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Idlewild: It’s a Lot More Than a Movie

August 25, 2006

IDLEWILD, Mich. (AP) _ For moviegoers, ``Idlewild″ is the title of a new film starring platinum-selling hip-hop duo OutKast. For many others, however, Idlewild is a historical landmark.

Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton, known to rap fans as ``Andre 3000″ and ``Big Boi,″ respectively, star in the film, which is a musical drama set in the 1930s in Idlewild, Ga.

But, there’s one thing _ Idlewild doesn’t exist. At least not in Georgia.

There is an Idlewild, Mich., and some who have frequented it aren’t happy because outside of the name, the movie has nothing to do with the small town in northwest Michigan.

``It’s an insult,″ said Coy W. Davis Jr., a Grandville filmmaker who directed the historical documentary ``Whatever Happened to Idlewild?″

As a child, Davis spent many summers from the 1950s through the `70s in the Lake County town where his family owned a cottage.

``They take something with such historical significance as Idlewild, take the peripheral aspects of it, and turn it into a shoot-`em-up, bang-bang minstrel show,″ he told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published Thursday. ``It demeans me as an African-American.

``I understand it’s just entertainment,″ Davis added. ``But call it `Mishawaka,′ call it `Schenectady.′ Don’t call it `Idlewild.‴

Idlewild, Mich., about 60 miles south of Traverse City, was a haven for black entertainment during the segregation era. Its rich, storied history is remembered mostly in glowing nostalgic terms. It was a place where black professionals from all over the Midwest vacationed and saw performances by legendary entertainers such as Louis Armstrong and B.B. King.

According to Ronald J. Stephens, a Detroit native and author of ``Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan,″ the movie draws a few parallels to the real Idlewild, but nothing more.

``Its biggest asset is it puts the name in the public’s imagination in ways the small town of Idlewild, Mich., couldn’t do,″ Stephens said.

John Meeks, owner of the Morton Motel in Idlewild and the self-proclaimed ``unpaid, unofficial Idlewild ambassador,″ said prospective filmmakers have been sniffing around the town for years, but the makers of ``Idlewild″ never came by.

``A lot of people are disappointed when they find out it isn’t about Idlewild at all,″ he said. ``It’s unfortunate that the name is being exploited, that it has no connection to the history of one of the most famous black resorts.″

The film, which opens nationally Friday, co-stars Ben Vereen, Cicely Tyson, Ving Rhames and Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard, along with musicians Macy Gray and Patti LaBelle.


On the Net:

Idlewild African-American Chamber of Commerce: http://www.iaacc.com

``Idlewild″ movie: http://www.idlewildmovie.net

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