Production Begins on THE MEDAL, a short film from REMEMBRANCE

"So my great-grandfather finally gets his due..."

These are the words of Percy Fox III, a descendant of my character Percy Fox, a Harlem Hellfighter. In The Medal, a film short from Remembrance, I flash-forward from WWI France to present day America to show the repercussions of the war upon one Hellfighter's' family a century later. 

The Medal takes place on one emotional day in Percy Fox III's life. Traveling through his beloved Harlem, Percy is on a journey--both literal and figurative. He is on his way to the medal ceremony honoring his late great-grandfather, Percy Fox, a Harlem Hellfighter. 

An indispensable member of Sgt. David Pierce's unit, the first Fox was a friend and confidant of our novel's hero. They fought through and survived some of the most brutal battles of the war. I place these two characters at a true event: the Hellfighters' decisive victory in September 1918 at Sechault, France that basically ends the war. 

The Harlem Hellfighters were the most decorated regiment. However, despite being awarded the Croix de Guerre, France's highest honor, they were denied the right by their own American command to receive their medals. After their return to America, many of these soldiers were denied benefits for their injuries; Henry Johnson, the most decorated soldier of the war, died in poverty. 

These facts got me to thinking about these soldiers' families. What kind of legacy was left for them? Sure, there was pride, but as in the case of Henry Johnson, there was no medal, no tangible relic, for nearly 100 years.

The Medal will ask these questions and see things through a contemporary lens. The story of the Hellfighters continues to unfold...

The Medal (2017), written and produced by H. Buchanan

 

"Love, War & Jazz" aboard the titanic

It's been 100 years...so what? Such are the tortuous thoughts a writer such as myself experiences virtually every day. I've been living and breathing REMEMBRANCE for the past several years (a decade, really), all the while wondering how this is going to matter to the people of today, particularly Americans who are for the most part unaware of the Hellfighters' story. 

But it always comes back to this:  It's such an amazing story. People need to know how important a role the Americans played in the winning of World War I and how one group of said Americans was left out of the story, and that they need to be restored to history. If not now--the centennial years of the war--then when?

Enter Titanic, one of the greatest films of all time. Another story set over a century ago, this film became a blockbuster by utilizing two powerful elements lacking from other films on the subject: 1) Circular storytelling involving the modern-day excavation of the wreckage and 2) A love story as the backdrop. Both of these were Eureka! moments for me--I love technology and I love romantic tales. Soon afterward, I started visualizing David, a Harlem Hellfighter scarred by war and bitterness over being mistreated as a black man in America, yet still protecting the people of France. I wondered what kind of woman would intrigue him, and Giselle came into focus--a beautiful, worldly, mysterious woman who is his equal in every way. 

And that's the "So what?" 100 years later.

Production on Love, War & Jazz, a digital short from Remembrance, begins this summer.

 

(c) 2017 Kahn Santori Studios

The First Veteran's Day: The Harlem Hellfighters of World War I

As we remember our veterans today, let’s also recognize the first heroes of Remembrance Day/Armistice Day—America’s Harlem Hellfighters, the 369th Regiment, aka the Old 15th New York. It has taken 100 years for their story to be told. The Hellfighters were the most decorated American soldiers of the war, never having lost a man to capture nor a foot of ground to the enemy. They turned the tide of the war by winning the decisive battle at Sechault, France in late September 1918 and would later be awarded France's highest honor, the Croix de Guerre.

The 369th suffered many indignities as black soldiers, including being barred from fighting alongside their fellow white American soldiers. Instead, they fought for a grateful French army. Despite this, the 369th fought valiantly, certain that once the world witnessed their excellence everything would change when they returned to America:

