Documentary series about Chicago’s West Side planned

Filmmaker Deontay Wilson, a native of North Lawndale, will screen “Westside Stories: Paradise Lost” on Thursday in Austin. It is the first in a series about the West Side.

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A family photo featuring, from left to right: Dee Wilson, Johnny “Big John” Wilson, Pearl Wright, Mary Lee Wilson and another friend of the group. 

A family photo that includes relatives of filmmaker Deontay Wilson, the director of “Westside Stories: Paradise Lost,” a documentary about what the West Side was like when it was a haven for African Americans fleeing the South as part of the Great Migration and what it is like today.

Courtesy of Darlene Wilson

A filmmaker who plans to produce a series about Chicago’s West Side will screen his first installment Thursday in Austin.

Deontay Wilson, a native of North Lawndale, will screen his “Westside Stories: Paradise Lost” at the Kehrein Center For The Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd.

The 56-minute documentary is the first of what Wilson, 42, hopes will be many films covering the history of Chicago’s West Side, beginning with the Great Migration.

“It is an attempt to tell the story of Chicago’s West Side in the broadest sense,” Wilson said, from the movement of Black people from the rural South to northern cities, to the resistance those new arrivals encountered from white people, and the resulting “white flight” as many of residents left the city for the suburbs.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; the screening begins at 7 p.m. A brief panel discussion will follow. Attendees can register in advance at to guarantee a plate at a dinner served before the screening. The event is free.

Wilson began making the film in early 2020, and it includes interviews with historians, longtime residents, historical footage and footage Wilson shot at crime scenes on the West Side. It won an award for best documentary in October 2022 at the Crown Point International Film Festival, a Chicago-based monthly competition.

Wilson’s first movie sets the scene for the second and third series installments: “Fire Sale,” which is about discriminatory practices that led to disinvestment on the West Side; and “Pure Dope,” which is about the impact of drugs on the neighborhood. He plans to release those by the end of the year.

Ultimately, Wilson hopes to reshape the narrative around the West Side, which he said often is in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

“Black folk need to start selling their own stories and writing their own narratives,” Wilson said. “This is my attempt.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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