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CoastLine: Ricky & Cherie Kelly of Black Beach, White Beach on making films and keeping your day job

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Documentary filmmakers Ricky and Cherie Kelly in the WHQR studio October 2022

After the NAACP filed at least two lawsuits over discriminatory practices, Ricky Kelly knew the story of Black Bike Week in Atlantic Beach, SC had to be told. But how do you make a documentary film when you've never made a film before and you don't even own a camera? Ricky bought a camera, and he and his wife, Cherie embarked upon what would become a new filmmaking career.

Ricky Kelly is a plumber. He and his wife, Cherie, have three children together. Two are grown and out of the house. The youngest, a teenager, in a fit of teen rebellion, launched the idea for one of their next documentaries by turning up her nose at a family tradition: eating chitlins during the holidays.

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Cherie Kelly
A cook stirs a pot of chitlins.

While Chitlins is in the works to explore the history, evolution, and spiritual significance of eating and preparing pig intestines, Ricky and Cherie Kelly are also making a film about plumbers.

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Ricky Kelly on the set of Humble In the Jungle, a documentary that explores being a tradesman and having a robust artistic life.

Remember, Ricky himself is a plumber, and we hear the story of his work with a fellow plumber, a guy named Mike, who is, like Ricky, African-American. The two were working on a plumbing job one day when, unwittingly, Mike Smalls outed himself to Ricky as Mike Gee of the Jungle Brothers – an iconic hip hop star from the early days.

The first film from the Kellys, Black Beach White Beach, which screened at several film festivals including Cucalorus and the North Carolina Black Film Festival, explores a tale of two bike weeks in South Carolina. For more than 80 years, Myrtle Beach has hosted Black Bike Week and Harley Bike Week – that latter being the majority white event.

The NAACP has filed suit at least twice over what it claims are clear differences between the way each bike week is managed – and ultimately, how the bikers are treated. At least twice, a court has agreed with the NAACP’s complaints.

Ricky rides in Black Bike Week and decided it was time to tell the story from his point of view: So Ricky bought a camera, quickly found support, and the Kellys spent nearly $100,000 of their own money to make the film. Having their own money to make the films they want to make is part of this story.

On this edition of CoastLine, we explore what has changed since Black Beach White Beach was released in 2017, their new projects, and how these two people with no prior filmmaking experience are building their audience.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.