March Madness is a Midwest tradition and right around the corner. This month, basketball fans will have a special opportunity at Metropolitan Community College to hear from a man who turned his lens on the sport and created a movie that reveals how action on the hardcourt in 1950s Kansas modernized college sports and how it paralleled changing racial views and tensions of the time period.
MCC-Longview hosts “Jayhawkers: An Evening with Kevin Willmott” on February 18 at its Cultural Arts Center.
Willmott, a University of Kansas film and media studies professor, worked for a decade on the project, which premiered a year ago in Lawrence, Kansas, the pivotal hometown setting for the film. The storyline of “Jayhawkers” follows the era when KU basketball great Wilt Chamberlain was the key man on the floor.
From the film’s website, this description of the story, “During his years at University of Kansas, hounded by the media and fans alike, Wilt created a second world, in the black community of Kansas City jazz music and nightlife. Naive to the institution of segregation, Wilt Chamberlain almost left Kansas before he started when he discovered that Lawrence, Kansas was a world separated by black and white.” Willmott traces Chamberlain’s legendary athleticism that changed the sport, while the civil rights movement was transforming America.
Willmott told the “The Washington Post” in February 2014, “Pretty much everything in the movie is true. We didn’t have to change much because the actual story is amazing in itself. The film ends with what’s called the greatest basketball game of all time: a triple overtime game against North Carolina.”
Willmott is known well in moviemaking circles. He wrote and directed the critically acclaimed feature film “C.S.A: Confederate States of America,” about America if the South had won the Civil War. After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Spike Lee and IFC Films purchased the film for domestic theatrical distribution. CSA was released theatrically in the U.S. by IFC and was distributed in several foreign countries.
“Jayhawkers: An Evening with Kevin Willmott,” Feb. 18, 6:00pm, MCC-Longview, Cultural Arts Center, 500 SW Longview Road, Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The showing is free to all MCC students. A $10 donation is suggested for the general public.
The movie trailer can be viewed here.