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Docudrama 'Incorruptible' will chronicle Black Benedictine nun and foundress

Royce Hood heads up a new project on a story of perseverance, uncommon Catholic faith, and possible sainthood.

(Royce Hood)

“Incorruptible: The Life & Faith of Sister Wilhelmina,” an upcoming film on Mother Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB—the Black Benedictine nun discovered possibly incorrupt in Missouri last year—will explore her life, searching for a common thread in her journey of faith, fortitude, and forbearance.

Royce Hood, a lawyer and filmmaker in Illinois, is directing the new project. He says his work on the docudrama was inspired not only by the zeitgeist surrounding Lancaster’s reinterment in spring 2023, but also Lancaster’s lifelong commitment to the Church and the order she founded: the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

“I just felt very moved, that I wanted to help tell her story. It's hard to describe, but I've kind of felt like I was supposed to help tell her story,” he told BCM.

“I prayed about it a lot and I talked to the sisters about it. They got back to me a couple of days later… It's been just an amazing few months.”

Hood says he is aiming to meet the 88-minute threshold for feature-length films, with a plan to tell the full-orbed tale of Lancaster’s life. This includes her upbringing as the granddaughter of enslaved African Americans in early 20th-century Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, to her time as an educator with the Oblate Sister of Providence and the founding of her Latin-chant-singing Traditionalist nuns.

A teaser trailer for the film was released in December, reenacting the sisters’ exhumation of Lancaster’s tomb in Gower, Missouri, a process that led to the discovery of her largely undecayed body—a state historically regarded as a sign of sainthood in the Catholic Church. Thousands from around the world flocked to the sisters’ monastery in the weeks thereafter, looking to pray with Lancaster’s body and perhaps receive a blessing from what could be a future saint.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph initiated an investigation following the discovery, sparking rumors of an official sainthood cause, but no further updates have been released. Meanwhile, the Benedictine sisters have continued to focus on their singing and prayer, which Hood says will be a major focus of the “Incorruptible” film.

“There's going to be some segments of the film that are set at what I'm referring to as a ‘contemplative’ pace. Scenes where you're almost feeling like you're immersed in that life for a period of time,” Hood said. 

“It definitely has to be a part of [the film]. It’s what she cared about. Showing what [Lancaster] created and helped them facilitate is going to help honor her life.”

Hood estimates it will cost around $350,000 to complete the film, though the final total could be higher. Roughly 15% of that goal has already been reached, according to an official crowdfunding page.

Royce Hood of Studio, right, speaks with Michael McGlinn of Sistine Films during filming of “Incorruptible: The Life & Faith of Sister Wilhelmina” in fall 2023. (IncorruptibleMovie/Facebook)

Hood’s plan is to tour with select scenes over the course of the next year, with rough edits hopefully done by late spring—near the fifth anniversary of Lancaster’s death—and a final release in the fall.

Five years postmortem is also the soonest a canonization cause could emerge, which some advocates have already spoken of as a fait accompli for Lancaster. She would become one of just eight African-American candidates for sainthood in the history of the Catholic Church.

Hood says honing in on Lancaster’s cultural background will be an important part of telling her story, though it may cause controversy among some Catholics.

“What I'm discovering is that some of the White people interested in this story are almost afraid of going too much into the Black history part of it. They don't want it to be divisive, but I'm like, you have to honor her,” he said.

“Her thing was, ‘I'm Black and I'm beautiful,’ though she was a bride of Christ first. But you can’t ignore it. You have to tell part of that story. It's part of her legacy and it's so important, I think, for the Black community too.”

With the onset of successive Christian films making waves at the box office and the strong international interest in Lancaster’s story, “Incorruptible” could be a success story that leads to more support for the Benedictine nuns’ ministry. This is also one reason Hood decided to make the film, which he hopes could be picked up by an entity like Angel Studios or Fathom Events.

“I think a lot of people will watch it. Historically, it's difficult to actually generate profit on documentaries and docudramas. But if there is any profit, I really want it to go to the sisters and benefit their order.” he said.

“It's not my story. It's not my movie. It's [Lancaster’s] story. It's the sisters’ movie. That's how I'm structuring it.”

Hood says more video content promoting the film is planned for the coming weeks, and those interested can sign up for updates online. Information is also being shared on the movie’s Facebook page and on Hood’s YouTube channel.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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