Party Diary: James Brown biopic premiere at the Newseum

Star Chadwick Boseman and director Tate Taylor walk the red carpet at the D.C. premiere of "Get On Up" at the Newseum Tuesday night. (JulieAnn McKellogg/The Washington Post)

On Tuesday night a packed theater at the Newseum learned that James Brown, the “godfather of soul” who famously crooned, “Stay on the scene, get on up, like a sex machine,” was, in fact, pretty conservative.

“He endorsed Nixon. He liked Reagan,” said Al Sharpton, who met Brown in 1973 when he was just 18-years-old. Sharpton remained extremely close with the musical icon — a man he said was like a father to him — until Brown’s death on Christmas Day in 2006.

“We would fight about politics,” he added. “He was very conservative.”

Sharpton, and other boldfaced fans of funk, including Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, his wife Marcia, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and MSNBC host Touré, were at the Newseum for the Washington premiere of  Brown’s long-awaited biopic, “Get On Up.”

Also on hand were the film’s star, Howard alum Chadwick Boseman, and its director Taylor Tate, who last helmed the Oscar-nominated “The Help” in 2011.

Dressed in a natty grey suit (no tie), Boseman spent most of the pre-screening reception with his eager fans. While the rest of crowd was gobbling up Southern favorites like mini catfish po boys, grits and corn bread muffins, we watched as Boseman begged off a studio handler trying desperately to escort him to a VIP greenroom. Instead he shook more hands and snapped more pictures.

The fans seemed hungry to grasp the arm of the man playing the man.

“I’m proud of you brother,” we overheard Dyson tell Boseman as the two men embraced just before heading into the theatre.

Once inside, Taylor, Boseman, Sharpton and Touré gathered on stage for a pre-show panel discussion. That’s when we learned that Brown was a Republican, the film was shot in Natchez, Miss. in just 49 days and Boseman had to “change the shape of his vocal chords” to mimic Brown’s recognizable rasp.

Eventually, though, Sharpton answered the burning question: What would James Brown think of the movie?

“All of us have a scene or two in life that we would like to leave out,” said Sharpton, referring to depictions of the singer’s drug use and violent behavior. “But I think James Brown would be happy.”

Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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Helena Andrews · July 22