“I didn’t appreciate Yazoo City until after I left. Outsiders think we are from a poor, small town in a state last in education. But traveling outside of Mississippi helped me understand that I wasn’t as unfortunate as the world told me I was. Being from Yazoo City has been one of my greatest advantages.
We didn’t have a lot of things in Yazoo City, so our imaginations were sharp. My friends and I were always into mischief. We tried to tell the best jokes and be the best entertainer. My uncles, especially my Uncle Oscar, were the best storytellers around. Their stories made the most common things, like riding tractors, seem exciting.
It intrigues me that black people take simple things and make them elaborate. My dad had a unique walk. He tilted his head to the side and had a pimp stride. My Uncle Oscar told a story to explain that walk. ‘Your dad and I were in World War I. He was a soup cook and walked around with a mouth full of beans. I snuck behind enemy lines and got one of those zero planes. I flew down and your dad saw me. He ran for a foxhole. I started shooting at him: doo doo doo doo doo. At that moment, he shifted the beans to the other side out of his mouth and it hurt his neck. That’s why your dad walks the way he does.’
Everyone listening cried from that story. I was ten and didn’t have a historical context, but I knew he was making fun of me. I wanted that power to mesmerize people with stories. I practiced with my friends and will never forget when my uncles started listening to me.
I always wrote but never thought anything of it. In a small town, you don’t see creatives showing what could be done. There were no filmmakers to show the way. I went to college, had a career and raised three kids, but I had a story idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t sleep at night. I finally dropped everything to write the movie script for ‘Soul Damage.’ In the beginning, I didn’t have any money. I thought I was going to play all five characters, including the love interest. Support started coming from out of nowhere. It was the first time all of my gifts made sense. Everything clicked including why I watch people’s movement’s so closely.
I started my film studio, Maximus Wright Productions, five years ago. I ran out of money making ‘Soul Damage’ and wrote a book to go with it to generate more money and interest. I didn’t know I was writing about scientific terms like trauma, I was just writing the stories in my head from what I saw growing up. People started asking me to speak at trauma conventions and social workers started using my book. I realized ‘Soul Damage’ wasn’t just a book and film, it was speaking to taboo issues we all know about but don’t talk about.
‘Soul Damage’ is about sexual abuse towards boys by older women. Statistics say one out of every six young boys has been sexually abused before he’s 18. But it’s more like one out of four because people, especially men, don’t report. What man is comfortable saying, ‘I was 7 and she was 20 the first time I had sex?’ I surveyed the guys I know and about the age of their first time. They were 7, 11, 12 or 16 and some of the women were in their 20s. Men are taught that should be a high five. But mentally and emotionally you are messing that boy up. Our culture says that if you aren’t a ladies’ man you don’t exist. Prowess becomes your self-worth. Life becomes suppressing who you are to become relevant. He gets the girl but feels he has betrayed himself. He hates her for the sacrifices he made and she gets hurt. Our culture created this.
I want women to realize there is a deeper problem beyond ‘all men are dogs.’ Women are caretakers and taught their whole lives how to deal with emotional pain. Men are taught how to handle physical pain, but not emotional pain. If men have a choice of breaking a leg or getting hurt emotionally, he thinks ‘break both legs.’ Many men have been stunted by emotional growth by the age of seven with ‘big boys don’t cry.’ Men can’t emotionally compete with women, so they don’t. Some can’t express themselves emotionally, so they have temper tantrums and get physical. This is where domestic violence comes from. We need safe spaces for men to emotionally open up without fear of rejection or ridicule. Facing these traumas and working through this is how we grow.
The main character of ‘Soul Damage’ is a guy who seems to have it all together but can’t keep personal relationships because of the mental and sexual abuse he had as a kid. After every screening, someone comes up to me and says, ‘I’m that guy.’ The message and the conversations it creates are bigger than the film. I want to take the film to colleges and universities with a support system in place to help people work through issues after they see it.
The film is in final scoring and prayerfully we will get distribution by 2022. This was my first time directing a film. Everyone looked to me to make decisions, but I didn’t know the language or how to properly run a set. It was on-the-job training and folks on the set laughed at me as I figured it out. I was also scared of letting down those financially supporting the film. My turning point came the day I realized I may not know the terms and the technical things, but I knew what every part of this film was supposed to look and feel like. It was everyone else’s job to help translate it. We shot all of the movie in Mississippi. My kids saw that dreams can come true if you work hard.
Candace Love Jackson, the director of ‘Soul Damage’ realized this year is the 25th anniversary of the movie ‘A Time to Kill.’ It was shot in Mississippi, so we are commemorating the anniversary in July at the Jackson Film Festival. We invited author John Grisham, actors like Samuel Jackson and people who got their start on the film to come to the festival. The ball is starting to roll. The festival will also to show the work of filmmakers in Mississippi. It’s cheaper to produce films in Mississippi than anywhere else, and we have more talent. I want to create a system that makes more writers, directors, actors and crew members.
Those who can, do for those who can’t. If I can recruit a few more crazies, we can make this happen. If we can produce great films in Mississippi, what else can we do? Many movies have been made here besides ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ‘A Time to Kill.’ We can bring in film-induced tourism to Mississippi.
I take my role as a storyteller very seriously and I want to help change the narrative of Mississippi. I want to tell stories that make you think or feel differently. Or realize we aren’t that different. We are in difficult time, but that’s when the best stuff is made. I started ending my letters with ‘Revolution and Renaissance.’ Before there’s a renaissance there’s a revolution. Out of revolution springs rebirth.
If it hadn’t been for the teachers and folks who poured into me in Yazoo City, where would I be? If I don’t leave something for the next generation and show what’s possible, then I’m not worth my salt. I want to give those folks who can’t go anywhere hope that where they are is good enough. They can make and create right here. That’s what drives me. That’s how we bring change.”
(‘Soul Damage’ by Maximus Wright is available on Amazon)