Kevin Willmott, other KU faculty to make documentary exploring the life of Langston Hughes

(February 12, 2019)

While screenwriter Kevin Willmott is busy with activities surrounding the Academy Awards and his celebrated film “BlacKkKlansman,” he’s already looking ahead to his next project: a documentary about Langston Hughes.

Willmott, a University of Kansas film professor, told the Journal-World recently that he’s excited to help make a two-part documentary film focusing on Hughes, a poet and cultural icon who spent part of his childhood in Lawrence.

The film, “I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled,” will examine the life of the African-American author who grew up in the Midwest and became a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

Willmott, who grew up in Junction City, said one of the first books he ever read as a kid about being African American was Hughes’ children’s book “The First Book of Negroes.”

“Hughes is such a personal hero (of mine) and a figure that has deserved a big documentary for a long time,” Willmott said. “People know his name, but they really don’t know his story or his significance. They don’t really know how amazing his story really is.”

Willmott is co-directing the film with Madison Davis Lacy, an associate professor of film at KU who is a four-time Emmy winner, according to a KU news release. The documentary, which will likely air on television, is being produced by a collection of KU scholars and Lawrence Arts Center staff known as the the Dream Documentary Collective.

It may be a while before anyone will have the opportunity to see it. Willmott is currently occupied with activities related to his Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. The 91st Academy Awards will air at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 on ABC.

Willmott, who was in Los Angeles when he spoke to the Journal-World, called being nominated for the award with co-writer Spike Lee “a miracle.”

“It’s very exciting and I’m just going to try to represent Kansas and KU the best I can,” he said.

While Willmott is in Los Angeles, executive producer Randal Jelks, a KU professor of American Studies, is busy raising funds to make the film. Jelks said the film has already received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but the second round of major fundraising is about to begin.

Lawrence Journal-World…