Jeffrey Wright helps in telling the story of Nearest Green
The Uncle Nearest film follows the untold story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green and his birth to Tennessee whiskey. As the first African American master distiller on record, Nearest, first as a slave, then as a free man, began on a farm belonging to Dan Call.
Later, the short film uncovers how Nearest’s distilling secrets were shared with a young boy who came to work on the farm with him. Nearest taught the young boy everything about whiskey, and later as the boy grew older, he started a business of his own known to the world as Jack Daniels. Unbeknownst to the world, it was there where Nearest became the first official master distiller and was largely responsible for the success of the brand’s unique tasting whiskey.
Once the film revealed that touching untold truth, the audience marveled at the many contributions Nearest made in the history of spirit making.
The legacy of the family continues on as the story comes alive in a short film narrated by Jeffrey Wright.
Check out the prelude/commercial to the documentary:
On March 19, Jeffrey Wright and Uncle Nearest CEO and Co-Founder, Fawn Weaver gave a few remarks at the screening:
Fawn Weaver: “This is so much more than a spirit band, so much more than a whiskey. Anyone who knows the backstory knows that this is not normal and by that I mean you’re looking at [the fact that] we launched in July 2017. It has not been two years and we have already won #1 Tennessee whiskey by Cigar & Spirits Magazine twice. We have just won, here in New York, world’s best, as awarded by Whiskey Magazine. We have won award after award, by count, about 20 awards at this point in almost 19-20 months. When a spirit brand launches, you are hoping in four years to be able to saturate your own market and to find other states that will take you on and if you could, hopefully, get into your surrounding states within your first 4-5 years. We are in New York right now; this is state number 47! We are in 8 countries outside of the United States. People who came from London [have] said, ‘why don’t you have Uncle Nearest in your bars in New York?’ That’s how a lot of people found out about it. But when people ask me the question, how are you guys growing so quickly, why are you growing so quickly? My response is always the same, have you met my team? Because they don’t go out and sell whiskey. They go out and make sure that a legacy that was lost, that has now been found, is redeemed, restored, and never again forgotten. We make a damn good whiskey! But nothing we do is about the whiskey.”
On joining the project…
Jeffrey Wright: “I reached out to Fawn about six months ago asking how I could help because I told her [that] I knew how to tell this story and because I do as well, like a shot of whiskey every once in a while [laughter]. I was so moved by this story when I read it because I love this country. And this country is always so much more nuanced, complicated, beautiful in its history, than we’re told. And I think right now what we need desperately here are two things. One, a drink. I think we could all use a glass of whiskey right now but I think we are also thirsting for stories that tell the truth about who we are. There is an attempt to define some of us as less than American, but the story is that we’re all here together. The other story is that too often, the contributions of some have been dismissed, have been forgotten, and I think that leads to a kind of schizophrenia among us because if we don’t know who we are, who came before us, who built this country, then how do we have a deeper understanding of what the collective is all about. In spite of a difficult past, no question about it, the antebellum history is one that is full of brutality and crime and violence and oppression but therein also lies the beauty, and this story is a celebration of that beauty. It’s not told with bitterness, it’s told straight from the heart. It’s told as it is and as Fawn says, it’s a redemptive story. It’s a story of friendship, it’s a story of coming together, it’s a story about the birth of a brand that is not only one of the most successful whiskeys in the history of the world, it’s also the story of the creation of something that was as described, a spirit. Something that represents an American spirit that’s about freedom, that’s a little bit about rebellion, and about having a good time. And it was a black man who was largely responsible for creating that spirit and so I’m so pleased to be here and we know that now.
Thoughts about the film being released to the public…
Jeffrey Wright: “Yes, I am excited that the film is out, but it’s about the story. It’s about this whiskey, but it’s more so about this story and the history of this man and his contribution to the American life. And he is one of many whose stories were diminished, but when we take in those stories [and] we celebrate them, then I think we celebrate all of us and come to a closer understanding of who we are as Americans. And if we don’t [then] we don’t understand who we are and we think that some of us are more American than others because of a legacy of contribution that our people brought. And it’s all nonsense. We’re all in it together; we’ve always been all in it together, and the story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green and Jack Daniel is one of those.”
Jeffrey Wright: “I just wish that all of those unknown stories and all of those unknown contributors may come to light too. [Just] because you were enslaved didn’t mean you were not ingenious. And so, thank you Fawn for having me and inviting me to this party. Thank you all for being here and thank you to the family of Nearest Green, and we’ll have a toast to his legacy, that history, and to him, and to all of you for being here. So thank you.”