I’ve been a member of the Loews Hotel Spa and Fitness center for over 15 years now. Part of the appeal to me is the quality and diversity of the people I meet, other members, but also their circle of friends.
This weekend I had the joyous opportunity to attend a reception for my friends Bert and Tery, who just got hitched, after 20+ years together. At the reception was a wide variety of people, I met educators with the STAR educational program that provides enrichment programs to schools and runs afterschool and summer programs. I chatted up other guests about their international travel and heard amazing tales of foreign lands.
But the one person who stood out for me the most was a young father who was there with his maybe 4 years old son. It was great to see this man being a positive role model for his child. As we chatted I learned his name is Skinner Myers. He’s an award winning filmmaker whose first feature film Drinking From The Well was a study of successful charitable efforts in Uganda and is available on Vimeo.com
As a hobbyist documentarian myself, this got my attention. Skinner attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts after graduating from Columbia. Currently he is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Loyola teaching film. I asked him what he’s currently working on, and he’s promoting his latest film Frank Embree, which is a short that is showing this Thursday at the Hollyshorts festival at the Chinese Theater in a program called Shorts Shot On Film.
The seven and a half minute short film stars Myers as the soon to be lynched Frank Embree. It shows the final few moments of a man who is being lynched by a mob in 1899. Myers was attending Columbia when during one of his classes he came across a photo of the soon to be hanged Embree looking directly in the camera. “He seemed worn-out and tired. There was a warm glow that surrounded the outer edges of the frame. We locked eyes for what seemed like minutes, but it had only been a few seconds. I could see his pain and even imagined what it would have been like to be inshi shoes at that very moment” Myers said.
The picture is of a naked black man in handcuffs, the wounds from his 140 or so lashings having carved deep gashes in his flesh. He is surrounded by white men who are lynching him for an alleged assault on a white girl. She begged her father to demand that his body not be shot or mutilated beyond the castration they had already inflicted.
Embree consented to confess his guilt, after the 140 or so lashes, if they promised not to burn him alive. A devil’s bargain if ever there was one.
The poignant short is a moving reminder of the horrors that humans inflicted, and continue to inflict upon each other. This 1899 lynching was nothing more than an “honor killing” of the day, designed to terrorize the black community and keep it subjugated. LIstening to Myers tell the background of both the lynching of Embree, and his own reaction to it, I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t all that different than what we do today to “keep people in line.” Certainly the honor killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Europe, heck even here in America, are essentially designed to keep women “in line.” Is the coercive power of the District Attorney all that different on a young man when told that he can plead guilty to one charge and serve 5-10 years, or fight and possibly get a life sentence? In choosing to take the 5-10 year sentence, is his selecting a shorter pain, just to get it over with, so different from Embree confessing to a crime he claimed just hours prior that he didn’t commit, only to avoid the hell of being burned alive?
It’s appalling the hell that people do to each other. A quick perusal of lynching images on Google will demonstrate to you the horrors that have been perpetrated. And yet, what I have always found hypocritical, is that the mobs will hang the bloodied and burned, usually mutilated corpses for the public to see, but then put a loin cloth or covering over the genitals, as if seeing them would be shocking and obscene.
The final picture of Embree has him wrapped around his waist in some cloth, head askew, hanging from a tree, a crowd surrounding him. Myers used a different image to close his movie, one that I found much more poignant.
I recommend seeing it if you can. The HollyShorts Festival is this Thursday from 7:30 p.m. at the Chinese. Myers will also be showing his short at the Oceanside film festival this weekend if you’re able to make it.
We need to see these shocking, painful reminders of the horrors that people do. Especially now.