By Trichelle Lee
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
Today’s Black creators are actively changing the landscape of modern media and entertainment. They hold more “seats at the table” now than ever, and the cultural impact of Black creative progress cannot be ignored nor escaped. One of those creatives is Ashley Gibson, who’s first film, “The Fearless 11”, is due to premiere September 18th at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Gibson was generous enough to share a peek into her world growing up in Mississippi, her journey into filmmaking, and a bit about her plans for the future. It is evident that this young filmmaker has just begun and has no intention of slowing down.
Gibson expressed that filmmaking is something that has interested her for the past six years. Her first project, “The Fearless 11”, is a documentary which highlights the experiences of eleven Black teens who integrated into Jackson’s Provine High School in 1965. She recalls her father, Dr. Don Albert Gibson, bringing his senior high school yearbook home one day. While flipping through the pages, she noticed that all of the students, with the exception of eleven, were white.
Gibson admits she didn’t realize Provine had white students because “since I’ve been around, it has always been a completely Black school.” Their trip down memory lane sparked her interest to ask more questions in which her father proceeded to answer. Gibson states, “It seemed like maybe that was a part of his life that he chose to forget because, until that point, he never mentioned that he was one of the first to do something like that or how active he was in the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.” It’s easy to understand why this experience is something anyone would want to forget when hearing details of his frequent abuse and mistreatment by white students and teachers. Seven of “The Fearless 11” are still alive today and Gibson included their stories in the movie as well.
Gibson’s relocation to Atlanta has allowed her to collaborate with fellow creatives in the “Black Hollywood” scene but the journey of the artist isn’t for the faint of heart. When talking about funding, she stated, “I had to come out of pocket. Some of the people who worked with me chipped in but pretty much everything else was me.” She recalls starting a GoFundMe which provided around $300, but ultimately her dream was up to her. The film was in production for a little over three years and required many trips back and forth to Mississippi to conduct interviews. However, Gibson’s efforts didn’t go in vain as she now has a completed project to share with the world.
Upon inquiring if Gibson had to overcome similar issues as her father during the filming process, she affirmed, “I wouldn’t say there was a struggle that I had to overcome, but I had more of a sense of appreciation for what they and others from that generation endured so that we could have the rights that we currently have today.” She recalls being in the thick of Atlanta’s racial tensions during filming and made sure to capture her first protest attendance. According to her, “An organization put together a peaceful protest, so we walked around downtown Atlanta with signs chanting. I decided to include that in the documentary because I wanted to show the parallel of the past and present, and how things sadly haven’t changed that much. The experience challenged me to question myself [and] my efforts towards change.”
As far as what fearlessness means to her, Gibson states, “Fearless means bravery, tenacity [and] resilience. I feel that’s what the 11 students were. People were getting killed left to right fighting for equality. And, they were so young – 17 and 18 years old.” “The Fearless 11” is a reminder that despite our progress as a community, there is still much work to be done. The depiction of Black people in today’s media doesn’t look that different from that of the 60’s. We mustn’t forget that we aren’t too many generations removed from slavery and segregation.
Eager to know what else Gibson has in the works, she plans to submit “The Fearless 11” to some festivals throughout the South to help it gain awareness. When asking about future creative endeavors, she spilled that,“she’s writing collaboratively and working on a series.” Those interested in witnessing her growth can check out “The Fearless 11’s” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/176052021137790/ or follow her personal Instagram account @southern_delicacy.
In the meantime, get a glimpse into the past and see the present at the film premiere on Saturday, September 18th, 2021. Stick around afterwards for a Q&A with Gibson and some of the Provine alumni from the class of 1966. Tickets can be purchased online via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-fearless-11-film-premiere-tickets-159347365259.