only full-service movie production studio in the state of Virginia.

Tim Reid (a native of Norfolk, VA) may be best known as "Ray" - Tia and Tamera's dad on the 1990's sitcom "Sister, Sister".

He was also the star of the underrated, award-winning 1980's CBS sitcom "Frank's Place".

Daphne Maxwell Reid was "Aunt Viv" (the second one) on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air".

She was also on "Frank's Place".

After me and Keisha married in March 2011, that Christmas holiday I took her to New Millennium Studios for their guided tour.

We arrived and thought we were the only guests who signed up for our time slot.

It turned out that we were the only 2 people in the studio besides Tim and Daphne.

Daphne was our tour guide.

This lady epitomizes style and elegant grace.

She explained that the Steven Spielberg movie "Lincoln" had just wrapped up filming at New Millennium.

That was part of the reason why it was so quiet during our visit.

She took the time to tell us the history of the studio, the land it sat on, and the reality of the tough times they were enduring.

Their vision was for New Millennium to become the centerpiece of a Virginia film community.

The growth of their business in Virginia was hindered, though, by a lack of state-supported film production financial incentives.

As she led us through their offices, I spotted Tim Reid at his desk and we made eye contact.

Before I could go into starstruck mode, though, the eye contact said "I ain't got time to do the tourist thing right now".

So we kept it moving towards a hallway showcase contained cases of all of the film DVDs the studio produced and distributed.

Included among them was a DVD copy of the bootleg video "The Spook Who Sat By The Door".

I started tripping ... you mean to tell me that Tim Reid starred in "The Spook Who Sat By The Door"?

I need to use my Blackberry Curve to post this on Facebook!

No, no, no ... slow down, youngblood.

This kind of "snap judgement" is how we empower misinformation.

Let's take a pause and a slight detour ...

"The Spook Who Sat by the Door" is a 1973 film (directed by Ivan Dixon) based on a novel of the same name by author Sam Greenlee.

It is both a satire of the 1960's civil rights struggle in the United States - and a serious attempt to highlight Black militancy.

Main character Dan Freeman (played by Lawrence Cook) is recruited into the CIA's spy program as its token Black.

After mastering his training, he leaves the CIA to train Chicago youth as "Freedom Fighters".

If you attended college in the late 1980's (like I did), you know that the CIA and NSA made great efforts to recruit Black Southern college students with scholarships, cars, jobs, and living allowances.

Life does imitate art.

The reaction to the film in 1973 was one of "shock and awe" ... like "awe heck no - you will not release that film in these United States and provide a blueprint for Black revolt".

So, the FBI (the REAL FBI) made the film "disappear".

Now this satirized truth is "hidden", and everything is under control.

The revolution will not be televised - nor will it be shown on the big screen.

As you were, folks.

This is how the movie became the underground classic and bootleg video that I was told about by some of my activist classmates at Clemson University.

But I never made seeing the film a priority.

I was focusing and preparing myself to contribute my mighty intellect and ideas to the corporate work force - that now provided me the same opportunities afforded to others in 1991.


I now recognize that this "error of commission" may have been the idea behind suppressing the film's message.

In 2004, though, the film's negative - which was stored under another title - was discovered ... by none other than Tim Reid.

Reid then released the film on DVD.

After we got home from our Christmas trip, I bought the DVD and watched it.

Life does imitate art ... and vice-versa.

See, the title "Spook Who Sat By The Door" is a history lesson by itself.

"Spook" is a somewhat outdated and lesser-known racial slur.

It is also a slang term for "spy".

The rest of the title is social commentary on affirmative action.

Affirmative Action is a programmatic attempt to provide job opportunities to traditionally disadvantaged, disenfranchised minority candidates - to counter the programmatic effort that disadvantaged them in the first place.

When companies hired their first Black candidate, they would seat the candidate "by the door" - so that all who entered were aware that the company was playing "by the rules".

This type of thing still happens, but in more subtle, sophisticated ways.

Nowadays your office is placed next to the copier or water cooler - and your photo and story are featured on web sites, brochures, and newsletters.

You may even star in your company video.

But I digress ... there is no need for affirmative action anymore ... is there?

Alright, let's get back on track.

As I close, this story has a couple of footnotes ...

FOOTNOTE 1: Petersburg, VA is also the home of NBA legend Moses Malone, singer Trey Songz, and actor Blair Underwood. It is a city rich with African-American history.

FOOTNOTE 2: Tim and Daphne Reid sold New Millennium Studios (and the 60 acres is sits on) in 2015 for $1.5 million. The buyers planned to use it as storage space. Tim and Daphne have relocated to a smaller studio in a Richmond, VA suburb.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.

If Tim Reid and I had sat down in his office during that tour 5 years ago, there is a chance that I would not have learned about "The Spook Who Sat By The Door".

There is a chance that I would not have understood how he crossed paths with the "hidden" film that inspired him - in a way that now allows it to inspire others.

There is an even greater chance that I would not have told you this story - complete with its purposeful detour and history lesson.

Copyright © 2017 Derrick  Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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