By: Victoria Stevens
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 03/26/2023- Awarding winning writer/producer Ericka Nicole Malone wins the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Creative in a Motion Picture for her feature “Remember Me”- The Mahalia Jackson Story. A new biopic of Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson starring Grammy winner and R&B legend Ledisi along with actors Columbus Short, Janet Hubert, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Keith David, Vanessa Estelle Williams, Corbin Bleu and Keith Robinson. This film gives light to who Mahalia Jackson was and what she had to go through to uphold her beliefs for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King.
“I wrote “Remember Me”- The Mahalia Jackson Story because Mahalia Jackson was such a revered figure in the south and all over the world. She was also someone I respected, and she intrigued me as a little girl. Besides being an amazing singer, she was a huge influence on the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King. One of my favorite stories that I researched for this film was how “I have a dream” speech came about. It took the speech writer many hours to write the notes that Martin Luther King was supposed to read that day. However, right before Martin Luther King was supposed to start, Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream.” When Martin Luther King heard Mahalia say that he decided to put down his notes and just speak from his heart. They must have had a very special relationship for King to do that and that is what I wanted to show the audience,” explained Malone.
This film spans over five decades of Jackson’s life including her child abuse, her two marriages, carrying the weight of the world of the civil rights movement on her back, raising a family, and battling illness. With nine months of research, Malone has captured the emotional life of Mahalia Jackson and all the people she has influenced.
“I am a big history buff, especially black history. When I am writing characters, I become them, and this process becomes very emotional for me. That is why all my characters sound different. Writing about a different era, I had to think about what it would have been like at the time of Jackson’s life. It’s like you’re transporting yourself as a writer back to her time period. What hit me the most about Jackson’s life is at the height of her career, Mahalia couldn’t enjoy it. She had to feel less than because she was a black woman. However, I do believe Mahalia was a very strong woman who had a lot of influence. She was loved by many. Her favorite song was “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” and I believe she had the whole world in hers,” said Malone.
Writing at a young age, Malone started her career at the age of 17 in Kentucky. Having to pay her way through college, Malone devised a plan where she would create plays for the sororities and fraternities on her campus and charge them $3.00 a ticket. Her plays got so popular that her audience members grew to consist of teachers, professors, and the college community.
“I wrote a play called “A piece of a dream” and it was kind of about Dr. King. It talked about a young girl’s journey and understanding how her life paralleled with Dr. King’s journey for civil rights,” expressed Malone. “I remember having 800 people at that play of all races which felt great to bring all races together.”
Transitioning from plays to screenwriting was a confidence builder for Malone. Writing a play for 2000 people in the audience was very exhilarating and it helped prepare her for Hollywood. It gave her the natural understanding that she would have to respect the audience with a script versus a musical.
In 2015, Malone began her screenwriting debut with the television sitcom pilot, “Ward of the State”, where Malone and her business partner, Phillip Robinson, started on their journey to Hollywood.
“I started working with Phillip on a healthcare firm the NCR group. Then from there we decided to do a play called “In love with Tyrone”, which toured around the country and starred Robin Givens and Leon. Then a few years later I started doing the sitcom pilot with Janet Hubert and we have never looked back. Phillip has always been an intricate part in understanding and respecting me as a writer and creating a level of excellence. I try to create projects that fully represent us as writers. I see so many regal things in black American history and I like to talk about them, explained Malone.
Having a strong team that supports your endeavors and your dreams is one of the key elements in having a successful career. One of Malone’s biggest supporters was her mom. She was a feminist who taught Malone that she could do anything that any man could do. Due to this strong upbringing, Malone has never let her limitations stop her. She refuses to let them weigh her down and she sees herself as an equal.
“My mom was such an amazing woman,” said Malone. “I remember when I was 13 years old, my mom had a book where you could reach any famous person in America. Of course, I wanted to reach Oprah Winfrey. I remember calling the office which at the time was in Chicago. I thought my mom was crazy, but I was so intrigued that I called the number and asked in confidence for Oprah. I got all the way to her front office and then hung up. My mom asked me what’s the lesson I learned. I told her you can reach anybody. That is what has stuck with me to this day.”
Understanding the business and knowing how to market your projects are key elements to success. For Malone, film festivals have been a huge asset to getting her projects picked up.
“Film festivals were the real blessings for me, because my peers around the world were able to validate my projects. Once they were validated then other platforms could look at the projects and get on board. Also, salespeople are important as well. These networks are not going to accept unsolicited material, so you need a salesperson who already has a deep relationship with the network to speak for you. An agent and manager can do that same thing,” explained Malone.
As Malone prepares for a couple of projects in the spring, she is currently focusing on being present in the moment.
“I just want to be. As a woman, we have a tendency to put so much pressure on ourselves. We are mothers who are trying to have a family and also run a career. I just want to be, but from that being I am creating some other projects. What you write about is what you experience, and so I would like to grow and keep imagining bigger things. In The Color Purple, Celie has a line where she talks about how someone can walk past the color purple and not see it. It was a metaphor of something bigger. We can walk through life and be so fast to try to accomplish so much, that we don’t take a moment to see something special that might just be around for us. I don’t want to miss those special moments and be too busy for them,” said Malone.
For more information: Ericka Nicole Entertainment, LLC (erickanicolemalone.com)
Instagram: RememberMe Mahalia Jackson (@remembermemahaliajacksonstory) • Instagram photos and videos
Credits: Ericka Nicole Malone