Nat Turner and the Whoppers

Published 8:57 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2014

By Frank Roberts

The “slaves” relaxed on the front porch, talking and chomping Burger King Whoppers. “Nat Turner: The Burning Spirit” cast member Wally Faison, a Dendron farmer, who was wearing a Stonewall Jackson T-shirt, talked about the weather, his crops and his activities as a Civil War re-enactor.

After lunch, one of the “slaves” would be “severely” beaten by Thomas Moore, the slave owner, portrayed by Wakefield Flower Shop owner, Jimmy Ballard.


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His on-screen task was to administer the punishment — to put the whip to the rebellious subject of the historical film.

The scene that day was simplified. It showed Turner being shoved into a barn, followed by whipping sounds, followed by Turner’s being shoved out of the barn, followed by a pause for the application of lipstick to signify blood.

If, by chance, the whip should strike skin, there would probably be very little pain. The whip came from the Dollar Tree.

Most of the extras portrayed slaves, and they were fairly well dressed, considering. At one point, a take had to be repeated when one of the slaves forgot to remove her watch.

A major problem occured with some regularity when slaves and/or owners, “just don’t show up,” said Holcomb, who hoped that sales to churches and nonprofit organizations would give a return on his investment. He said, “If I could sell one tape to each member of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I’d be out of debt.”

The video was scheduled for release in December 1995, four months after the start of filming, most of which took place on weekends. The end result never made it to the small screen. The ultra-ambitious, “heart’s-in-the-right-place” project was taped in and around an 1800s home in Waverly.

Some scenes were shot on a farm in Sussex County where Turner lived; a former slave quarters was used as the slave quarters of Turner’s parents.

“We have a lot of fun together,” said “slave” Danita Turner, who believes she is a descendant of the title character, who was in turn portrayed by the Rev. Martin Charity of Richmond, a handsome Waverly native, who was pastor of Gravel Hill Baptist Church in Amelia.

“I’m coming across as one concerned about his people and their conditions,” he said of his portrayal.

“I’ve got Turner’s energy and charisma. The conditions in his time were so adverse, if he had access to a jet, he would’ve used it. He wanted to be free. Killing is never the best way to handle anything, but you can’t fuss with him for the reason he did it. He killed to become free.”

Holcomb put a lot of faith and hope in Charity. “He’s as good as I could’ve gotten for $5 million, said the director.

The producer-director, who strongly resembled Col. Sanders, once worked as a movie extra. Steven Spielberg, he was not. “He tells me at the last minute what we’re going to do,” said cameraman John Jarvis of Norfolk, who owned Christian Graphics and usually handled weddings and beauty pageants.

Jarvis, lovingly referred to by the cast as “Crazy Cameraman” described his work on the film as “fun and challenging.”

Challenges included electric lines, and planes, trains and automobiles, all responsible for shooting delays.

Actress/costumer JoAnne Daughtrey described it as an interesting experience.

“We never know what we’re gonna do till we get here. We do what Stanley says. The rest of us don’t know what we’re doing. He’s our one and only director.”

The affable Holcomb, whose trademark was his straw hat, even had a director’s chair to emphasize his position. His brother Daniel was also on hand, portraying the last of Turner’s four owners. At one point, he looked at his script to check the name of his character.

Wally Faison was unsure of the name of the character he portrayed. “I don’t even know what I am. I got a call to come here.”

As for the crew, they preferred chomping their Whoppers.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at