An old photo of two men next to industrial equipment
"Birth of a Planet" premiered in June at the Richmond Film Festival. (Contributed image)

‘Birth of a Planet’ spotlights the life of Richmond Planet founder John Mitchell Jr.

VCU alum Scot Crooker played an instrumental part in creating the half-hour documentary.

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Destiny came into play when Virginia Commonwealth University alum Scot Crooker learned about John Mitchell Jr., founder of the Richmond Planet newspaper.

Crooker, chief content officer for Richmond-based Tilt, a content marketing company, was trying to come up with a concept for an outside mural on the company’s building when his research on minority entrepreneurs during Reconstruction uncovered John Mitchell.

The information eventually led to the creation of the documentary “Birth of a Planet,” which tells the story of Mitchell and the Richmond Planet.

“We wanted to tell the story about Mitchell and also showcase every skill we have in-house, from start to finish. When we started, we didn’t think about a documentary and certainly not a half-hour story,” Crooker said. “We were at the right place at the right time with the right story to be told. And we had the people to do it.”

Crooker, who grew up in Richmond, was surprised to learn everything that Mitchell had contributed to the community as well as what he endured to accomplish his goals. He led the Richmond Planet when the newspaper exposed stories of brutality, racism and injustice during an era that was defined by lynchings, segregation and voter suppression.

“These are issues that eerily remain just as relevant 140 years later. Mitchell also created a bus boycott 30 years before Rosa Parks,” Crooker said. “He was a man of incredible words, incredible actions and incredible courage. Most of us could tell you who Patrick Henry is but we can’t tell you who John Mitchell is. We absolutely should know who this man is.”

An old newspaper
The Richmond Planet exposed stories of brutality, racism and injustice during an era that was defined by lynchings, segregation and voter suppression. (Contributed image)

The documentary, which took about a year to finish, premiered in June at the Richmond Film Festival and received a merit award for outstanding impact in the community and Virginia. The film will also be shown at the Afrikana Independent Film Festival in September, and Crooker said the team is looking at additional festivals and outlets for the film.

Ron Carey, CEO and founder of Tilt, found Crooker to be a valuable asset to the project.

“He along with Sly Tucker and Sean Gorman had a vision for how we could best bring this story to the world,” Carey said. “What made him most valuable on this project was his passion to share the stories of the Planet and John Mitchell Jr. The strong design elements that are present in the website, social media and the film were very much Scot’s contribution.”

VCU helped Crooker zero in on a career

Crooker, who graduated from VCU in 1995 with a degree in mass communications and whose father, Alan, is also a VCU alum, knew he wanted to go to VCU when he was in middle school and became interested in art.

“I knew that art is what I wanted to pursue, and VCU had such a great program. It didn’t matter that it was in my backyard. I knew wholeheartedly that VCU is where I was supposed to be,” said Crooker, who started at VCU as an art major.

He was also interested in mass communications and commercial design. “That looked like a place you could create and tell stories. That was part of the appeal of mass communications,” he said.

Crooker, a fan of pop culture always read “Rolling Stone” and “Spin” and found something unique in each magazine’s design.

“When I look back now, it was how they packaged the story as a whole,” he said. “Early on, I thought I was attracted to the visual side as well as all the ingredients of storytelling. That’s what I love.”

His father and grandfather were storytellers with a special rhythm and cadence, he said.

An illustrated portrait of John Mitchell Jr.
John Mitchell Jr. "was a man of incredible words, incredible actions and incredible courage," according to Scot Crooker. (Contributed image)

“It just stuck with me. It’s exciting to realize all this now. I just turned 50 and to be able to tell more meaningful stories for film and brands is a cool thing to do, and that is what we are hoping to do,” he said.

Crooker switched over to a mass communications track late in his sophomore year after sitting in on an introduction to mass communications class.

“The class was an eye opener for me. It was so interesting. Two of the more impactful professors I had were Diane Cook-Tench [who founded the VCU Adcenter, which is today called the Brandcenter at VCU] and Jerry Torchia, then creative director at the Martin Agency. That’s when things started to click,” he said.

After graduation, Crooker felt that Richmond was too small at the time to support his ambition and moved to Atlanta, he said.

“I stayed there for almost 20 years, working in advertising. Then I came back to Richmond to the Martin Agency. From there, I went to Tilt in January 2021,” he said.

Creating "Birth of a Planet” was a meaningful, rewarding experience for him.

“It does mean something to make a documentary that will hopefully outlive me. Two hundred or 300 years from now if people are curious about Mitchell or the Planet, they will find this,” he said, noting that they are shopping the documentary to various streaming channels.

Before the documentary premiered, Tilt had an airing for the Mitchell family. Having different generations of the Mitchell family see a film spotlighting their relative meant the world to him, Crooker said.

“Just to be able to present this and have people appreciate who this man is is deeply gratifying. That is why it’s so meaningful. It’s someone’s entire journey and it’s important,” he said. “In terms of things I have been part of making in my life, there is no question this is the best thing I have ever been part of and the most exciting.”