Arkansas Cinema Society to Premiere Elaine Massacre Film ‘We Have Just Begun’ at Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

About 100 miles northeast of Little Rock sits Elaine, a small Phillips County town with a deeply troubled past.

On Friday, Jan. 19, the Arkansas Cinema Society and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will dive into that history by hosting the Arkansas premiere of “We Have Just Begun”, the story of the 1919 Elaine Massacre and Dispossession. “We Have Just Begun” dives into the grim story of Elaine and the legacy of the worst race or labor battle in American history, which had been hidden and obscured in the Arkansas Delta for more than 100 years.

The film premiere is part of ACS’ Dreamland Film Series and will take place in the Performing Arts Theater at AMFA. Several Arkansans worked on the film including Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells; Joshua Asante, a noted musician formerly of Amasa Hines; James White and Leonora Marshall of the Elaine Legacy Center; plus many others and various descendants of both massacre perpetrators and victims. Filmmaker Michael Warren Wilson will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

“The story of the Elaine Massacre is crucial to consciousness raising to teach people that resistance to oppressive systems has always been the science of collectivity,” says Tongo Eisen-Martin, the film’s co-writer, co-narrator and producer. “And just as much as the film is excavation, it is also a warning in that the material conditions that gave rise to these waves of massacres of Black people then, if not twin to, are definitely sibling to what we have now.”

“We Have Just Begun” is the result of more than seven years of investigation into the brutal history of the Elaine Massacre. The film explores the continuity of exploitation and domination in the Delta from before 1919 to now. The film showcases new revelations by descendants, buried documents, eyewitness recordings and original research “to portray a region and people brutally stripped of resources and autonomy to this very day.”

“Despite growing up in Arkansas, I knew nothing about it prior to my research,” says Michael Warren Wilson, director, co-producer and co-writer of the film. “The centennial in 2019 brought the event more publicity, but the full truth of it was obscured even then. The Elaine Massacre and subsequent dispossession of Black people has reverberated into the present. Today, the people of the Arkansas Delta have even fewer options, yet remain dominated by many of the same historical forces they fought in 1919. Elaine is Arkansas. Understanding Elaine is to understand the ways in which capitalist domination and exploitation of the Delta has defined Arkansas economic and social life — activating and intensifying the racial legacies of enslavement and maintaining inequality in the region.”

Tickets to the premiere can be purchased online or at the door. For more information, visit the ACS’ website or the AMFA event webpage.

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