Film Brings Awareness to Tragic Events on Greenwood Avenue

(This story includes violent images from a historical reenactment of a race riot.)

Ayana Baraka is the creator of an upcoming historical film about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Filmed on the actual Greenwood Avenue, this film is both a way to preserve history and bring healing.

“When you film on the land with the ancestors of folks who were murdered or who survived, it resonated,” she shares.

Video Transcript

Meet Ayana: Historical Filmmaker

Tulsa, Oklahoma: Ayana is recreating a race riot that destroyed a thriving black community in 1921.

Speaker 1: Sound, camera.

Speaker 2: Rolling. Scene two, take eight.

Speaker 3: Action!

(People acting out scene — yelling, fighting in the street)

The film is called Greenwood Avenue: A Virtual Reality Experience

Ayana Baraka, watching cut of scene: Is it jarring? Did it bump you? It bumped me a little bit, did it bump you? I think our color shift towards green was a little too much.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Ayana: I remember being maybe a preteen and trying to prove my blackness, as if I needed to do that. You know what I’m saying? I thought I was past that, but I really needed to unpack that in order to make this project — to really understand how complicated race in America is, ’cause it’s complicated. 

Yeah, we’re going to look at episode one from the beginning.

(Voiceover from film playing) “There’s a community where African Americans can feel free — Black Wall Street.”

Ayana: My grandmother helped raise my sister and I, and while I was at USC she passed away. And I felt sick because I didn’t have her recipes, her favorite songs. So I just was really about preserving history. 

We filmed on the actual Greenwood Avenue. We wanted to show the beauty of Greenwood so we had everyone in the 1920s outfits. It was like, you know, we’re doing this historical piece for no money. This is a half a million-dollar production that we’re doing on buttons. We took down street signs, all of that. We recreated it — 1920s. We are in severe credit card debt that we will be shoveling our way out of soon. You could feel it on set, that three-year journey of us just trying to get it together. I don’t know, it was magic — movie magic.

(Voiceover from film playing) “And this all started over a boy and a girl and an elevator.”

Ayana: When you film on the land with the ancestors of folks who were murdered or who survived, it resonated. And I think that was powerful, and that was the best takeaway. That memory and the beginning of the race massacre at night

— folks cried, and there was healing that was happening there.

(Cast of film cheering, hugging)

Ayana hopes to release the film this summer to honor the 99th anniversary of the riots.

(Acting out riot scene)

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