Frederick Johnson’s screenplay Sheba’s Boy is the story of an interracial high school romance set in Queens, New York in the late 1950s.  When white baseball star Pic’ Bremen, from the wrong side of the tracks, transfers into racially mixed Idlewild High School, he quickly becomes involved with an African-American girl, Sheba Anderson.  Although her family objects to the relationship, the two manage to continue to see each other through various adventures, until the night Sheba doesn’t go home. Full of local color, and set against the stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s, Sheba’s Boy provides an enchanting look at that era seen through the eyes of a pair of adolescent rebels.

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Excerpts from Sheba’s Boy

All excerpts copyright©2004 by Frederick Johnson

FADE IN:

EXT. QUEENS, NEW YORK CITY (1959) - DAY

The panoramic view is familiar: the Triborough Bridge, LaGuardia Airport, highways, cemeteries and parks.  Modest homes on tree-lined streets are mostly white neighborhoods, a few are black. Less familiar, and nestled among the acres of swamp reeds bordering Idlewild (later Kennedy) International Airport is a ‘tobacco road’ of white families in ramshackle houses, surrounded by junkyards, empty lots of weeds, garbage, rusting car parts and stray dogs.

EXT. HIGH SCHOOL - DAY

It’s a warm September morning, the first day of school at Idlewild High.  Many black students and a few white students are milling around, some carrying books, some clustered in small groups, talking, laughing, waiting for the entrance bell.

Three male and two female black students are clustered on a bench.

The male student wearing a baseball cap is reading a newspaper to the others who listen attentively.

INSERT - NEWSPAPER

Sport section headline reads, “NO PRAY, NO PLAY” with photo of white baseball player, “Pic’ Bremen” at the plate, with a fierce grimace, hitting the ball.

STUDENT WITH NEWSPAPER

(reading aloud)

“Pic’ Bremen, center-fielder, who was kicked off the St. Albans High team because he refused to pray with the team to win games, will be trying out for the powerhouse Idlewild High School. Referring to his differences with Coach Teague, Bremen said, ‘I don’t think God takes sides in baseball games’.” ...

MALE STUDENT #2 POV

(interrupting)

Speaking of the devil, there he is now.

Pic’ has the languid walk of an athlete. He has a scar over his eye and his close-cropped dirty-blonde hair reveals a couple more scars.  His ‘tough’ demeanor is hard to read, but his eyes seem to take everything in.

BACK TO GROUP OF STUDENTS

Marvin, a husky bodybuilder wearing a tight T-shirt, stands, angrily flexes, punches his fist into his hand.

MARVIN

(loud; to himself)

Honky punk, we don’t want you here!

STUDENT WITH NEWSPAPER

If he’s not a team player, I don’t know how he’s gonna help us.

MARVIN

Thinks he’s better than everybody, we kick his white ass.

Other students frown skeptically, but tolerantly at Marvin.

Carol James, the glamour girl of the group, chimes in.

CAROL

He’s kind of cute -- in a beat-up sort of way.

Pic’ disappears into the crowd of students

MALE STUDENT #2

(calls to student)

Hey Chet! C’mere!

Chet, also with a baseball cap, joins group, exchanges greetings.

MALE STUDENT #2

You played with that guy Pic’ Bremen in the Paramount League didn’t you?

CHET

Yeah.

MALE STUDENT #2

What do you think of him coming here?

CHET

(shrugs)

He’s okay.  Good player.

MARVIN

What do you mean, he’s okay! He’s a punk!

CAROL

Can’t you tell us anything else?

CHET

(shrugs)

He’s okay.

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INT. SCHOOL CAFETERIA - DAY

It’s lunchtime, the same day.  The cafeteria is large and bustling.  Students are carrying trays of food.

On one side there are mostly black students at the tables, including the five students who were sitting together outside.

On the other side there are a couple of tables with only white students.  Several tables, partially occupied, have a mix of black and white students.

Pic’, carrying a tray, walks tentatively from the serving-line into the seating area, looking around.

FEMALE STUDENT #2 POV

(to others at table)

There he is again.

Other students turn to look.

Pic’ walks toward a table where three male black students are sitting together at one end.

At the other end, a black girl wearing glasses sits alone reading a book.  Her plate is empty except for a small pile of uneaten string beans.

Pic’ carefully sets his tray down across from her and sits.

