You are teleported as soon as the music comes through the speakers. There is something about disco that just makes you want to boogie no matter your age. And in the early 1970’s a very determined young Black woman found out just how powerful, lucrative, and dangerous it could be to own a disco.
Jewel’s Catch One is a documentary about Jewel Thais Williams, a fierce and powerful Black woman who wanted to serve her community. ImageNation in partnership with Ava DuVernay’s Array, a distribution, arts and advocacy collective that focuses on films by people of color and women, are bringing a limited theatrical release of the film this week, culminating in a Catch One screening and party tonight at 7:15 p.m. at 2031 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, New York, NY 10027.
Jewel opened Catch One with little more than sweat, her ingenuity and lots of prayers. She knew she wanted a place where everyone, “gay, lesbian, bi, try or otherwise,” as she jokes in the documentary, could come together and be themselves.
As a Black lesbian entrepreneur in the 1970’s through the late 2000’s, her journey was anything but easy. She faced constant discrimination from police, the larger white community, even public officials paid to support citizens, turned their backs on her. Jewel however had a vision to protect and nurture our community and kept going..
It quickly became a haven for the outsider, particularly the Black LGBTQ population. And of course later because of our ability to shape and transform culture, it became the hot-spot on the West Coast for the Hollywood elite. During the 85 minute film power celebs like Sharon Stone, and Madonna touted how they loved the little corner club.
The film also featured just a fraction of the amazing music and musicians that graced the Catch One including Bonnie Pointer, Thelma Houston, Sylvester, Jennifer Holiday, and many more.
But it was the people, the community, who spoke during the film, that brought the most history to the documentary. Catch One was around for more than 40 years, (ultimately closing in 2015) and as such was a defacto witness to the Black lgbtq movement. While the news broke of the AIDS crisis, and the narrative shifted the lens to white gay men, Jewel was the one caring for her Black gay brothers who were dying every week. She spoke about the personal hurt of losing friend after friend. And the financial ramifications of half your clientele evaporating in a decade.
What is most striking about the film is how much it doesn’t just focus on music. Yes we want to party, but Jewel was concerned for our well being inside and out. On the same block as her disco she opened a vegan restaurant, and the Village Health Foundation. She was so determined to serve she went back to school and got a masters in Chinese medicine and studied acupuncture so she could bring relief to her people.
Yes, Jewel’s loved to party, but she is the living embodiment of how one human being can be of service to so many others.
C. Fitz, the director of the doc was on hand Thursday to unpack the journey of following a subject for eight years and trying to unravel and repurpose that information into a film. Her energy and enthusiasm for her subject was obvious. When the film ended she shouted to the audience, “Don’t you feel inspired?” To be honest – you did.
C. Fitz met Jewel in 2010 after initially being contracted to do a 2-3 minute film on her life. She knew instantly she had to tell a larger story and spent the next 8 years eking out a workable story.
“The rough cut was 10 hours,” she said during a Q&A. It was a labor of love and a drain on her personal bank account to get the film to even be shown. And through a mix of luck, miracle and tenacity, Fitz and Jewel got the film to Ava DuVernay and her production company Array.
Now Jewel’s Catch One is having a Netflix release this week as well as public screenings at tonight at Imagenation. Come see the film tonight and dance, and see what it is like to have a Jewel working and healing in your life.
For more information please check out Imagenation Cinema Foundation.
Cover Photo LA Times