By Rachel Estes
DCN regional staff
The Lady of the Lake, mysterious arms dragging swimmers to the depths below and other eerie legends submerged in the supernatural — they all trace to one common denominator, according to a band of Georgia filmmakers: Oscarville.
Buried by Lake Lanier in the 1950s, the Forsyth County town was once home to roughly 1,100 Black individuals until three of its men were accused of — and lynched for — the rape and murder of 18-year-old Mae Crow, a White woman in 1912.
The events spurred the rise of “night riders,” White mobs that torched Black-owned businesses and churches, fired shots into their homes, killed their livestock and eventually drove them out of the county altogether, as recounted in Patrick Phillips’ book “Blood at the Root.”
Fusing the genres of history and horror into a singular feature film, the writers and producers of “Lanier” aim to retell the account in a way that “does Oscarville justice” when filming begins in early 2022.
“There’ve been movies that have happened at Lake Lanier, but nothing has ever hit on Oscarville or anything even close to that,” said William Bush-Anderson, the film’s director, co-writer and producer. “There’s nothing more fearful than a real-life intruder coming inside your home. You think they’re on the outside, but they may already be inside. Just that idea of that real-life horror — that’s what really drove me, aside from anything paranormal, because the best horror movies are the movies that could actually happen to you.”
As co-writer and producer Cindy Kunz-Anderson sees it, the dark history lurking beneath the shallows is the inciting incident unleashing the paranormal activity associated with it Lake Lanier. She’s of the persuasion that many injuries, disappearances and other incidents backdropped by the lake were instigated by spirits seeking retribution for the crimes committed against Oscarville.
“There’s a lot of ‘accidents’ and drownings that happen here, and there’s a lot of people that take that very lightly,” she said. “(Lake Lanier) isn’t all fun and games like people think it is; it can be very dangerous.”
“That’s what makes Lake Lanier so mysterious,” her husband, Bush-Anderson, echoed. “We know about Oscarville, but we don’t know as well as other things that have happened there that are just evil,” he said “I think that’s why we still hear about drownings happening today. We hear about deaths happening, we hear about disappearances — the whole nine, in my opinion, is because of the past.”
That, paired with the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in the not-so-distant past of 2020, leads Bush-Anderson to believe now is an opportune time to produce a film like “Lanier.”
“We’ve been saying we’re at the height of racial tension for a while, but the unfortunate truth is that it’s never going to end because racism is taught; as long as it’s taught, it will always exist in the world,” he said. “I think we have to continue to shine a light on racism or even have films that talk about racism, and not only in one genre form, because you can tell that story in so many different ways. By doing that, you’re constantly showing people what the past was, how ugly it was and how vindictive it was, and why it shouldn’t be like that now.”
Oscarville wasn’t always the anchor for the plot, however; in fact, the team wasn’t aware of the account until two years ago, when they began researching drownings and disappearances that have occurred at the lake.
“That was the nail in the coffin,” Bush-Anderson said. “It’s really important that we tie in that history. I’ve always felt that way, from the moment I read about it (for the first time).”
While the movie doesn’t tie a nice bow around the topic of racism, the team hopes viewers with tainted views will come away with a different outlook on life and people of color.
“It’s not going to be pretty,” said co-writer, producer and the movie’s lead actor Ali Ashtigo. “To show the scenes of this film — it’s got to be harsh, or else people aren’t going to get it, the pain of the people. In order to show that, maybe horror is the best way to do it. Maybe a history documentary isn’t enough.”
“Lanier” is slated to begin filming in February 2022, with a targeted September-October release date to “pay homage to those that fell at Oscarville” in autumn 1912. Tentatively, tickets will be available for in-person and virtual premiers.
For updates on “Lanier,” as well as any calls for extra cast and crew members, follow the movie’s Facebook page.
“We want to do Oscarville justice — to let people know that we haven’t forgotten just because it’s in history,” Bush-Anderson said. “We know how important it is. Everyone has different views. But the beautiful thing about film is that you can put so many views in that film, and even if you disagree, you can’t disagree with the whole film, because your viewpoint was in there, too. I am hoping that the film opens (viewer’s) mind to not only why we believe why Lake Lanier is haunted, but...I’m hoping the film absolutely opens eyes and challenges the way they think even if they haven’t said it out loud. I hope it changes them internally.”
This article was originally published in The Gainesville Times, a sister publication of the Dawson County News.