'Baker' looks to give Georgia boost


NEW YORK -- Filmmakers in southern Georgia are unearthing a forgotten chapter in black history and revitalizing their local economy with the fact-based indie feature "The Lena Baker Story."

Tichina Arnold ("Wild Hogs," the CW's "Everybody Hates Chris") plays Baker, the first Georgia woman sent to the electric chair. She became a virtual sex slave to her white employer (Peter Coyote) and killed him, claiming self-defense.

Baker was pardoned by the state two years ago, about 60 years after her execution. Michael Rooker co-stars as the sheriff who arrested her, and Beverly Todd plays her mother.

Writer-director-producer Ralph Wilcox's film, also produced by Dennis Johnson, marks an important step toward revitalizing one of the poorest districts in the U.S. The $2.5 million biopic is the first feature from local production groups Laughing Crow Entertainment and Schuster's Cash and is the first project filmed in the new 22,000-square-foot Jokara-Micheaux production facility in Colquitt, Ga.

As director of the Southwest Georgia Film Commission, veteran actor Wilcox helped establish the production companies, the studio and the HennyPenny production training program for local filmmakers. He obtained about $1 million from government grants to build the Jokara-Micheaux studio. The not-for-profit Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation established the for-profit Laughing Crow to fund this and other upcoming features. Georgia native Charles Rice and his son Barton Rice serve as executive producers.

"The film is a cradle-to-grave story that offers a real perspective on Lena as opposed to just one incident," Wilcox said. "Race does play a part, but this story is really about a woman born between a rock and a hard place."

Wilcox adapted the screenplay from Lela Bond Philips' eponymous biography and hired crew members from Los Angeles and several southern states. He's now in discussions with indie distributors for a theatrical release.

Arnold is repped by APA, Mary Putnam Greene of Brillstein Entertainment Partners and C. Anthony Mulrain of Lord Bissel & Brook. Coyote is repped by Talentworks and Stephanie Simon of Untitled Entertainment. Rooker is repped by Talentworks and Tiffany Kuzon of Evolution Entertainment. Todd is repped by the Marshak/Zachary Co.