Filmmaker Stephen Ashley Blake on why his film Steal Away is an ode to #BlackLivesMatter

The movie is based on the true story of Ella Sheppard and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a sensational choir of young former slaves fighting the KKK’s reign of terror.


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Fri 4 Feb 2022, 5:34 PM

In 2013, three radical African-American organisers — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — conceived a political movement called #BlackLivesMatter (BLM).

The movement was in response to the acquittal of 17-year-old Trayvon Benjamin Martin’s murderer George Zimmerman, 28, a Hispanic-American.

Zimmerman had fatally shot Martin at Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2013.

Since then, BLM has gathered global momentum as a phrase, and more significantly a hashtag, which is used to highlight racism, discrimination and gross inequality experienced by black people.

Realm Pictures International, an American entertainment company, has come up with the breathtaking saga of Ella Sheppard and the legendary Fisk Jubilee Singers, in a motion picture, entitled 'Steal Away'.

The film is set in the latter half of 19th Century America, which was an apocalyptically divided nation, where white supremacists led by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) savaged Black slaves.

Though the setting of the film is shortly after the Civil War (1861-65), it has dramatic parallels to a fractured America in this day and age.

'Steal Away' portrays the true story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a sensational choir of young former slaves fighting the KKK’s reign of terror against their schools, the fledgling historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). They fought the KKK not with bullets or bombs, but heartwarming songs of faith and freedom.

'Steal Away' follows the choir’s titanic rise from the darkness of slavery to the glittering ballrooms of Europe as they conquer the world… and must then conquer their own demons. The Fisk Jubilee Singers not only saved hundreds of schools from supremacist destruction, but continue to electrify the world 150 years later.

In 2021, they won the Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album. “'Steal Away' is 'Gone with the Wind' from the African-American perspective, yet it is a universal human story,” said 40-year entertainment industry veteran Stephen Ashley Blake, founder and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Realm Pictures International and also the director of the ambitious film.

Khaleej Times spoke with Blake about the making of 'Steal Away' ahead of its release.

Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:

What’s the premise of the plot of 'Steal Away'?

Based on Andrew Ward's critically acclaimed post-Civil War epic 'Dark Midnight When I Rise', 'Steal Away' is the breathtaking saga of the legendary Fisk Jubilee Singers, and their electrifying songs of faith and freedom.

The film features a diverse international cast, an electrifying soundtrack by multi-Grammy winning composer Billy Childs, and a universal story of redemption, hope, and race reconciliation that will thrill audiences from Boston to Beijing.

How is faith and freedom central to the protagonists’ lives in the film?

Just as the spirituals, songs of trust in God, conquered hate across America and brought freedom to thousands of slaves, our heroes believe that these songs will liberate the oppressed around the world.

How does the ensemble cast epitomise the concept of unity?

The cast is vividly diverse, of a wide range of ethnicities, ages, and nationalities.

How true has the been the cinematic adaptation of 'Steal Away' to Andrew Ward’s critically acclaimed 'Dark Midnight When I Rise' (HarperCollins)?

As with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Braveheart', and 'A Beautiful Mind', 'Steal Away' is an epic legend based on true events. The situations, timelines, and character arcs have been allegorised to sharpen the dramatic narrative and illuminate their deeper universal truths.

What are the high points of 'Steal Away'?

'Steal Away' features the strongest black female lead in cinema history. We pledge to endow HBCUs with 10 per cent of the assignable net profits. We’ve launched a $34.7 million campaign to raise corporate sponsorships and investment financing. Casting is done through social media which eliminations status-quo industry privilege

What’s the global box-office collections you’re looking at?

According to revenue forecasts by Nash Information Services, we’re looking at between $158.9 million—$449.5 million in North American theatrical, video, television, and ancillary receipts.

Between $197.1 million — $1.4 billion in international theatrical, video, and TV receipts. Total Projected Revenues: Between $356 million — $1.8 billion.

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