This year marks the 25th anniversary of “Life is Beautiful,” an endearing movie that “offers the possibility of hope in the face of unflinching horror” – in this case, the Holocaust. It won three Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor. The internet movie site IMDB includes the Italian film in the comedy, romance, and drama categories. Like critics, audiences loved it.  

Another film that falls into a similar genre is 2021’s award-winning “Belfast,” a heartfelt, coming-of-age “comedy-drama” movie set in 1969 during Northern Ireland’s sectarian violence that rocked Belfast for nearly three decades. “The Troubles,” as the violence has been called, pitted the majority-Protestant population against the minority-Catholic population. 

The story is told through the eyes of 9-year-old Buddy, from a Protestant family, who has a crush on a girl from his class at school. The problem is she’s Catholic. Buddy’s “Pa,” played by Jamie Dornan, teaches Buddy there shouldn’t be a divide between two people who like and respect one another. He tells Buddy, “There is no our side and their side on our street.”  

One of the movie’s most memorable scenes is Dornan’s fabulous rendition of “Everlasting Love” as a serenade to “Ma,” Caitriona Balfe. It’s also a metaphor for life. Everlasting love can thrive even in the middle of violence and insecurity. It’s what makes us human. As with “Life is Beautiful,” audiences love it – including me, a Catholic woman with a Baptist husband. 

Both “Life is Beautiful” and “Belfast” are love stories with violence, bloodshed, and war as backdrops. Neither romanticized the violence, just the relationships. This style of film is a powerful tool that highlights the stark contrast between depraved, politically motivated hatred and acts of love and kindness. It’s a compelling way to tell a story. Viewers want the bad guys exposed. They want to see love win. It’s what makes us human.  

I bring up these award-winning films because we at the John Locke Foundation are stepping outside our traditional policy geek comfort zone to use film to tell the story of an important but brutally ugly North Carolina historical event – the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.  

On Nov. 10, 1898, a group of Democrat white supremacists, with help from the Democrat-controlled media, overthrew the duly elected biracial, fusionist (Republican and populist) Wilmington city council. As buildings were looted and burned, dozens of elected officials and government employees were forced from their offices. Estimates of black residents murdered range from 60 to 300. Black and white survivors were told to leave or face more violence.  

The only successful coup on American soil was violent, deadly, and led by Democrats. The fallout was devastating. In addition to decimating Wilmington’s black population, the massacre secured a century of Democrat statewide political domination, almost universally suppressed black voters, ushered in North Carolina’s Jim Crow era, and stunted Wilmington’s economic growth. No one was ever punished. 

Like “Belfast” and “Life is Beautiful,” the plot of our short film “In the Pines” is a love story set in the middle of violence. Our crew recently wrapped up filming in Wilmington. Over 900 actors responded to our casting call. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the actors, the crew, and our Wilmington hosts.  

One group not thrilled with our project is the progressive left, including a McClatchy opinion writer. No wonder. Democrats and their media enablers have tried to bury the truth about Wilmington for over a century.  

Filming of “In the Pines,” a film set amid the 1898 Wilmington Insurrection. Photo by Dustin Von Rademacher, DVXT Images. Film produced by the John Locke Foundation and Just Add Firewater.

Generally, responding to our leftist critics is not worth my time. Strident detractors who aren’t interested in common ground are as certain as the sunrise. However, I had to respond when writer Paige Masten posted a screed equating the John Locke Foundation with white supremacy due to our three decades of work on behalf of individual freedom, educational choice, and secure elections. Her attempt to rewrite history to fit her ideological bias won’t go unchallenged.  

Eager to score quick, easy political points with her readership, Ms. Masten didn’t bother to speak with anyone involved with the movie before publishing. In her promotional tweet, she wrote, “it’s [the movie] somehow even worse than you’d think.” Yet, she knows nothing about the script, cast, or crew, and she thinks she knows us.  

Loaded with predictable links to leftist websites, her piece serves as little more than confirmation bias for progressives desperate to rewrite history. I’ll spare you the need to read it. Here are Cliff’s Notes from her conservatives-are-white-supremacists diatribe: 

  •  Parental concern about curriculum is code for racism. 
  •  Desire for secure elections is code for voter suppression. 
  •  Tell the truthful story of North Carolina Democrats violently overthrowing the biracial Wilmington City Council is code for conservative white supremacy.  

She gaslights readers by calling Wilmington in 1898 a “progressive” city. No. It was a thriving city with biracial, fusionist leadership. The historical rewrite to distance the Democrat Party from the hatred it inflicted and the murder it perpetrated on the Republicans and populists in Wilmington in 1898 is factually wrong.  

Attempts to equate the Democrat perpetrators with today’s pro-freedom conservativism that Locke champions are absurd. The words of white supremacists like the Democrat “education Governor” Charles Aycock won’t allow it: “I am a Democrat. I am not a conservative, or reactionary Democrat.” 

When criticized, Ms. Masten tweeted a response: “I think love stories about awful periods in history (e.g., Gone with the Wind) are generally bad, not just this one” – as if she’s seen it. “In the Pines” isn’t a love story romanticizing the Wilmington Massacre. It’s a love story set in the middle of the violence and how that violence impacts a young couple. The difference is crucial. She’d know that if she’d bothered to find out.  

There’s one sentence with which I agree, “To tell the story of Wilmington without acknowledging the many parallels between our past and present won’t stop us from repeating it.” That’s one reason why we are making the movie.  

We hope “In the Pines” reaches new audiences and sparks interest among viewers to learn more about the Democrat-led massacre. We also hope it leads viewers to explore what parallels they may see in today’s dehumanizing and divisive political discourse. Our hosted viewings will discuss the ripple effects of November 10, 1898, and what similarities we may find today in politics, social media, and corporate news outlets. 

Erasing or rewriting history doesn’t prevent us from repeating it. On the flip side, learning from it allows us to heal and move forward, perhaps with “Everlasting Love” and, eventually, where “Life is Beautiful.” I invite Ms. Masten to join us in that effort. 

Amy Cooke is publisher of Carolina Journal and chief executive officer of the John Locke Foundation.