Army's reversal of rioters’ convictions supports premise of Kevin Willmott film 'The 24th'
LAWRENCE – Kevin Willmott is unsure whether his 2020 film, “The 24th,” helped lead to this week’s decision by the U.S. Army to overturn the convictions of 110 Black soldiers who participated in the Houston race riot of 1917, 19 of whom were executed for their violent actions.
But showing the violent injustices that precipitated the uprising was the goal of the Oscar-winning screenwriter, filmmaker and University of Kansas professor of film & media studies all along.
“I was hoping it showed what they went through – to put a human face on the guys,” Willmott said this week. “The movie clearly educated people.”
The film premiered online during the pandemic lockdown summer of 2020 in the aftermath of riots in U.S. cities triggered by the viral video of the Minneapolis law enforcement officers who killed a Black man, George Floyd, who’d been accused of passing a counterfeit bill at a store. Willmott said he had been working on the script off and on for 20 years.
The Army’s news release about the overturn said that in October 2020 and December 2021, the South Texas College of Law Houston petitioned the Army requesting a review of the courts-martial.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said that review had shown that “these Soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials." The Army said that now, “to the extent possible, the Soldiers’ military service be characterized as ‘honorable.’”
Willmott said that, as part of that, the soldiers’ gravestones, which he filmed in Texas, will be replaced with ones listing their service in the Philippine-American and Spanish-American wars, which had previously been omitted.
Willmott said he hopes this week’s action by the Army “will help people discover this film.” “The 24th” is available to watch on the streaming services Amazon Prime, Tubi, Vudu and Google Play.