A feature documentary following a group of women activists striving to affirm life in the face of an American crisis.
In the 1980’s Tunica County, Mississippi was the poorest place in America. Sugar Ditch was the poorest neighborhood in that county. The all-black community was comprised of shacks surrounding an open sewer just feet away from a wealthy white Baptist church. In 1986, a sociological study of Sugar Ditch was completed by an all-female team. This feature documentary will follow original members of that team including photographer Jane Rule Burdine, along with leading female activists Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald of The Children’s Defense Fund and Civil Rights lawyer Barbara Philips, as they revisit the families of the Sugar Ditch community to understand how this region became one of the most potent symbols of American poverty and why neighborhoods like Sugar Ditch still exist across the nation.
Sugar Ditch epitomized the Deep South’s racial and economic problems after it gained national attention when 60 Minutes described the area as “Apartheid in America”. The exposure lead to the neighborhood’s destruction by the local government who in an attempt at a solution moved the population of Sugar Ditch to an apartment complex built on a cotton field, miles from any resources. In the mid 90’s, in an effort to aid the economy, the local government brought casinos into the area, but continued to overlook the communities that were struggling to feed their own children. Despite the large black population, most of the county’s land was owned by a few white families much the way it had for generations.
In 2015 The Washington Post reported that in Tunica, “The public high school has a 57 percent graduation rate, compared with 79 percent nationally. One in four people don’t have bank accounts, one of the highest rates in the country. The average lifespan in Tunica, at 67 for men and 73 for women, remains shorter than nearly anywhere else in the United States — or El Salvador.” Return to Sugar Ditch tells the story of how greed, government inaction, and white indifference have converged to create an American crisis.
In coordination with the production of Return To Sugar Ditch, the filmmakers and Rebel House Studios are teaming up with Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald and The Unita Blackwell Young Women’s Leadership Institute where students are given the resources to tap into their personal interests and set life goals while engaging in community-based organizing efforts.
In partnership with Mississippi's Film Commissioner the Return to Sugar Ditch team will specifically be engaging with the program's New Visions track, which focuses on filmmaking and new media (including writing, sound, art, technology and social media). Their efforts will align with the programs goals to expand the programs resources and help provide the students with the skills they will need for job placement in their desired field.
UNDER HER SKIN
Please view the trailer for Under Her Skin, the short film directed by the Bennett sisters which is a character portrait of photographer and Mississippi native Jane Rule Burdine. The piece recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was the inspiration for Return to Sugar Ditch. Click to view full screener of UNDER HER SKIN.