Isaiah Washington’s “Corsicana” Is A Celebration of Reclaimed Black History
Isaiah Washington isn’t your typical Hollywood star. In a town known to enthusiastically support the Democratic Party, Washington supported Donald Trump’s presidency and considers himself to be a patriot and anti-communist. “I have no friends,” he said in the 2020 documentary The Trump Card about his Tinseltown standing.
He rose to fame in the 1990s by appearing in Spike Lee joints like Crooklyn and Clockers, and in the Hughes Brothers’ Dead Presidents. After a controversial dismissal from Grey’s Anatomy, where he won two NAACP Image Awards in his role as Dr. Preston Burke, he appeared in several independent features before joining the cast of The 100. Recently, he appeared in P-Valley and hosted Isaiah Washington: Kitchen Talk on Fox Nation.
Now apolitical, Washington is now interested in commonality. With independent Western Corsicana, he is in the saddle as co-writer, director, and star, hoping to bring audiences together. He plays Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves, a character based on a real-life Wild West lawman who had escaped slavery and was one the first black marshals to help tame the American frontier. Reeves served as the inspiration for The Lone Ranger, yet the iconic Western character – a character as a part of America’s fabric as apple pie and jazz music – was portrayed as a white man. At a recent Chicago screening, Washington said God had given him an opportunity to bring Bass Reeves back to the people and tell the truth. “I know my history. I tried to give you a piece of that on the screen.”
The story is straightforward. A vicious gang led by Jack Donner (Lew Temple) is hired by corrupt oil interests to terrorize families who have built homes on oil-rich lands. When Donner’s gang brutally slaughters a family, it’s up to Reeves and his posse to bring them to justice. Reeves’ wife, Jennie (Stacey Dash, fellow Hollywood anti-communist) struggles with loneliness and uncertainty while her husband is away, but ultimately she knows he has an important job to do.
Corsicana has no pretentions. It invokes the Westerns of the old matinees in its uprightness and the grit of revisionist directors like Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) and Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and there will be blood. Like many Westerns, it has its real-life inspiration participating in fictitious events. Corsicana doesn’t seek to redefine the genre but rather indulges in its conventions while paying homage to a historical figure Washington felt was overlooked. Those with discriminating tastes in cinema may have issues with the film’s rough indie production values, but fans of old-fashioned Westerns or those wanting to see black history played out on screen can find much to appreciate.
For Washington, the film also is an entrepreneurial endeavor that he hopes can bring him more artistic freedom, tell positive black stories, and support black enterprise. That’s why he screened Corsicana at the Cinema Chatham, a black-run franchise of the Emagine theater chain located on Chicago’s South Side. “When you see this online…click on it and give me $19.95, [and] let me go on doing what I do independently so I can back here and be of service!” he pitched to the audience with the fervor of a Baptist minister.
Washington also explained how Corsicana is different from recent films touching on black history. He says his film is an uplifting story of empowerment and freedom. “I don’t want to hear a story about pain. We know what happened to Till. We’ve got the pictures in Jet magazine! [You’re] gonna tell me to spend my money to see that pain?”
Corsicana is currently playing in limited engagements throughout the United States. It will be available on Amazon, Apple, and YouTube for rent or purchase on February 7th.