Activist disrupts Taking Cheapside premiere, says she was “erased” from documentary

Lexington,Ky-On Saturday October 15, filmmaker Elijah McKenzie held a premiere for his new documentary at The Lyric Theater in Lexington. The film, Taking Cheapside, depicts the story of the organizers who fought to get the Confederate statues removed from Cheapside Park.

A trailer for the film that was posted prior to the screening prominently features two organizers, Russell Allen and Debraun Thomas.

Trailer - Taking Cheapside

According to a WUKY report that was released prior to the premiere, “In 2017 Elijah McKenzie, a filmmaker out of Louisville reached out to Russell and Thomas about a piece he was producing that focused on Confederate monuments.”

He had kind of met with a couple of academics in Lexington and in Louisville to getting the academic side of things and then you know at that point in time we were in the midst of working on the removal of the monuments here.” Thomas said, “So this short story ended up turning into a full length documentary feature as Elijah just kind of kept coming back to Lexington for supplemental things and every time he came back something else was happening. So he was here the night of the city council meeting. He was here the night the statues were removed. He was here for several of our events of the Reimagine Cheapside phase.

Debraun Thomas, WUKY report

The two men were successful in their efforts, and the statues came down in 2017. The Herald Leader captured their reactions when the statues came down.

Activist says she was intentionally left out of premiere screening

April Taylor is a local activist and organizer. She first got involved in the work after Michael Brown was murdered by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She went on to lead many organizing efforts in Lexington and even occasionally writes for the Herald Leader.

Taylor says she was involved in the efforts depicted in the documentary as well, but was “erased” by the male organizers who were depicted. During the Q&A portion of the premiere, Taylor became upset and began shouting over one of their responses to an audience question that wondered, “would the statues still be standing if black women or queer or trans people of color led the movement?” The Q&A was eventually shut down and the audience was asked to go home.

Mayor Linda Gorton was seen heading for the door as soon as the commotion started.

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton tries for a photo op Saturday night. (Reenactment)

When reached by phone, Taylor rattled off a slew of accomplishments when asked for a few examples of things black women or queer or trans people of color had achieved in Lexington. She said they had:

  • Accomplished requiring body cameras for all police in Lexington
  • Accomplished raising the minimum wage
  • Accomplished voting rights for felons
  • Accomplished a ban on no knock warrants
  • Accomplished three different changes to the police collective bargaining agreement

She also said that while she was pleased there were no longer Confederate statues in the park, the change that movement created did not effectuate actual change in the community. That work was done primarily by black women or queer or trans people of color, according to Taylor.

In response to people who were upset over the ugly scene during the Q&A portion of the premiere, Taylor said they should be upset because “they didn’t even see the real movie.” According to Taylor, there is another cut of the documentary out there. In fact, that cut will be the one submitted by the filmmakers to festivals for award consideration, not the version shown at the Lyric on Saturday.

Taylor says she has a significant role in the final version of the film, but the other organizers involved did not want her in the version shown at the premiere, or at the Q&A. She says she informed the filmmaker of her plans to attend the premiere as an audience member and he said that was okay. She hopes to screen the final version regionally to Southern organizers next year.