The Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace” will be going out on tour this fall and winter, as part of a 22-state road show that will offer free screenings of the film as a centerpiece of multi-day voter registration events being sponsored by the Poor Peoples Campaign, a historic civil rights organization that Franklin supported since it was founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.
The tour is set to be officially announced Monday at a press conference prior to a showing of “Amazing Grace” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Among those participating in the D.C. kickoff event are “Grace” producer Alan Elliott, TV host Joy Reid, gospel singer Richard Smallwood, the current head of the Poor Peoples Campaign, the Rev. William J. Barber, and another civil rights activist, Rev. Liz Theoharris. All but Smallwood are expected to take part in the tour in coming months, with weekends already booked in cities like Greenville, North Carolina and Flint, Michigan.
In a separate development, Elliott tells Variety that an “expanded version” of “Amazing Grace” is being prepared for release in theaters next spring, with a plan to have it come out in conjunction with Franklins birthday in March. The original cut of the film was released on home video in August.
“Our guiding principle has always been, what would Aretha do?” says Elliott. “This is trying to do right by Arethas politics. Aretha went on tour with Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1968 to support the Poor Peoples Campaign, of which this is an extension. Aretha was a big supporter of Rev. Barber and asked him to do a revival at her church. He took over the Poor Peoples Campaign from Jesse Jackson — with his blessing — after (Jackson) had taken it over from Dr. King. Both of them spoke at her funeral, which was just a year ago,” the producer points out.
At the Kennedy Center screening Monday night, “Rev. Barber and myself will be talking about the movie and gospel music.” But at the press conference and subsequent events in cities around the country where “Amazing Grace” will screen, “the focus will be on the five interlocking injustices — systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism, and lastly, the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”
If that agenda sounds like it skews toward one political party, Elliott says that “as a 501c, the Poor Peoples Campaign is interdenominational. Weve asked a lot of different Republicans to come be a part of this, also. We hope theyll show up. When we went to go premiere the film in New York City last year, Lorne Michaels had me sit next to Dan Crenshaws family, so weve asked Crenshaw to be a part of the events. Well see what happens, but were about the policy, not the party.”
Reids exact participation in the coming tour has yet to be determined, but Elliott is hopeful that shell be able to make all the stops and even do some episodes of her MSNBC show from cities along the way, although that has yet to be cleared by the network.
Part of the idea, Elliott says, is that anyone who registers to vote during these weekends gets a free ticket to the movie — with some being held in theaters and some in churches or meeting halls — although already-registered voters wont be turned away.
The “big landing” of the tour, he says, will be June 20, 2020, when the Poor Peoples Campaign has permits for a march on Washington.
Elliott says the idea was sparked after a conversation with Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah was a big fan of theOriginal Article