James Brown has me feeling conflicted.
Though I have already lent my Facebook support to the grassroots effort to bring the premier of Get On Up, the biopic based on the Godfather’s life, to Augusta, I’m not sure I want to see it.
It’s not that I don’t believe the James Brown story doesn’t make for compelling cinema. It does. His rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches life is the embodiment of the American dream and as a musician, his influence to popular culture cannot be understated. There’s a wealth of material available.
And therein lies the rub.
Because the average Hollywood film clocks in somewhere close to two hours, and because it has already been announced that Get On Up covers approximately 50 years of Brown’s life, I know there are important episodes and people that mathematically must be eliminated.
And that’s going to make me mad.
For instance, scrolling through the Internet Movie Database entry for the film, I noted – with some prompting from a friend – some significant absences in the cast list. Nobody, for instance, seems to be assigned the role of Deanna Brown, Brown’s daughter and the primary keeper of the singer’s legacy. Also missing is Buddy Dallas, Brown’s legal representative during both his high times and legal travails.
Most shocking, however, is what appears to be the exclusion of Danny Ray. As one of Mr. Brown’s longest serving associates and friends, Ray – know to many as “the Cape Man” was much more than merely a valet or the member of Brown’s entourage charged with the draping of a cape during the soul singer’s performances. He invented the role of the hip-hop hype man and remains a living connection between fans and Brown. He not only saw most every essential episode in Brown’s life – he was an active participant.
My other issue is that in watching Get On Up I’ll be watching a representation of Augusta. Because the film was shot in Mississippi, there will be no Broad Street or Bush Field. There will be no houses in Beech Island or on Walton Way.
There will be simulations and proxy places. And for most audiences, that will be fine. But for those of us who lived – even tangentially- the James Brown story, these will not be acceptable substitutions. Being told that a stretch of road is a place we are all familiar with when it clearly isn’t wouldn’t be an issue if we weren’t dogged by the perception that it didn’t need to be that way. Georgia has become a hotbed for Hollywood productions. Movies have become one of the Atlanta area’s fastest growing industries. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the Augusta area to be a part of that. But that was not to be.
So as I said before, I’m not sure I want to see Get On Up. But I know I will. It’s a movie about James Brown. How can I turn away?