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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Star of 1969 film ‘The Learning Tree’ dedicates tree to school named after Gordon Parks

It’s been more than 50 years since Kyle Johnson starred in “The Learning Tree,” the first major Hollywood film directed by a black man.

But according to Johnson, who plays 15-year-old Newt Winger, the film, directed by Gordon Parks and based on Parks’ semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, remains relevant today.

Kyle Johnson, star of the 1969 Gordon Parks film "learning tree," Visited Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul on Monday, May 9, 2022.  Johnson spoke to the students and participated in the dedication of the school's own learning tree, a gingko, which would be planted on the school's property at a later date.  (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)
Kyle Johnson, star of the 1969 Gordon Parks film “The Learning Tree,” visits Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul on Monday, May 9, 2022. Johnson spoke to the students and participated in the dedication of the school’s own learning tree, a ginkgo that would later be planted on school property. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

“The courtroom scene at the end of the film where Judge (Booker) Savage speaks after instigating himself to kill, I think is just as relevant and even more clear today,” Johnson said. he said. at Gordon Park High School in St. Paul. “When we are seeing not only propaganda, undermining of democracy and even this Supreme Court…

Johnson, 70, of Gila, NM, spent the weekend in St. Paul for the “Choice Cinema Series: In the Footsteps of Gordon Parks” hosted by Park’s niece Robin Hickman-Winfield. Hickman-Winfield teaches a course on Park’s legacy at Alternative High School.

“Can you imagine being an actor and director of your life stories in Hollywood? Seeing your name in the credits?” Hickman-Winfield asked students during a gathering featuring Johnson. “That’s what we’re doing here. That’s why I feel cold.”

Johnson said that his mother, Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek”, read Parks’ book after it was published in 1963 and thought her son might one day be perfect for the lead role. Is. He got a chance in 1968.

Johnson said that her audition with Parks was unusual. The two met inside a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel where Parks was staying, and “talked for a bit,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t nervous. I once thought he’d ask me to read, but he never did.

Instead, the two just kept on talking, he said. Parks had two important questions for Johnson: Could he swim, and could he ride a horse? Yes, and yes, he said.

A few weeks later, Johnson’s agent called to say that Parks wanted him at the Warner Bros. studio for a screen test with the actress who would play his mother. He got another call a week or two later for another screen test, this time with the actor playing his brother. This was followed by more screen tests.

“Then I got a call that they were going to start shooting in September,” he said. “I said, ‘What shooting? What did you want to speak about?’ No one had actually told me I had the part. By that time, I was thinking, ‘How many screen tests do you have to do to make up your mind for Gordon Parks?’ Later he told me, ‘Oh no, you had that part when we first met. There were screen tests for the rest of them.'”

A skilled photographer, in addition to directing the film, Parks wrote the film’s screenplay and music.

The film was shot in 1968 in Fort Scott, Kan., Parks’ hometown, where many pre-civil rights issues were “still unresolved,” Johnson said. “There were still many changes to come, which they were not enjoying, people from other parts of the country were able to live their lives to the fullest.

He told the students, “It was an amazing experience, opportunity and honor to be a part of something that literally changes people’s lives in real time.” “It was a different place after we left. There was no going back. Moving forward. And obviously, part of that progress is right here in this room between you – whether it’s in your family, in your community, Be in your kids, keep that progress going. Keep it going.”

Davian Crews, 16, a junior at Gordon Park High School, said it was an honor to see “The Learning Tree” and listen to Johnson.

“It’s a great film even today,” he said. “It’s a very powerful, inspiring film for black culture as a whole, to see what Gordon was going through … because so many of us are going through the same things today.”

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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