Producer Of AETN's "Dream Land": Let's Talk About History

Mar 31, 2017

"Dream Land: Little Rock's West 9th Street" tells the story of an African-American business and entertainment district in Little Rock.
Credit AETN / AETN

Trailer for the film:

KUAR’s David Monteith interviewed Tanisha Conway, producer of the film “Dream Land: Little Rock’s West 9th Street.”

DAVID MONTEITH: Give us a preview of the documentary. What is it about West 9th Street that made you want to make a movie about it?

PRODUCER TANISHA CONWAY: The story is in this entire street, which was an African-American business and entertainment district. And the spirit of the people, the hard work of the people, what they were able to build when they were segregated, whether that was businesses, or I mean everything was down there. There were businesses. There were clubs. There was all of this excitement on that street, but there were a lot of other things that happened that needed to be told. Give us a few of the key moments from the story of West 9th Street. There are several. Everything from it being developed and there being all of these businesses and also there was a vital, active club scene. The Dream Land Ballroom, which is on the third floor of Taborian Hall, ended up being this national place along the Chitlin Circuit – one of the stops. There was Little Rock. There was Memphis. All of these places that African-American entertainers were able to play. And so there’s this rich history of all these national artists. But the other thing is a lot of the local, wonderful musicians played up and down these streets. Everything that was there was vibrant. And so we go from there to what happened when there was a lynching on West 9th Street. We talk about that. We talk about some of the social things that happened that ended up, over time, really changing the makeup of that street. And urban development, school desegregation, the Housing Act of 1949, and even the Eisenhower Interstate Program, and how all of that at certain times affected what happened to West 9th Street.

In the movie it’s suggested that the story of West 9th Street in Little Rock is similar to the story of neighborhoods in other parts of the country. Can you tell us more about that?

It definitely is. During our research we found that these districts or streets were not only all over Arkansas, but they were also all over other states. For example, in Atlanta they have Sweet Auburn Historic District; in Florida, they have Lincolnville District; of course a lot of people know about Black Wall Street in Tulsa in Oklahoma; and a lot of people, of course, in Arkansas go over to Beale Street in Memphis. We even found some research along the way that said that Arkansas’s West 9th Street was more vibrant than Beale Street in Memphis. And so when you think about what Beale Street means to Memphis and when you go down to West 9th Street and see where we are, you know it begs the question - what happened.

What impact do you hope this movie will have?

I hope this movie will really get us talking about history. All the things that we haven’t learned about thus far. Or at least the stories of the people. When we would interview them they would say, “We’re just excited that some of this history is coming out. Start the conversation and some of the social issues that need to be addressed and to have hopefully a start to some healing for some of those."

Tanisha, thank you for talking with us and for the sneak preview.

Thank you.

“Dream Land: Little Rock’s West 9th Street,” produced by Tanisha Conway and directed by Gabe Mayhan, premieres at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock on Friday, March 31. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance here. The documentary is scheduled to air on Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) on Thursday, April 6, at 7 p.m. and Monday, April 17, at 9 p.m.