The Day Alice Walker Said ‘It’s Me or the KKK’

Alice Walker
Alice Walker

Did you know that Alice Walker (the female face of African-American literature in the 20th century, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple) married a white Jewish man in the 1960s? Their relationship drew so much ire from local Ku Klux Klan members in Mississippi that she turned to her husband one day and issued an ultimatum: “Mel, it’s the marriage or Mississippi. You make your choice. I gotta get outta here.”


That anecdote is shared in a documentary about Walker’s life titled Beauty in Truth—one of several dozen films that will screen at the 21st annual African Diaspora International Film Festival currently under way in New York City. In the documentary, Walker's former husband, Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, describes how he chose his marriage over Mississippi, and he and Walker hightailed it to New York.

Viewers gain a behind-the-scenes view of Walker penning her best-selling book The Color Purple, an endeavor that put her on the map as a literary giant. It also features the likes of Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg knocking on her door, vying to participate in any effort to bring the tale to the big screen. In her book, readers are encouraged to stop and tip their hat to God when they come across the rare purple in nature.

The ADIFF will screen similar films, shorts and documentaries—both nonfiction and fiction—that capture the nuances and characteristics of the individuals of the Diaspora, scattered across the world in the Americas, Europe and Africa.

Take La Playa D.C., for instance—a tale that sheds further light on the “blacks in Latin America” discussion that The Root’s editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., initiated on PBS last year. The film’s main characters are Afro-Colombians with complexions as dark chocolate as Idris Elba’s, but non-Spanish speakers can follow along only by reading the English subtitles. The aesthetics alone should remind people of the breadth of the African slave trade in South America.

The trailer’s pace and energy feel like 2002’s City of God, except the film doesn’t take place in Rio de Janeiro—it’s in Colombia. According to press summaries, La Playa D.C. depicts racism, exclusion and war in Colombia while telling the tale of a brotherhood. It’s that country’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at next year’s Academy Awards.

Check out the spate of films and events the ADIFF has to offer through Dec. 15. It’s well worth your time.


Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is an editorial fellow at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that parses those compelling topics in your favorite TV shows, songs and movies. Follow her on Twitter