Also, here is a sampling of reactions from event organizers to recent screenings—which are getting record crowds, upwards of 500 people in every city:
ST.LOUIS, MO: This was the biggest Community Cinema screening to date for producing partners KETC and Missouri History Museum, with 500 community members flocking to the museum. Much of the discussion centered on steps to right the wrongs of the past and how racism is deeply embedded in our society. One audience member noted an important step towards healing is to “have more frank discussions like the one provided tonight by KETC and Independent Lens films.” The discussion ended on a hopeful note that people could right wrongs by finding a voice to confront people in power.
PHOENIX, AZ: Producing partner, Make A Difference, planned their screening to coincide with their weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration events. Presenting partners included the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art, and the Arizona Black Film Showcase. Following the film, panelists shared their reactions and thoughts to the questions and issues raised by the film, including racism, banishment, and reparation. The audience’s response to the film and the speakers was unusually intense and urgent, which created a “very open, very raw, very real and genuine community discussion.”
EVANSTON, IL: The audience at this event was diverse, with a large group of high school students (our producing partner, Reeltime Film and Video, reached out to the local high school’s history department), senior citizens, local independent filmmakers, African American community activists and college students, as well as some Latino audience members. BANISHED elicited strong emotions from the audience — several African American audience members stood up and said “This is exactly my family’s story!” Author Doria Johnson, shared her family’s story of banishment and lynching with the audience, and guest speaker Dino Robinson discussed banished families who had settled in Evanston. (Robinson is the founder of Shorefront, a black history organization, focusing exclusively on the northern suburbs of Chicago).
Event organizer Ines Sommer observed that “people felt that there was no realistic legal recourse open to descendants of the banished families, but that issues of gentrification and imminent domain were today’s form of forcing people of color and working class people out of their neighborhoods.” This point resonated very strongly with the audience as Evanston has seen major redevelopment just in the last few years.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI: This was one of WGVU’s highest-attended screenings ever! The panel featured Brian Collier and Matthew Daley, both history professors at Grand Valley State University, as well as Oliver Wilson, Dean of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at GVSU. All three panelists discussed the fact that Michigan is one of the most racially segregated states in the country, as well as being home to both the Michigan Militia and an active KKK chapter. Oliver spoke about his experiences as an African American man in West Michigan, and discussed his belief that education is the way to prevent banishment from happening again.
The audience questions revealed a deep interest in learning more about reparations and its potential for healing. One audience member approached station contact Emily Maurin after the event and shared that she had lived next door to Charles Brown for eight years; she then called him on the phone, from which point he spoke to all of the panelists, set up a radio interview with the moderator and discussed possibly coming to GVSU to speak to Oliver’s students. Audience members continued discussion in the lobby for an hour after the event was officially closed.
BOSTON, MA: The turnout and reception of this film was very powerful. People were thankful to the director and the producers for encouraging community conversations about this film. We had an excellent facilitator who really drew out the audience and set a very positive tone by explaining: we are not here to debate or solve the problems of the past.
JAMAICA PLAINS, MA: The turnout and reception of this film was very powerful. People were thankful to the director and the producers for encouraging community conversations about this film. We had an excellent facilitator who really drew out the audience and set a very positive tone by explaining: we are not here to debate or solve the problems of the past.
A few important points: Several people of Native American heritage felt invisible—as there was no mention of the original banishment of their people. As northerners, we wondered what part of our hidden history is unknown to us. Were there banishments in northern states? A number of people commented on the pacing of the film—how careful and thoughtful it was—and how the stories and the people were really developed. Several participants made connections to land struggles and present day banishments—such as the African-American population of New Orleans, post-Katrina. A number expressed embarrassment about not knowing this history and the other atrocities committed in the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow period. We talked about an upcoming film we will screen called Traces of the Trade: Stories of the Old North—that talks about the role of northerners in the slave trade. We think this will be an excellent follow-up to the themes of white privilege that were discussed. Several people were interested in purchasing a copy of the film and took order forms.