In a week, Hollywood will come to Augusta with at least some of its trappings. There will be actors and directors, a red carpet and a see-it-first screening. People will dress up or intentionally down and, great or not, speak glowingly of the film shown because that’s how Hollywood works.
The event – a special premier screening of the James Brown biopic Get On Up, lobbied for by local fans and benefiting the James Brown Family Children Foundation – takes place July 24 at the Regal Augusta Exchange 20 with an after party at the Augusta Museum of History.
It is not the first time a movie has enjoyed a special screening in Augusta.
The Bobby Jones movie Stroke of Genius had a Masters Week premier in 2004. Summer Heat, based on Augusta author Louise Shivers’ novel Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail, had a special downtown screening in 1987, and The Three Faces of Eve, based on events that had taken place in Augusta, premiered at the Miller Theatre in 1957. Each was a glittering event, well attended and remembered.
In the end, though, they were anomalies – single evenings to be relished with the understanding that the next morning the red carpet would be rolled up and our small Southern city would return to life as usual.
That, however, might not be the case with Get On Up.
You see, there is an essential difference. Though Summer Heat was clearly fiction (and not based in Augusta) and Stroke of Genius built in part on an asset already leveraged by the community, Get On Up celebrates something that Augusta has never quite figured out a way to take full advantage of – James Brown.
When this film rolls out nationally in early August, I expect a significant increase in interest in James Brown. His catalog of songs will be celebrated. His rags-to-riches story will be lauded as a fundamentally American success story. People will be interested in the community that, for better and worse, informed him and created the character he became.
This, for Augusta, represents both an opportunity and a problem.
It might represent a real boon to the local economy and community – with reinvigorated interest in the James Brown story attracting the sort of entertainment-driven tourism that has proved wildly successful for cities such as Memphis, Liverpool and Nashville. Even tiny Forks, Wash., the fictional setting for the Twilight novels, has become a tourist town, despite the fact there is no such thing as vampires.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Augusta, as a community, will probably be caught relatively unprepared.
Court cases and legal claims have slowed the development of many of the most significant James Brown-related sites and attractions, with the Godfather’s Beech Island home – often touted as a likely spot for a Graceland-style house museum dedicated to the singer – the most glaring example.
There’s also the residual animosity in some sectors of the city over Brown’s legal difficulties.
It’s time to move on.
This movie is being released. Can’t stop that train.
People will be interested in James Brown and, by extension, Augusta. That one has left the station, too.
How we, as a community, greet that attention is up to us. Though we do have a popular James Brown exhibit at the Augusta Museum of history, there is no attraction dedicated solely – or soully, as the case might be – to the Godfather. It’s time to take Brown’s Augusta legacy seriously. And whatever we do, it has got to be funky.