BACK TO STUDENTS POV

CAROL

He’s sitting with Sheba, Miss Sunday School Teacher. Boy, that’s a mix!

Sheba Anderson is a coffee-colored, fresh-faced, coltish, fifteen year-old, without make-up or jewelry.  Her nappy hair is pulled back into two stubby braids.  She’s striking, in an unconventional way.

FEMALE STUDENT #2

When she finds out who he is she’s gonna fall off her seat.

BACK TO SHEBA AND PIC’

As Pic’ sits, Sheba glances up, then returns to reading her book.

Pic’ stares at her as he chews his sandwich.

Sheba senses his staring, glances up again, and returns to her reading.

Pic’ continues to stare.

Sheba’s awareness of his staring increases until finally she lowers her book and takes off her glasses.

SHEBA

(pleading tone) What!

Pic’ stares for a few seconds, then points to the string beans on her tray.

PIC’

You gonna eat those?

SHEBA

(relieved)

No, help yourself.

Sheba pushes her tray toward Pic’ who begins to leisurely eat the beans one at a time.

Sheba is poised to go back to her reading, but waits to see if there is going to be another interruption.

PIC’

I really liked the food in junior high.  Every day we had soup... bean soup, pea soup, vegetable beef... And cream cheese on date-nut bread, a hard-boiled egg, apple or orange and milk... It was really good... I’m sorry I interrupted your reading.

SHEBA

(smiling to herself)

That’s okay.

BACK TO STUDENTS POV

MARVIN

See, He’s botherin’.  She wants to read and he’s botherin’... I’m gonna bust him...

BACK TO SHEBA AND PIC’

Sheba holds her glasses ready to return to her reading, but waits to see if there is going to be more from this guy.

Pic’ waits too, staring at Sheba.

PIC’

... Do you want me to tell you again what I had to eat in junior high?

SHEBA

(chuckles)

No!

She gives up, puts down her glasses, pushes her book to the side.

PIC’

(relieved)

I’m new here.

SHEBA

I thought so.  You looked strange. ... No, er, I mean you looked unfamiliar... What are you?

PIC’

I’m a center-fielder.

SHEBA

No, I mean, like I’m a junior, What are you?

PIC’

Oh, I’m a senior... What’re you reading?

Sheba shows Pic’ the title, “Anthology of Poems”

SHEBA

I like poetry.

PIC’

Did you have to read those books: “Arrowsmith”, “Giants in the Earth”, and, er... “Huckleberry Finn”?

SHEBA

Yeah, I had to read them.

PIC’

Boy, those were great stories. I’m not a good student, but I really liked those books... Great stories... But I never liked poetry much... and Shakespeare.  I’m sure it’s great, but I didn’t... I couldn’t... I don’t know...

SHEBA

Maybe you didn’t have a good teacher?

PIC’

Maybe... But once I had a good teacher and he read us this poem.  I still remember.  Can I see your book a second?

Sheba hands him the book.  Pic looks in “Table of Contents”, flips to the page.

PIC’

Here it is.  That’s a good poem.  At least I thought so when I heard it.

Pic’ hands book back with his finger marking the page.

SHEBA

Oh yeah, I know that poem. We read it in class.  I like it too.

Pic’ looks intently at Sheba

PIC’

(hesitantly)

Could you read it?

SHEBA

You mean out loud?

PIC’

No, just so you and I can hear it.

SHEBA

(dismissively)

No, I can’t read it.

Pic’ just looks at her.

SHEBA

You’re serious?

Pic’ nods with a slight smile.

SHEBA

(shaking her head)

I never read... I don’t know ... I never... I...

Sheba looks at the poem, then at Pic’s pleading face, then back to the poem.

Pic’ leans in.  Slowly Sheba does too.

In a hushed, reverential voice Sheba begins reading.

SHEBA

“I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert... “

BACK TO STUDENTS POV

CAROL

Doesn’t look to me like he’s botherin’ now.

MARVIN

I’m gonna bust him anyway!

Marvin punches an almost-empty milk container in his hand squirting a spray of milk on other students.

BACK TO SHEBA READING

SHEBA

“...Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that collosal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Sheba looks up and sees Pic’ was affected.  For several seconds they sit, without moving, looking at each other.

They are jarred out of their reverie by the ringing of the school bell announcing the end of the period.