Michigan filmmaker planning Sojourner Truth biopic

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Lateef Calloway has been calling Sojourner Truth his hero since he was 10 years old. His learned from his mother that Truth was an abolitionist who escaped slavery in her 20s, carrying her infant daughter in her arms, and then spent her the rest of her life fighting for civil rights.

“A lot of people don’t know this but she was the very first woman on this entire planet to win her son out of slavery,” said Calloway during an interview at Battle Creek City Hall. “She actually took her slavemaster to court and I mean that’s unheard of.”

The sad part, Calloway said, is that nobody seems to know about her. Even in Battle Creek where she spent the final years of her life and died, no one knows.  So he decided to change that and make a film about her.

“I'm going to make a very, very powerful film for the world to see,” said Calloway about the biopic, which he likened to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

He began working on the project three years ago when he met Truth’s living descendants, who were also present during the interview at City Hall. He began interviewing them over and over again about her life and they’ve since given him, and the film, their blessing.

“Sojourner Truth is my hero. I mean when I found out about her it was unbelievable to me,” said 5th generation descendant Thomas McLiechey who’s been the family's main researcher on her life. “For a person that couldn’t read and write, for the things she did, is unbelievable to me.”

Thomas, 76, said he’s made it his mission to keep the family informed about Truth’s legacy. His relative 63-year-old Burl McLiechey is the educator. He said he’s traveled throughout the country to places like Denver, Miami and New York, speaking about Truth in an effort to keep her legacy alive. However this film will reach audiences across the globe.

“I think this film is just going to break wide open,” said Burl. “Then on top of that, women in itself, women building women, to me thats’ the most important thing.”

Gloria Steinem is one of the women this film has already caught the attention of said Calloway. He’s flown everywhere, promoting the film using the hashtag #IAmSojournerTruth. When Steinem heard about it she invited him to her home for a meeting.

“She made a suggestion that she’s going walk with me and help me out with this film,” said Calloway whose met other industry officials because of her. “Spike Lee is actually assisting me as a consultant and Michael Moore gave a blessing and a backing as far as helping out with the film as well.”

The film will begin shooting next summer, Calloway said, with a release date set for Christmas 2018. But he said the vision of the project is much larger than the film. They’re working to establish a  “Sojourner Truth Day” in the city of Detroit and create a one-woman broadway play in New York City.

“I want to let everybody know that truth and Sojourner Truth will always prevail,” said Calloway. “She was my hero. I’m honored to be in this position to tell this story.”

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