Provincetown filmmaker who made 'Murder on the Cape' sets sights on race relations with Gilpin.

PROVINCETOWN — A filmmaker who last explored a murder on Cape Cod has turned his camera on a race-related story connected to one of Provincetown’s most famous writers.

Arthur Egeli started working last weekend on what is expected to be a three-week shoot in and around town for “Gilpin.” The movie will tell the story of groundbreaking black actor Charles Gilpin (played by British actor Shaun Parkes, known for the movie “Human Traffic”), who became famous a century ago when he starred in the play “The Emperor Jones.”

That 1920 drama, about an escaped convict who sets himself up as emperor on a small Caribbean island, was the first big hit for acclaimed playwright Eugene O’Neill (being played in the movie by John Hensley of TV’s “Nip/Tuck”). O’Neill developed the script in Provincetown.

Hiring black actor Gilpin to play the “Emperor Jones” lead, rather than a white actor in blackface, broke “all the norms of that period,” according to Egeli. O’Neill and Gilpin later clashed, though, over Gilpin not wanting to say the “N” word as liberally used in the script, and Gilpin was fired. Despite Broadway acclaim and a trip to the White House, Gilpin’s career never recovered.

Egeli, an artist who owns Egeli Gallery on Commercial Street, also made last year’s film “Murder on the Cape,” a fictionalization of the 2002 murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington in Truro. That movie played at film festivals and was distributed internationally by Netflix.

The “Murder” film’s writer, Ian Bowater, also wrote the screenplay for “Gilpin,” which is based on the 2016 play “N” by Adrienne Earle Pender, who is related to Gilpin. Egeli said he was already working on a story about O’Neill’s life when Pender’s play was brought to his attention.

“When I read this play, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a story that has never been told,’” he said last week. “As an independent filmmaker, you’re just looking for a story that you can call your own.”

Egeli also thinks the play’s themes and Gilpin fighting against what he felt were racial slurs seem “completely current” in today’s charged climate regarding race relations. Pender is also excited that Gilpin’s story is being told on film.

“More people should know who (Gilpin) is, what he accomplished and what he stood for,” Pender said via email. “He stood up to Eugene O’Neill, at a time when that just wasn’t done — and at the cost of his career and reputation. Standing for principle is so important a message, even more so today, in this climate and culture, and why this story is so relevant now.”

For the movie, Egeli will use area locations for scenes in Provincetown, where O’Neill developed the play, and for Greenwich Village, where the famed Provincetown Players moved after 1916 and where O’Neill and Gilpin won acclaim for “Emperor Jones.” Provincetown Town Hall and Fishermen Hall are due to fill in for New York City theaters, said Egeli, and more scenes will be set at Cape Cod National Seashore and Gifford House Inn.

Besides Parkes and Hensley, the cast includes Liza Weil (“Gilmore Girls,” “How to Get Away With Murder”) as O’Neill’s wife, Agnes Bolton; and Nick Moran (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) as fellow actor Jasper Deeter.

Local actors cast include Stuard Derrick, Nick Dorr, Fred Biddle, and Egeli’s wife, Heather, who also starred in “Murder on the Cape.” This time, she plays Ida Rauh, a Provincetown Players member and leading suffragette. Heather Egeli and Judith Richland are again producers, and several financial backers (who Egeli said wish to remain anonymous) are also the same as for “Murder on the Cape.”

Egeli is using Provincetown area residents as movie extras, and is seeking more for future scenes. (To apply, check out the “Gilpin – The Movie” page on Facebook.)

Egeli expects the movie to be finished by spring, and said he wants the premiere to be somewhere in Provincetown.

— Follow Kathi Scrizzi-Driscoll on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.