A plate of soul food prepared by the Hurt family on set of Soul Food Junkies
Soul food, is it putting black communities in jeopardy? This is the question asked by director Byron Hurt in his newest film, Soul Food Junkies. The film takes a mostly lighthearted look through the history of soul food, but it also tells stories of hardship and illness brought to communities of color through unhealthy, high-fat diets. The film is narrated by Hurt as he tells his personal family story of his father's addiction to unhealthy eating while exploring the cultural roots of what we now call soul food.
Local photographer/videographer Rebecca McDonald served as part of Hurt's production team during the filming of the documentary. We were recently invited to her home for the premiere of the film. McDonald's significant other/aspiring caterer Cheo Smith provided guests with a nice soul food tasting before the showing, in which he tried to highlight some healthier takes on soul food classics, but he was kind enough to not omit some beautifully pan-fried chicken.
Soul Food Junkies flyer provided by Byron Hurt
McDonald (who also happens to be a City Pages photographer) gave us a little rundown of her experience with director Byron Hurt and her experience on the film.
"I met Byron back in 2008, and reconnected with him over the years. And when it came time to hire for his film, he asked me to be a part of the Soul Food Junkies crew. I started off doing behind-the-scenes photography, and moved up to production assistant, and then assistant camera, also providing additional footage for the film. It has been such an honor to work with him, as I have admired his work and passion since seeing a film of his, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, in a gender studies class at my alma mater, St.Catherine University, back in 2007."
The film is rife with humor despite the seriousness of the topic, and at multiple points throughout the viewing, the entire living room erupted with laughter. A scene in which Hurt is goaded into eating a pork-braised turkey neck at a tailgating party in Jacksonville, Mississippi, after having spent many years living on a pork-free diet, is made especially funny by the tailgaters' particular brand of overtly flamboyant hospitality.
Our only criticism of the film is that while Soul Food Junkies jumps into a lot of extremely interesting, and in our opinion important, topics, it often spends too little time on them. While the film tells a very compelling story, you're left wanting more. We would have loved to see the film set up in three parts: one part history and culture, one part health effects, and another part that seeks solutions.
If you have the opportunity, watch it (PBS is streaming it for free until February 11, and we've embedded it below!). You'll laugh, you'll see stories featuring vibrant family and food-centric culture, and you might pick up some ideas you'll want to further explore.