Jimmy’s Journal
April 29, 1918
Sometimes, I can’t think too hard about what we’re doing here in this war. Are we making things better for the world, or worse? We are answering Germany with better guns and better airplanes, so the ways of killing get better. David and I are staying in this little town outside of Reims, and the folk are just smiling at us, offering us everything they can—bread, apples, wine (which we happily accept). They know the Black Watch is on their side, fighting for them. I’m hoping that America will hear of our good deeds here, but then I get mad at myself for even wanting America’s love.
I’ll never forget Camp Merritt in New York. Just before we were going to set sail, we were stationed next to a white regiment from Louisiana. They were really cutting up—I think they were trying to bring back the Civil War. A pistol was drawn on one of our men and he was called a son of a bitch of a nigger. We weren’t armed, so we borrowed ammo from a white New York regiment (word has it Capt. Ham Fish made it happen for us). Around midnight, I was ordered to sound my bugle, calling the black troops to arms. Capt. Maj. Forbes warned those angry whites that we were also armed and ready to fight back. They stood down, but the bad blood remains. What happens when we see those bastards stateside after this war? --from Remembrance, Book One: Arrival

Instead of returning to a new America as “The New Negro,” the members of the 369th returned to a still-segregated America that stripped them of their uniforms and weapons and denied a place in the victory parades with the white soldiers. Injured 369th members were denied veteran’s benefits, and the outlook remained bleak for most of them. Henry Johnson, the most decorated hero, died in poverty. Just last year, in 2015, he was finally awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Obama.

Today, we remember Henry and the 369th, too.

Patience, then, without compromise; silence without surrender; grim determination never to cease striving until we can vote, travel, learn, work and enjoy peace—all this, and yet with it and above it all the tramp of our armies over the blood-stained lilies of France to show the world again what the loyalty and bravery of black men means. —W.E.B. DuBois, The Crisis

 

 

 

 

That Night: The Story Behind REMEMBRANCE

REMEMBRANCE began "that night." On Lincoln's birthday, 1918, the newly-arrived Harlem Hellfighters Band brought down the house--the Nantes Opera House--and France was forever changed. So was my main character, Cpl. David Pierce, a cornet player in the jazz band, as he would meet the love of his life that very night. A woman of great vocal talent and mystery, Giselle would be equally captivated by David. 

David's Letter to Giselle:  

I remember the night very clearly. Just an hour before, our band brought down the house—the Nantes Opera House, for God’s sake! Men in tuxedos cheering, women in evening gowns crying, French flags waving… There we were, a band from Harlem playing jazz, and these white folks were having a fit...At the club I remember saying to you, “Say that again?” I was working on my next glass of cognac, so I was thinking maybe I hadn’t heard you right. I was there to celebrate with my buddies. And then I saw you. Your band was playing pretty good, songbird...Despite your warning, I wasn’t going anywhere. Your eyes sparked when I defied your request—I think you liked that. We were comfortable, as if we’d done that dance before. You took my drink and studied me as you sipped, like you didn’t know what to do with me. I took great delight in watching your red lips meet the rim of my glass...

Thus begins a love affair that is just as earth-shattering as the war itself...

"REMEMBRANCE: That Night" Preview showing November 5, 2016 at the Carr Center in Detroit. 

The Arrival

"I don't know where to send this damn letter..."

Thus begins a journey for my main character, Sgt. David Pierce, and myself. I've been tinkering with this project for a very long time, too long to mention here. The important thing to know is that I believe it's finally time to tell this story--too many stars have lined up in the past two years to ignore. 

Never one to keep things simple for myself, I envision The Remembrance Project as a multimedia project, as it combines all of my great loves--video, print, and music--into one large narrative universe. When you think about it, World War I can be viewed the same way; for me, it is a nexus of so many elements colliding at the same time, a big bang that birthed the modern era. In the coming months I'll explore many of those key moments and people--I believe you will find them just as fascinating.

The first phases of The Remembrance Project are underway with the completion of Book One: Arrival's text, cover design and plans for the 2017-2018 season of performances. 

I was fortunate enough to engage digital artist Jay Walsh, who had completed a series of World War I-themed art. I explained what I had in mind, and he understood right away. In my research, I learned how this regiment had to travel for miles on foot across scorched fields loaded with landmines, where every step could be the last. The sky would be dark with smoke from the bombings, but I asked Jay to put in that glimmer of sunlight behind the clouds, a glimmer of hope.

Fortune smiled again when I was able to engage with some of the most talented musicians I have ever known who kindly agreed to be a part of the musical component that I couldn't stop hearing in my head. In future posts, you will get to meet our distinguished team and learn about the music that changed our world. 

Thus begins The Remembrance Project. Forward, march...