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on the record



Kody Ford

The Arkansas Cinema Society and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will host the Arkansas premiere of We Have Just Begun, the story of the 1919 Elaine Massacre and Dispossession. The event is part of ACS’ Dreamland Film Series and takes place on Jan. 19, 2024, in the Performing Arts Theater at AMFA. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the show starts at 6 p.m. Filmmaker Michael Warren Wilson will be on-hand for a Q+A after the film. Admission is $15 and tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

Deep in the Arkansas Delta lies the legacy of the worst race or labor battle in American history—hidden and obscured for over 100 years. This is the story of We Have Just Begun.

“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,” said Tongo Eisen-Martin, Co-Writer/Co-Narrator/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.”

Michael Warren Wilson, director, co-producer and co-writer of the film, is looking forward to the screening at AMFA. 

“After interviewing dozens of descendents, historians, and current residents of the Delta, it’s clear to me that the Elaine Massacre was the deadliest race or labor battle in American history,” said Wilson. “Yet, despite growing up in Arkansas, I knew nothing about it prior to my research. 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.”

Many Arkansans worked on the film including Michelle Duster (great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells), noted musician Joshua Asante (formerly of Amasa Hines), Cherisse Jones-Branch (ASU Professor), Brian Mitchell (head of the Abraham Lincoln Archives in Illinois), Judge Wendell Griffin, and James White and Leonora Marshall of the Elaine Legacy Center, along with various descendents of both massacre perpetrators and victims.

About We Have Just Begun

The result of over seven years of investigation into the buried history and legacy of the Elaine Massacre and Dispossession, We Have Just Begun explores the continuity of exploitation and domination in the Delta from before 1919 to the present. The film assembles striking new revelations by descendants, recordings of eyewitnesses, and original research to portray a region and people brutally stripped of resources and autonomy to this very day.

We Have Just Begun takes its name from the secret passcode used by a Black union of farmers and domestic workers organizing throughout the Arkansas Delta in 1919. Narrated by current San Francisco Poet Laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin, and featuring Ida B. Wells’s great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, reading from the great journalist’s pamphlet, “The Arkansas Riot,” the film immerses the viewer in a community wrestling with its own legacy. It reveals previously untold layers of the episode, including buried documents and the actual motivations for the massacre and subsequent mass dispossession. A lyrical composition of Delta voices, archival documents, and original compositions by musician Joshua Asante, it is a portrait of rural struggle toward emancipation, despite brutal attempts to suppress it.

About Michael Warren Wilson

Michael Warren Wilson (Co-Writer/Director/Producer) is a filmmaker and artist who was born in Arkansas, graduated from Little Rock Central High and Hendrix College without learning about Elaine. Although his great-grandfather was a sharecropper in the Arkansas Delta in 1919, no family stories of the event exist.  Wilson’s films, collaborative projects and multimedia art and initiatives have been exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, Ars Electronica, Entermultimediale, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, and the Rotterdam Film Festival. His first feature documentary, Silhouette City, premiered in competition at the Miami International Film Festival, had a theatrical run, aired on the CBC, Russia Today, BBC and was featured at special screenings/panel discussions at Harvard, UCLA, UCSD, Pitzer College, UC Riverside and many other campuses. He has taught film, multimedia and art practice at Pitzer College, UC-Riverside, UC-Irvine, Otis College of Art, San Francisco Film School and Cal-Poly-Pomona. He holds a BA from Hendrix College, a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MFA from Yale School of Art. 

About Tongo Eisen-Martin

Tongo Eisen-Martin (Co-Writer/Co-Narrator/Producer) is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, California. With roots in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he was born in San Francisco and earned his MA at Columbia University. He is the author of someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), nominated for a California Book Award; and Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017), which received a 2018 American Book Award, a 2018 California Book Award, was named a 2018 National California Booksellers Association Poetry Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize. In their citation, the judges for the Griffin Prize wrote that Eisen-Martin’s work “moves between trenchant political critique and dreamlike association, demonstrating how, in the right hands, one mode might energize the other—keeping alternative orders of meaning alive in the face of radical injustice ... His poems are places where discourses and vernaculars collide and recombine into new configurations capable of expressing outrage and sorrow and love.”

About Joshua Asante

Joshua Asante (Composer/Sound Recordist) is a multi-disciplinary artist who explores themes of identity and possibility from an Afrofuturist perspective. As a musician & composer, Asante describes his sound as “astral soul”, a blend of electronic and soul music that fuses many stylistic influences. Asante released two singles in 2021, a collection of eighteen field recorded songs in 2022, and his debut full length album in 2023. His photographs and designs have found homes in both private and museum collections as well as arts & news outlets The New York Times, The International Review Of African American Art, The Guardian, ProPublica, Objectiv, MSNBC, Oxford American, The Arkansas Times, and others.

About the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

Founded in 1937, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is the largest cultural institution of its kind in the state, offering a unique blend of visual and performing arts experiences. AMFA is committed to featuring diverse media and artistic perspectives within its permanent collection of 14,000 works of art as well as through rotating temporary exhibitions. AMFA’s international collection spans seven centuries, with strengths in works on paper and contemporary craft, and includes notable holdings by artists from Arkansas, the Mid-South region, and across the United States and Europe. With a vibrant mix of ideas, cultures, people, and places, AMFA extends this commitment to diversity through its dynamic children’s theatre and performing arts program, the innovative Windgate Art School, and community-focused educational programs for all ages. Located in Little Rock’s oldest urban green space, MacArthur Park, AMFA’s landmark building and grounds are designed by Studio Gang and SCAPE, in collaboration with Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects.

About the Dreamland Film Series

The Dreamland Film Series celebrates Black voices in cinema. Whether they be Arkansas-based films and filmmakers or stories of the Black experience on a national level, Dreamland seeks to lift up their voices. 

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At  ACS, we believe that if we provide filmmakers an arena to exhibit their talents, and film enthusiasts a healthy diet of quality programming, we can inspire more Arkansans to make and watch more films. By supporting filmmakers, festivals, theaters and young people interested in filmmaking throughout the state, we hope to create statewide network, pool Arkansas’s resources and be an umbrella organization that feeds all things film. We believe a rising tide lifts all boats.


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