Memphis Majic Director Eddie Bailey Talks About His Upcoming Jookin Documentary
Eddie Bailey is a Memphis-born, Emmy-nominated producer and editor whose set to release the feature-length documentary Memphis Majic later this year. He chatted with Uptown Bourgeois about the film, the rich history of his hometown, and the state of diversity in media.
Note: this interview was lightly edited for readability.
Let’s talk about Memphis Majic. It’s a documentary about Jookin, a style of dance that originated in Memphis. For those who aren’t familiar, what exactly is Jookin?
Jookin is a dance style that originated in Memphis around 30 years ago. It started off as a walk-step called the Gangsta-Walk and then later evolved into a dance style that focuses primarily on footwork that is similar to ballet, but with a southern hip-hop influence twist.
What drew you to this topic? How did you know there was a feature-length story here?
Well, I was born in Memphis and lived there until I was 7 years old before moving to Atlanta. When I would go back to visit family over the years, I noticed that Memphis was a city in a sort of a time warp, meaning nothing about the city had changed. So, when I was growing up, I didn’t have a full appreciation for my hometown. When I discovered Jookin, I was in awe. I immediately started to ask questions like, “Why isn’t this dance a household name?” because I thought it was so amazing. I would get answers like it’s so hard to become anything in Memphis. And then I started to research Memphis, the history of Memphis, why Memphis is a city with so much history but no one seems to know or care. So, in a way, Jookin helped me to rediscover Memphis.
From watching the trailer, it seems like there’s a deeper story that shares the socioeconomic realities of Memphis. Some of the subjects are heard discussing how difficult it is to live there. Can you talk about that side of the film?
Of course, Memphis is a city that sits on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. It’s centrally located, around 650,000 people, and yet for a city its size, it’s one of the poorest cities in America. Mason and Tillman did a study from 2012-2014 and found that in Memphis, a city that is 65% African-American, 88% of the business contracts went to white males. So, you see, Memphis is a city with so much history, the birthplace of the Blues, Stax Records, Beale Street in the late 19th century was the epicenter of African-American culture before Harlem was black; but yet it’s been stagnant for decades.
Where can we see it? What stage of the distribution process are you working through?
I’m having a private screening in a few weeks and after that I’ll start opening up to the public for screenings. I’ve been working on this for 3 years so it’s good to finally be at the finish line. In terms of distribution, I’m still working that out but I should know something in the near future on exactly what we’ll be doing with that. As an independent filmmaker you have to do almost everything from pre-production, production, post-production, legal, budget. So, the process is arduous but rewarding.
Tell me a little bit about Savoy Media Group. When did you start the company? What’s the ultimate mission?
I started The Savoy Media Group in 2010. When I came to New York in 2003 I had $20 to my name. I had graduated from Howard University the year before and I was working odd jobs around the DMV until I decided to take a chance and move to the big city. When I got here, I became a P.A. I was a P.A. for longer than I should’ve been and I finally transitioned into producing. Once I did that, I eventually learned how to edit and at that point, I figured I can make videos for other people and charge them. And with some encouragement from my wife, I incorporated TSMG. As far as the ultimate vision? It’d be nice if I can say what that is but right now I don’t have an answer for that.
You produced and edited an Emmy-nominated segment in 2016. What was that segment about? How did it feel to receive that level of recognition?
Yeah, I was happy about that. The segment was about the history of Hip-Hop that I produced and edited for CUNY TV, my place of employment. I liked it because I had to give a history of the number one music genre in the world in a 6-minute segment. That challenged me to tell the story and tell it fast with incorporating as many elements and facts as humanly possible. What I really like about telling a story is making it make sense so that it resonates in a very simple, but human way with people. I like for you to be able to see yourself in a story in some form even if you have no experience with the subject.
What about your personal journey? How did you get started? Where are you working now? Are you leading Savoy Media Group full-time?
Personal journey is always ongoing. That never stops. I think some people can point out a time and place when they started a personal journey but for me I really can’t pinpoint it. I think that I’ve always been on a personal journey and will continue to be. It’s an ongoing process that you have to learn to enjoy and appreciate. But I think even on your journey some things have to be constant in your life, like God, family, and friends. That makes the journey worth it.
There’s a huge conversation about diversity in media and entertainment right now, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. How does your work factor into that conversation? Do you feel Memphis Majic and the segments you produce are contributing to more diversity in media?
Diversity is needed especially in this day and age where we have so many people speaking out. My work fits into that conversation because it specifically speaks to the African-American experience in this country. My ancestors built this country through free labor, blood, and sweat. They’re the reason why this is richest country the world has ever seen, why there is a such thing as white privilege, and why most white Americans have this thing called advantage. Because of that the African-American story is truly more than what diversity has to offer because it’s the story of how America became the superpower that it is. Our story is part of the inception, the idea, the fabric of this country.
What advice would you offer to someone who wants to follow in your shoes, either producing award-winning segments or developing their own film projects?
Just do it (no pun intended). I think that if this is something that you really want to do, surround yourself with folks that want to do the same thing. If you can afford school, go to film school. If you can’t, try and search for apprenticeships and entry-level work in that field and just live it as much as you can until you become what you want to be.
How can we stay updated about the latest news on Memphis Majic?
Update: On March 3, this post was updated to reflect that Eddie Bailey is an Emmy-nominated producer and editor. The previous version listed him as Emmy-winning.