Success Stories

Short Film, ‘Barber of Birmingham’ Nominated for Oscar

WDN Members helped to fund completion of the film, which features Mr. James Armstrong, an African American barber in Birmingham, Alabama, as he experiences the manifestation of an unimaginable dream: the election of the first African American president.

The WDN community is thrilled by the news today that “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement,” was nominated for an Academy Award in the short subject documentary category.

“The Barber of Birmingham” is an independent documentary film produced and directed by Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin. Several WDN members helped to fund the film’s production, including Executive Producer Julie Parker Benello at Chicken & Egg Pictures, who includes this description of the film on her website:

The film features 85-year old Mr. Armstrong, an African American barber in Birmingham, Alabama, as he experiences the manifestation of an unimaginable dream: the election of the first African American president. This colorful and courageous activist of the Civil Rights era casts his vote, celebrates Obama’s victory and proudly unfurls the American flag as he is inducted into the Foot Soldiers Hall of Fame. Mr. Armstrong links the magnitude of the present paradigm shift with challenges he faced in the past: from his sons’ integration into an all white school to the Bloody Sunday march for voting rights. The documentary raises questions about democracy and patriotism in the face of adversity, and the vigilance and action required to ensure continued forward movement to end racial injustice.

Benello said that she and a few other WDN members approached the entire membership in December 2010 asking for help to finish “The Barber of Birmingham” before its Sundance premiere in January 2011. They were able to ultimately leverage about $60,000 from WDN members to complete the project. WDN members were motivated by the content of the film — which many believed would be a get-out-the-vote tool — as well as the role of beloved filmmaker Dolgin, who had lost her battle with cancer before “The Barber of Birmingham” was completed. Before Dolgin passed away, her co-director Fryday and dear friend and Co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures Judith Helfand vowed that they would finish it. The first five minutes of the work-in-progress was shown at Dolgin’s memorial service, where there was a sense of great anticipation for its future as a powerful short film. Today’s Oscar nomination is a great testament to that.

“WDN members were instrumental in completing this film and I hope will also be able to support its outreach and get out the vote engagement campaign going forward,” Benello said.