Before Citizen Kane and the War of the Worlds, leading Broadway actress Rose McClendon and producer John Houseman convinced a gifted but untested 20-year-old Orson Welles to direct Shakespeare’s Macbeth with an all-Black cast in Harlem’s Lafayette Theater.
Reimagined in a Haitian setting, this revolutionary 1936 production, which came to be known as “Voodoo Macbeth,” would change the world forever, but the road to opening night proves to be a difficult one. Orson and Rose – who is to play Lady Macbeth – clash over everything from scene blocking to crew hires, while Houseman contends with a congressman hell-bent on shutting down what he deems “communist propaganda.” Welles and McClendon must overcome political pressure, personal demons, and protests to realize their groundbreaking vision.
The production was highly controversial, provoking heated protests from Harlemites who considered it exploitative, and by politicians who thought it subversive. The play debuted to packed audiences and was wildly successful, playing the Lafayette Theater for 10 weeks and then touring across America.
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VOODOO MACBETH premiered Opening Night at the 2021 Harlem International Film Festival, taking home three awards including Best Film and Best Actress to Inger Tudor for her role as Rose McClendon. It was produced by USC Originals with Warner Bros. and is being distributed by Lightyear Entertainment.
In a 1982 interview, Welles said, “By all odds, my great success in my life was that play, because the opening night there were five blocks in which all traffic was stopped. You couldn’t get near the theatre in Harlem. Everybody who was anybody in the black or white world was there. And when the play ended there were so many curtain calls that finally they left the curtain open, and the audience came up on the stage to congratulate the actors. And that was magical.”
Voodoo Macbeth marks the first theatrical release from USC Originals in association with Warner Bros., and was overseen by veteran producer and USC professor John Watson, (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “Backdraft” and “The Outer Limits”). Voodoo Macbeth had 10 directors, eight writers and three producers.
“The process of making Voodoo Macbeth is unlike any other film in today’s marketplace,” noted producer Jason Phillips. “We’re certainly challenging the auteur theory, proving that a feature film doesn’t need a single voice to create a cohesive vision. From a myriad of diverse backgrounds, the team represents an array of unique perspectives. Our communal approach is reflected throughout every step of the filmmaking process.”
“A really ambitious story to tell…Wonderfully executed.”
– Paul Eckstein, Harlem Int’l juror and creator/producer of Epix’s Godfather of Harlem starring Forest Whitaker.
Voodoo Macbeth began in a writers’ room where screenwriters collaborated on each facet of the writing process. Then the film’s directors who each embody different perspectives, styles, and tastes came together to form a common vision. With seasoned cast and crew, Voodoo Macbeth is a launching pad for the next generation of filmmakers and demonstrates the power of community over the individual.
With a run in over 20 film festivals, Voodoo Macbeth has received 14 wins and three additional nominations, including Best Film, Best Production and Best Actress at the Harlem International Film Festival; Best in Festival and The Audience Choice Award at Sedona International Film Festival; and Best Feature Film at Dances with Films.
ABOUT THE CAST AND CREW:
Inger Tudor (known for “Goliath,” “On Time” and “The Social Network”) stars as Rose McClendon, and Jewell Wilson Bridges (known for the national tours of Trevor Nunn & Matthew Bourne’s revival of “My Fair Lady” and Terry Johnson’s revival of “La Cage Aux Folles”) as Orson Welles in his feature film debut. Other cast members include June Schreiner, Jeremy Tardy, Ashli Haynes, Daniel Kuhlman, Wrekless Watson, Gary McDonald and Hunter Bodine.
The Voodoo Macbeth directors are Dagmawi Abebe, Victor Alonso-Berbel, Hannah Bang, Christopher Beaton, Agazi Desta, Zoë Salnave, Roy Arwas, Tiffany K. Guillen, Ernesto Sandoval and Sabina Vajrača. The writers are Erica Sutherlin, Agazi Desta, Morgan Milender, Jennifer Frazin, Molly Miller, Amri Rigby, Joel David Santner and Chris Tarricone. The producers are Jason Phillips, Miles Alva and Xiaoyuan Xiao. The executive producers are Tracy ‘Twinkie’ Byrd and Jenna Cavelle.
ABOUT LIGHTYEAR ENTERTAINMENT:
Lightyear Entertainment is a distribution company that previously theatrically released Tanna, which was Academy Award nominated for Best Foreign Film. Additionally, Holland and his team theatrically released The Etruscan Smile, which starred Brian Cox (HBO’s Succession), Maze, Jirga and Goldstone.
ABOUT USC ORIGINALS:
USC Originals represents a new approach to creating feature films and other creative commercial content under the auspices of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Projects under the USC Originals banner engage teams of recent alumni and advanced students in working collaboratively on each part of their development and creation, with multiple writers, directors and producers working on the same film. The group-creators approach maximizes opportunities for diverse crews of both above and below the line talent. USC Originals are Executive Produced by veteran producer and professor John Watson.
OPENS OCTOBER 21st
Village East Cinema
181-189 2nd Avenue