History Professor Steps in front of Cameras for British Documentary

November 7, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Dr. Carmen Harris says she was so surprised to receive an email asking for her help on a British documentary that before she responded, she checked to make sure it was on the level.

Dr. Carmen Harris

After confirming it was legit, the University of South Carolina Upstate history professor agreed to assist the producers of “When Harry Met Meghan: A Royal Romance,” which tells, in part, the story of British Prince Harry’s girlfriend, actress Meghan Markle, and her ancestral ties to the South.

“Initially, they were just asking me questions about Southern history, race relations and agriculture,” she said. “Then they asked me if I would be visible on the documentary.”

If you’re not familiar with Markle, the bi-racial actress has appeared in a number of television and theatrical productions, and is probably best known for her role in the USA TV series, “Suits.” Her father, who is of Dutch and Irish descent, is Emmy award-winning lighting director and cinematographer Thomas W. Markle; her African-American mother, Doria Ragland, is a psychotherapist and yoga instructor. It is through Ragland that Markle can trace her ancestry back to the South.

The Channel 4 web site describes the film as “the inside story of Meghan Markle, her relationship with Prince Harry, and the astonishing story of her ancestors, told through exclusive interviews and original genealogical research.”

Harris said the producers were interested in her expertise in African-American, Southern and agricultural history.

“I gave them some information on rural African-American life in the South at the turn of the century,” she said. “They were going to scout locations looking for a sharecropper’s house like Meghan’s ancestors might have lived in.”

When the producers wanted Harris to appear on camera, she agreed, which led her to a location in Anderson County where filming for the documentary was underway.

“It was pretty much ad-lib,” she said. “They had questions they would ask me … I would [talk] about African-American life and talk about what her ancestors’ family might have been like, their Southern experience and why they would have left the South.”

For the visuals, Harris said she was asked to walk around in the tall grass surrounding an old sharecropper home, and also to walk through a field of corn. She described the one-day shoot as a learning experience.

“I learned about how these [documentaries] are made,” she said. “It almost felt like I was on a movie set. I had no script, so there were some bloopers. It was difficult when they liked the way I said something and asked me to repeat it when I was speaking extemporaneously. I could see all the activity that went on outside the range of the camera. When I on camera it appears that there’s nobody around but me, when there were five or six other people. All of this technology is there. It was an interesting experience.”

The documentary aired on Oct. 28 in the UK, but Harris said she doesn’t know whether it will be screened on American TV, nor has she been able to see the finished product.

The documentary was produced by Renegade Productions UK for Channel 4, according to IMDB.