The love story of actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis is well-known to beloved fans everywhere, but the up-close-and-personal story will be told in an upcoming documentary set to air next year compliments of the couple’s grandson, film director Muta Ali.
Civil rights activists and married for 57 years until Davis’ death in 2005, the couple has acted in several films together including Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever and has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors, for their artistic contributions to American culture.
Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis have stamped their imprint on Black Hollywood and the Black community and it will be treasured for generations to come, so for obvious reasons, this is a special story. But also noteworthy is the making of the film. The filmmakers chose to raise a portion of the budget through an online grassroots fundraising tool. When word about the project spread, the film community from around the world rose to the occasion and contributed thousands of dollars to help get the film made. Names attached to the project include Danny Glover, Alan Alda, Attallah Shabazz, Sonia Sanchez and Glynn Turman - and the list continues to grow.
According to the film's producer NJ Frank, in addition to contributions from celebrities and other donors, the team is also "speaking to corporations about sponsorships in order to make the film, and the events surrounding the film, as grand as possible and to help preserve the legacy."
Here, Ali talks about the opportunity of a lifetime: documenting the life of his grandparents, famed couple Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis.
TNJ: How did the project come to be?
MA: For some time, I had been approaching them about documenting their work, but over the years, they spent most of their time creating artwork and helping others. It took some time for them to even agree to sit down and do their autobiography, which was very warmly received. Finally, a few years ago, my grandmother was ready to tell their story through documentary form and at that time I had come to a point in my career where I was seasoned enough and confident enough to do it properly. Additionally, I had come to an age where I had a yearning to learn as much as I could from elders in my family. And then about two years ago, Gram Ruby got excited about the opportunity and we’ve been working on it since then.
TNJ: What will you communicate through the documentary?
MA: We will focus on love but this is the first feature length about my grandparents, their journey of meeting each other, falling in love, and having a family. Fundamentally, it will be a piece that allows people to understand their story. The theme will be around love and passing down what Ruby learned about love to me. It bridges the generations and encourages communication.
TNJ: What is your operating budget for the film?
MA: Around half a million dollars…there’s a huge amount of movies, TV shows and performances that need to be licensed from other entities. The library, even in the personal family archives, is so massive that a lot of work will need to be done to comb through the footage and select the best pieces for the documentary. Man-hours and licensing are critical in that sense. And right now we are at the tail end of a successful Kickstarter campaign wherein we were gifted by the online community across America, and even overseas, $53,000 in seed money and with that we have enough capital to continue our first leg of production which will lead us to screening the first 30 minutes of the documentary in time for Gram Ruby’s 90th birthday this year.
TNJ: Tell me about the unique fundraising efforts you and your producing partners engaged in during the early stages of the project.
MA: Donations were garnered through a website called Kickstarter. It’s a concept known as “crowd-source funding”. We created a teaser video showing people the opportunity that we had and reminding them of the spirit of my grandparents and through Kickstarter you make offers to people who are excited about your project and you give them a list of gifts in proportion to how much they donate. People can donate from $10 to $10,000 dollars. We set a 40-day campaign and had a lot of publicity. We pushed really hard to get the message out day in and day out and we worked so hard over that 40-day campaign. As a result, people responded very positively about our plans and about being able to honor my grandparents. People who could give $1 gave a $1 and people who could give $10,000 gave $10,000 and there was a whole range in between and in the end, we were successful in reaching that goal so right now we’re in the phase of still garnering that message of support but we are in production at the same time and pushing really hard to get people something wonderful for a celebration we have planned for November.
For more information about the project, go to RubyDeeStory.com