Mississippi Madam: The Life of Nellie Jackson

In 1902 Nellie Jackson, an African-American woman born into poverty in Possum Corner, Mississippi, travels north to Natchez and opens “Nellie’s,” a brothel she ran for more than 60 years with full knowledge of police and Natchez officials until a fiery end one hot July night in 1990.

  • Timothy Givens
    Director
    Mississippi Madam: The Life of Nellie Jackson
  • Mark K. Brockway
    Director
    Mississippi Madam: The Life of Nellie Jackson
  • Timothy Givens
    Editor
    Mississippi Madam: The Life of Nellie Jackson
  • Film Type:
    Documentary
  • Genres:
    Drama, Comedy, Suspense
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 21 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    May 15, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    9,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Film Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Oxford Film Festival
    Oxford
    United States
    February 10, 2018
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Crossroads Film Festival
    Jackson
    United States
    April 13, 2018
    No
    Best Feature Documentary
  • Peekskill Film Festival
    Peekskill
    United States
    July 27, 2018
    New York state Premiere
    Official Selection
  • New Orleans Film Festival
    New Orleans
    United States
    October 23, 2018
    Louisiana Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Rails to Reels
    Meridian
    United States
    October 19, 2018
    Best Documentary
  • Hollywood South Urban Film Festival
    Hattiesburg
    United States
    Official Selection
  • Clarksdale Film Festival
    Clarksdale
    United States
    January 26, 2019
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Timothy Givens, Mark K. Brockway

Mark K. Brockway, left, is from New Jersey and a graduate of St. John's University. Mark is a manager at Dunleith Historic Inn in Natchez, Mississippi. Timothy Givens, is from Mississippi and a graduate of the University of Mississippi. Timothy is a Design Editor at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Director Statement

Growing up I had heard about “Nellie,” a brothel owner in Natchez, Miss. all my life. She was a legend around town. Everyone seemed to have a story to tell about her. My mother once drove me past her house; at that point it was vacant, parts of the home submerged in ivy, and dilapidated — it looked everything like a relic of the past. It was unbeknownst to me that 416 North Rankin Street was where Ms. Jackson operated a brothel for more than 60 years known to locals as “Nellie’s.”

As you grow older, you hear more stories about Ms. Jackson, which inevitably my interest was gauged, and I began to ask myself questions: Was Nellie from Natchez? How did an African-American woman operate an illegal business that was located in the heart of the Deep South for so long? What really happened on that hot July night in 1990?

In the spring of 2013, I looked into making a documentary, that would chronicle the life of Nellie Jackson. I could not afford what it would take to make this film. Eventually I met up with Mark Brockway, who had the same idea to make a documentary about Nellie Jackson. Myself and Mark decided to collaborate, and in the fall of 2013 we successfully launched an online campaign in order to fund the equipment we needed, plus travel costs. Outside of Mississippi myself and Mark traveled to parts of Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. We conducted phone interviews with people residing in California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and even the United Kingdom. The majority of our interviewees told us a consistent sentiment about Ms. Jackson: “Call her Nellie. That’s what she wanted to be called.”

The more interviews we conducted with her family, neighbors, sheriffs, mayors, patrons, etc. an interesting, multi-dimensional African-American woman emerged. We learned she helped hundreds of African-Americans get out of jail and Parchman State Prison for protesting in the 1960s. We have interviews with two pivotal civil rights workers. Nellie called the sheriff and it was done. So the more we dug in — the better the story got. Once began to edit the film, we had interviewed over 150 people, around 70 of those on camera.

Myself and partner Mark Brockway put in the time and research. Others talked about it like they do all small town legends who are bigger than life, but we worked on this just Mark and I while holding down full-time jobs for three years. We traveled on weekends, we researched at night and we were passionate about this film. I think the audience will laugh in certain parts and I think they will cry in parts too. They may not be transformed but definitely touched and sympathetic for Nellie Jackson.

I can speak for both myself and partner Mark Brockway that this film would not be possible without the many who helped us along the way. The individuals who donated to our campaign, lended their time to do an interview, or even gave us leads to put together the mysterious life of Nellie Jackson.

— Tim Givens