“The Contradictions of Fair Hope,” the directorial debut of S. Epatha Merkerson and Rockell Metcalf, is a powerful portrait of one of the nation’s last surviving benevolent societies—a self-help group formed after Emancipation to help freed slaves take care of the sick, feed the hungry and bury the dead.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, the film follows the Fair Hope Benevolent Society in Alabama during its annual anniversary celebration, which has over the years been co-opted by a notorious outdoor festival called the “Foot Wash.” As the faithful and the faithless collide, “Contradictions” provides an eye-opening examination of Black history and current culture.
The film shows how a people stripped of knowledge of self have wound up in crisis. Examining the complex history and interplay between the Fair Hope Benevolent Society and the celebration now known as the “Foot Wash,” the film offers up compelling personal stories from society members and local residents along with those of “Foot Wash” attendees. Through the objective eye of the camera, viewers are given an insider’s look at this community which is at once unique and a reflection of the ills of modern Black society. Currently on the festival circuit, Contradictions has taken numerous awards, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Documentary and Filmmakers’ Choice awards at the San Diego Black Film Festival, Best Feature Film at the Texas Black Film Festival, Best Documentary at the International Pan African Film Festival (Cannes, France) and the Paul Robeson Award for Best Documentary at the Newark Black Film Festival.
“I have always loved history and was intrigued when I heard about this benevolent society and how and why it was created. How did this noble organization, born out of need, spiral out of control?” said Ms. Merkerson. “This movement from ‘heaven to hell’ is at the heart of the film and we know that viewers will be captivated as the story unfolds.”
“My grandmother, at 98, is the oldest surviving member of the Fair Hope Benevolent Society,” said Metcalf. “It was not until a few years ago that I actually sat down with her and had a detailed conversation about the role that Fair Hope and other benevolent societies played in helping freed slaves transition from slavery to freedom. I thought it was important to highlight this incredible history and the significant role that benevolent societies, in general, have played in shaping African American history.”
S. Epatha Merkerson, Rockell Metcalf, Mark Roppel, Jesse L. Martin and Sheila Johnson are executive producers of the film, which features the music of celebrated composer Christian McBride.
For more information about Contradictions—which will be seen this summer at the 14th Roxbury International Film Festival (Boston), American Black Film Festival (Miami), Newark Black Film Festival (Newark, NJ) and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival—visit the official website at contradictionsoffairhope.com.