A feature-length documentary film about the Invaders, a black-power activist group from the civil rights era in Memphis, is currently in production. The Invaders is native-Memphian Prichard Thomas Smith's (New Garage Explosion, Mr. Fascination, Memphis Heat) newest project, which will shed light on a marginalized area of local black history.
Because the Invaders have been historically described as a militant organization and blamed for starting violence in the 1968 sanitation march, the film is giving the group a chance to tell their story through a series of member interviews and never-before-seen archival footage from the University of Memphis' special collections library. Although he now lives in Brooklyn, Smith discussed The Invaders while he was in Memphis working on the film. — Elizabeth Cooper
Flyer: What was culturally significant about the Invaders that led you to make a film?
Prichard Smith: Their name, first off. How was there this thing called the Invaders that I've never heard about? Really, it was more curiosity that brought me to it. I mentioned it to J.B. Horrell [who studied history at the U of M], and he gave me more information. It just kind of spiraled into this film. The more we learned and the more people we talked to, we realized there was this group in Memphis that really cared about their community and were trying to make a difference.
So who were the Invaders?
Their community organizing efforts were based on slum landlords, police brutality, and feeding hungry children before school. The fact that these guys have been marginalized and called thugs in every book is unfair. Taylor Branch, who is basically the authority on the civil rights movement, implied in his book that the Invaders were thugs, and that's just not true.
How have the group's members been helpful in the making of this film?
Pretty much all of them want to tell their story. If you had done something in your life that was so monumental and never got any credit, it would bother you. Imagine if you were one of the last people to sit down with Martin Luther King and negotiate a plan, and everybody says you were a hoodlum or a thug.
This story has never been told and it's critical for this to be told, not just to Memphis but to the entire black population of the United States. The Invaders weren't thugs. They were dudes who were thinking very critically about their situation and trying to figure out exactly how to handle it.
Who has been working on the film and what are their roles?
Well, I came to J.B. with this story. He knew more about it than I did. From there, we've been working together researching it and breaking it down. We called Chad Schaffler [producer]. I told him about the story, because we worked on Memphis Heat together. Instantly, he was stoked and said, "I'll help you produce that." Chad supplied the crew. He has a company in town that makes really high-quality film and video. Chad has been effectively making our movie look as good as possible with the help of Peter Budd [grip for The Help, Hustle and Flow, and Black Snake Moan] and Ryan Parker [cinematographer].
To see the film's trailer, go to the Facebook page for The Invaders Movie.