Watching this film, I found myself getting emotional over a scene depicting a vote in Congress. That sounds unlikely even for a politics nerd like me. But that was only one of many touching scenes in Miss Virginia, the story of community activist Virginia Walden Ford and her fight to mobilize citizens of Washington, DC, to achieve better, safer schools.
The film, produced by the Moving Picture Institute (MPI) and available on Netflix and other streaming platforms, successfully distills complicated issues and five years of Ford’s life into two hours on the screen. How this was accomplished was the focus of a forum sponsored by the Florida State University DeVoe L. Moore Center, a public policy research institute, on February 9. Hosted by Professor Sam Staley, the forum featured Ford, the film’s executive producer, Nick Reid, and its director, Dan Hanna.
Why This Film
MPI seeks stories where art and policy cross paths. Staley asked the film’s producer, Nick Reid, “Why this story?”
Reid said, “We’re constantly looking for great stories that tell the battle for freedom. This was a labor of love that took eight years to create. We went through several scripts before we felt it was right to move forward. MPI looks for human stories that transcend policy. Netflix has reported that it was one of the top 14 films screened during Black History Month.”
Staley asked the film’s director, Dan Hanna, what had excited him about the project.
“I feel similar to Nick,” Hanna explained. “It was Virginia’s story. A story about a regular person who took on an extraordinary path. First, she found that the cards were stacked against her. Then she found a new path that helped her and her neighborhood. As I read the script, it was a big story but also grounded in one person.”
The Real Virginia
Staley asked Ford what she thought of the process: “Did you enjoy it, was it a challenge, or did you wish you were never a part of it?”
Virginia Ford replied, “I loved it. Well, I was totally freaked out at first. I had concerns about my son and how he would be portrayed. As I met with the production team, I felt that they seemed to be people whom I could trust. Trust not just to tell my story, but the story of the thousands of people fighting for their kids.”
In the film, Ford first discovers her son’s problems in school. As she gets more involved, she meets more people facing similar problems. She realizes that the political system has them trapped.
Ford continued, “The first time I read the script I cried. I thought it was scary. All through the process I realized they were telling the story with honesty, heart and caring. It’s the best experience I ever had. Every day, more and more, I’m counting my blessings that MPI wanted to do this.”
The Reel Virginia
In the film, Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) plays Virginia Ford. Matthew Modine and Vanessa Williams co-star.
Hanna responded to questions about the casting.
He recalled: “We talked about Uzo from an early stage. She’s mostly known for Orange is the New Black.”
On that show she plays the character Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren.
“We could see she had a great range and brings empathy to a character,” Hanna continued. “We thought, ‘Imagine what she could do with Virginia.’ The fact that she came from theatre told me she could keep a character alive through and through. I knew [with] that theatrical training she could deliver on our difficult schedule.”
The difficult schedule Hanna referred to happened because the filming had to fit between two other of Uzo’s projects. She did have time to meet and talk with both Virginia and her kids. I watched the film on a Monday and the next day watched this forum. I found it amazing how well Uzo had captured the real-life Virginia.
One Real Character
Producer Reid explained, “Virginia is really the only real character in the film. The other characters are there to represent the truth. Dan did a great job bringing them out. We’ve had parents say, ‘That was me,’ or ‘That was my sister.’ So many relatable characters.”
When one makes a movie about a real story, one almost always combines and invents people to fit into the limited screen time. Filmmakers did this with Miss Virginia, but they felt that they kept it real on another level.
Ford concurred, “It was about me, but it was really about thousands of parents like me.”
She explained that the film condensed a longer period of time.
“These things really happened,” she said. “My relationship with my son was exactly like it was in the film. The truth of this film is amazing.”
You can watch the trailer, below.
(Photos courtesy of MPI)