By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The trucks came rolling in Tuesday morning. Film crews unloaded miles of cables and wheeled several huge lifts into Parkway Gardens Homes in Woodlawn. Once several strong men hoisted massive spotlights into place, the scene where Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis and her big name co-stars were supposed to shoot was now ready for some live action.
Hollywood has come to Parkway Gardens, a 35 building development that sits on less than an acre of land running from 6330-6546 S. King Drive, and comprised of 24 walk up buildings and 11 eight story buildings, and it’s telling a story where art imitates life in the tough neighborhood. Directed by Black Hollywood legend Steve McQueen, the movie “Widows” is set in Chicago where four robbers are killed in a failed million-dollar heist and their widows step up to finish the job.
For the past three days, the complex, where poverty and despair are part of daily life, has been filled with excitement and curiosity as production crews filmed several scenes of the upcoming movie. Both sides of South Martin Luther King Drive from 63rd to 66th streets were closed for parking as Parkway Gardens became a thrilling stage for Hollywood A-listers, whose presence drew star-struck residents and other onlookers to the scene.
Among a big 16-member cast are Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson and Michelle Rodriguez, the actress who has starred as the tough, gutsy Letty in the Fast and Furious franchise. Black actors Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry also star in the film.
Chicago-based Lawndale Productions began filming in May. 20th Century Fox is the movie’s distributor. Producers filmed scenes on the city’s West Side and in Hyde Park before wrapping up production at Parkway Gardens.
Art and reality merged as film crews set up inside and outside Parkway Gardens on Tuesday. As property management put the final touches on an eight-foot fence and new security measures, film crews were busy hauling in heavy production equipment. On a steamy summer day, a handful of police officers stood guard, blending in as if they were part of a movie in production.
This is the first big movie that has been shot in Parkway Gardens. It’s not clear why the filmmakers picked the Parkway complex. Joe Everett, publicity manager for “Widows,” did not return an email from the Crusader for this story.
According to the Chicago Film Office, “Widows” is the only movie that is being filmed in Chicago.
The Chicago Film Office last year reported a record $1.3 billion was generated between 2011 and 2015. To boost film and television production in Chicago, filmmakers received a 30 percent tax credit on production spending, and 30 percent tax break on employees who make $100,000 or more per year.
Not many movies and television series that are filmed in Chicago are made in low income Black neighborhoods like Parkway Gardens. What may draw filmmakers to these urban areas is the gritty image that they have in the news media. Miami’s Liberty Square housing project is still celebrating after “Moonlight” won Best Picture at this year’s Oscar awards. Now, Parkway Gardens is grabbing a piece of the limelight.
With a hit television show and still glowing from winning an Oscar this year for Best Supporting Actress in the movie “Fences,” Davis has blossomed into a high-profile actress who’s commanding more attention at the box office. On Saturday, July 21, she and her husband were among some 500 people who celebrated the life of actor Nelsan Ellis, the Harvey native and star of “True Blood” and “Elementary” who was laid to rest after a funeral in his hometown.
With increasing prominence and both Oscar and Tony to validate her portfolio, Davis has made “Widows” an appealing film for Blacks. Word has it that Jennifer Lawrence was offered the role, but declined because of scheduling conflicts.