Annenberg School for Communication Dean John L. Jackson Jr. co-directed and co-produced “Making Sweet Tea,” a feature-length documentary film about the life of Northwestern University professor and performing artist E. Patrick Johnson and other gay black men from the American South.
The film is an adaptation of Johnson's book, "Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South." The documentary explores the lives of Johnson and six other gay black men whose stories were originally told in Johnson's work.
“Making Sweet Tea” has roots at Penn. Jackson and Penn doctoral student, Nora Gross, began production in 2013 in coordination with Penn’s Collective for Advancing Multimodal Research Arts, Penn Today reported. Penn music professor Guthrie Ramsey and at least three undergraduate students and seven graduate students from Annenberg, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Arts and Sciences were also involved in the film's production.
Jackson, who took office as Annenberg's dean on Jan. 1, 2019, said the project strengthened the connection between theory and production in the Annenberg curriculum as Penn students analyzed and edited at least 70 hours of initial footage.
“We’re trying to get students working as scholars, as intellectuals in nonconventional ways,” Jackson told Penn Today. “Part of our goal is to short-circuit any too-easy distinctions between thinking and doing to create academics who produce the kinds of multimodal research that can redefine what scholarship looks like in the 21st century."
He aims to get more students involved in his next documentary project, which will be about the origin of the television channel HBO, and further strengthen the link between media analysis and content creation.
The documentary film itself, “Making Sweet Tea” made its world premiere at the 2019 Reeling Film Festival in Chicago on Sept. 23. It is scheduled for a “Southern premiere” at the Out on Film Festival in Atlanta on Oct. 6.