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Ruby Dee And Ossie Davis Highlighted In ‘Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee’

Black Voices   |   06/21/2012

After years of viewing their public talents through their various award-winning projects, the backstage life and times of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee will finally be recognized in the forthcoming documentary, “Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee.”

Directed by Dee’s grandson Muta’Ali Muhammad and his partner Jevon “NJ” Frank, the documentary marks the first official project chronicling the couple’s long careers and 57 years of marriage.

“We have received several proposals over the years [to do a film], but it never seemed to be the right time or circumstance,” Dee explained to The Huffington Post.

“Ossie and I were gratified to discover that some of our most satisfying collaborations were with our adult children, so when my eldest grandson, Muta’Ali Muhammad, approached me about this documentary I was intrigued,” she continued. “So I checked his credentials — and they were as impressive as his pedigree!”

Dee said it was a “joy” to work with her grandson, adding, “I am very pleased to be able to have a hand in the telling of our story.”

Muhammad and Frank are looking to a grassroots campaign through the online platform Kickstarter to fund the film. Currently in the middle of the 40-day fundraising project, which concludes on June 30, they aim to complete the film for an early 2013 release. They also intend to offer a private screening of part of the film on Dee’s upcoming 90th birthday.

“The first screening will be a portion of the documentary on Oct. 27, kind of as a gift to Gram Ruby” said Muhammad. “So we’ll have her screening, a VIP reception and she’ll get to see a good portion of it then. It’ll take a little bit longer for us to complete the entire project. I think our goal right now is Black History Month 2013.”

The filmmakers plan to tell the celebrated couple’s story through “love, art, and activism.”

“Through the synopsis, the story of Ozzie and Ruby’s lives is told, but the drive that pushes this story forward is the hunger for me to learn from my elders and the hunger for Gram Ruby to spread, preserve, and to teach her descendents the wisdom that she has,” Muhammad explained. “And it’s all within the areas of love, art, and activism because those are the three areas that stand out when you speak about my grandparents.”

Color lines

Can a New Film Reawaken Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's Life Lessons?

Jamilah King   |   05/21/2012

Like many people who lose their grandparents in adulthood, Muta’Ali Muhammad had his regrets. His 88-year-old grandfather had long suffered from heart problems before he was found dead in a Miami hotel room back in 2005. In the days, weeks and months that followed, Muhammad wished he’d had the sorts of candid conversations with his grandfather that seem plausible mostly in retrospect: How did he make his marriage work for over five decades? What did he do to make sure he always had to time to spend with his kids? Muhammad was in search of a blueprint, and felt hounded by the feeling that he hadn’t recognized the most obvious one until it was too late.


That his grandfather was award-winning actor, director, and activist Ossie Davis only complicated matters even more. 


Though he missed the chance to ask his grandfather questions about his life as a filmmaker, Muhammad has promised not to make the same mistake with his grandmother,”Gram Ruby”, also known as 89-year-old actress Ruby Dee. With that in mind, he’s launched a new documentary project called “Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee”, billed as an intimate, autobiographical look at two of the 20th century’s most important and enduring black actors. It’s the story of their notable carriers, political activism, and unique personal relationship. Today he’s launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 by June 30 to complete the project.


Muhammad adds that his grandparents taught him a sense of responsibility to make art that was much more than just entertainment. Their careers showed that it was possible – and necessary.


Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee both helped pioneer 20th century black film, theater and television. They each had respectful acting careers before marrying in 1948, but together they helped break down barriers for the next 57 years. Ossie gained acclaim alongside Sidney Portier in 1950’s “No Way Out.” He came a celebrated and Emmy award-winning film and television actor well into later life, with more recent roles on Sesame Street and in several Spike Lee films. Ruby Dee became known for her role in the theater and film versions of “A Raisin in the Sun” and later became the second-oldest Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her role alongside Denzel Washington in “American Gangster.” 


But political activism was a constant in both of their careers. Dee was an active member of several civil rights organizations throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, including the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), NAACP, and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). Davis spoke at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, and gave a powerful eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral. 


Muhammad, now 32, had already made a name for himself as an indie film and music video director. He made documentaries of high-profile rappers like T.I., 50 Cent, and Ludacris. He started a production company called “The Raw Report.” But he often struggled to reconcile his art with a social conscience that propelled him to take political stances that were, in all likelihood, antithetical to an entertainment industry obsessed with its bottom line. 


“I struggled for some time with the projects that I would direct,” he says, noting that his work sometimes didn’t fall in line with his political beliefs. “I share a thought that true equality affords my generation the freedom to create whatever they like artistically – including buffoonery.”


He says that this new documentary project is an attempt to bring his story, and that of his grandparents, to a new generation of artists and activists. The film will largely be seen through the eyes of Gram Ruby in conversation with her grandson about life, art, and love. And with plenty of experience in the film industry, Muhammad calls his Kickstarter campaign the “ultimate freedom” as a form of grassroots fundraising that he says falls in line nicely with his grandparent’s political ideals.


“This is an opportunity to look at art over the last 90 years,” he says, his voice laced with the hope that people can walk away inspired. “As we tell the story of [Ruby Dee’s] and grandpa’s life, you’ll get to see what growth exists when it comes to our people’s presence on stage, in front of the camera and behind the camera. You’ll see in one sitting their trajectory and get an appreciation for where we’ve progressed and where we might need to do a little more work.”

new pittsburgh currier

Ruby Dee Documentary Offers Her Pearls Of Wisdom

rtmsbroadus   |   01/15/2016

NEW YORK (AP) _ The late Ruby Dee was many things _ an artist, an activist and a pioneer of stage and screen. But she was also something equally important _ a grandmother.


A new documentary packed with Dee’s life lessons has been created by one of her grandsons, and it offers a very personal look at the widely admired woman.


Muta’Ali Muhammad, grandson of Dee and Ossie Davis, filmed Dee talking about everything from what was in her detailed FBI file to her opinion of open marriages. He hopes others will be encouraged to do the same.


“This piece has served as an inspiration and an excuse to those people who have wanted to record interviews with their loved ones,” Muhammad said this week.


“I think grandpa and grandma Ruby would really like that because the No. 1 thing that they wanted me to know was you have richness when you have family.”


The film, “Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee,” will make its small-screen debut on the BET-owned Centric TV on Sunday and will then be released Feb. 1 on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.


Dee’s long career earned her an Emmy, a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Art and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award.


She received an Oscar nomination at 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film “American Gangster” and was celebrated for her 57-year marriage with Davis. She died at age 91 in 2014.


The film includes family photos and memorabilia, as well as appearances of Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Hill Harper, Samuel Jackson, Spike Lee, S. Epatha Merkerson, Phylicia Rashad, Glynn Turman, Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez and Malik Yoba.
Muhammad, who has made seven feature-length documentaries, got the idea of making one about Dee after his grandfather died in 2005.


“It left me with that feeling that seems to be universal when an elder passes away _ you regret not having taken the time to sit with them and talk with them about important, deep things.”
But Dee rejected a traditional documentary until Muhammad floated the idea of framing it as a grandmother passing along her values and jewels of wisdom to her grandson.


“She really latched on to that because family is so important to her and she felt like a story like that can really strengthen the bonds in any family. Anyone who watched it might be inspired to connect and talk with their elders.”


Muhammad started interviewing Dee in November 2011 and would eventually move in with her, scheduling six or seven hour-long chunks of time to ask her views on camera. He structured it in three sections _ love, art and activism.


But Dee was no softie when it came to her grandson.
“She was tough one me!” said Muhammad, laughing. “She critiqued my interview style!”



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