Director Tracy "Twinkie" Byrd Debuts with ‘The Counter: 1960’

“The Counter: 1960” film poster featuring lead actors from right to left: Ashley Jackson, Jerod Haynes, and Etienne Maurice.
“The Counter: 1960” film poster featuring lead actors from right to left: Ashley Jackson, Jerod Haynes, and Etienne Maurice.

"The Counter: 1960" is the directorial debut short film of veteran casting director Tracy "Twinkie" Byrd. Byrd is best known for casting such notable films as "Fruitvale Station" and "Southside With You." I had the pleasure of interviewing Twinkie Byrd on the set during the filming of "The Counter:1960." I recently attended the screening of the completed film and was able to capture the "full circle" moments experienced by Twinkie Byrd, as well as her cast and crew.

Director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd (in center) surrounded by cast and crew.
Director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd (in center) surrounded by cast and crew.

"The Counter:1960" tells the story of three African American students who take a journey in time to experience a sit-in as a form of peaceful resistance during the Civil Rights Era. The film is inspired by the February 1, 1960 "Greensboro 4" sit-in where four African American students from North Carolina A&T State University (David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. [Jibreel Khazan], and Joe McNeil) staged a protest in the form of a sit-in at a Woolworth, a retail store that was known for refusing to serve African Americans at its lunch counter. This peaceful demonstration against social injustice was an integral part of the civil rights movement.

scene from the film from left to right: Buddy Lewis and Vanessa Bell Calloway
scene from the film from left to right: Buddy Lewis and Vanessa Bell Calloway
scene from film: Charles Malik Whitfield
scene from film: Charles Malik Whitfield

In addition to directing the film, Twinkie Byrd co-wrote the script with Ashley Jackson who is a part of the ensemble cast. Jackson is the daughter of Civil Rights activist Jesse Jackson. The cast also includes Jerod Haynes who is currently performing at Yale University in a theater production of the acclaimed novel "Native Son" and Etienne Maurice (son of TV/film/stage actress Sheryl Lee Ralph) who reprises the role of a character he played in a theater production. Veteran actors Vanessa Bell Calloway, Buddy Lewis, and Malik Whitfield also joined the cast.

On the night of the screening for her first film as a director and writer, Twinkie Byrd was honored by the African American Films Critic Association. After the viewing of the film, the enthusiastic audience was treated to a panel discussion with Byrd, producer Kim Ogletree, editor Leander Sales (who has also worked with Spike Lee on nine films), and cast members Ashley Jackson, Etienne Maurice, and Malik Whitfield. The panel discussion was entertaining and insightful as it focused on topics such as the making of the film and its impact as it relates to past and present social injustice and civil rights activism.

From left to right cast member Etienne Maurice  and Director Twinkie Bryd holding the award given by the African American Fil
From left to right cast member Etienne Maurice and Director Twinkie Bryd holding the award given by the African American Films Critic Association

Byrd's "The Counter:1960" skillfully combines elements of the contemporary African American experience with themes of traditional African American culture. The beginning of the film sets the perfect tone to introduce the students' college experience as it opens with the sounds of a marching band. Profound images also contribute to the cultural backdrop and further drive the story in the form of flashbacks, still picture, and video clips of past and current victims of hate crimes and social injustice. Ashley Jackson contributes an inspiring song that she wrote and performed for the film entitled "Stand Up and Sit In."

Director Tracy Twinkie Bryd standing alongside the “The Counter: 1960” film poster.
Director Tracy Twinkie Bryd standing alongside the “The Counter: 1960” film poster.

A particularly poignant aspect of the film is the inclusion of a picture of Emmett Louis Till, the 14-year-old African-American boy who was brutally beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. The tragedy hits close to home for Byrd, as Till was a maternal cousin. During the panel discussion after the screening of the film, Twinkie Byrd talked passionately about Till's death stating, "Killed is such a "clean" word -- he was tortured!"

"The Counter:1960" is a timely film which addresses both past and present issues of social, cultural, and political relevance. A prominent line from the film is, "History always repeats itself." Twinkie Byrd stated during the panel discussion that she plans to create more short films that educate young people about lesser known history. According to Byrd, "The Counter:1960" is just the beginning.

For more information about "The Counter:1960" go to: www.thecounter1960.com

Check out "The Counter:1960" trailer and a video featuring interviews from the screening below:

“The Counter:1960” Trailer

Video featuring interviews with Director, Producer, and Cast of “The Counter: 1960”

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