Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Banished" at the Film Forum directed by Marco Williams

Last night I went to the opening of Marco Williams' movie "Banished" at the Film Forum. Marco Williams was there and stayed at the end for a fascinating Q&A. He said that "Banished" would be on PBS in Spring 2008.

It was an unforgettable exploration of three (out of 13 so far) known incidences where blacks have been violently and aggressively run off their land or out of town between 1890-1915 in Forsyth County, Georgia (n. of Atlanta), Pierce City, Missouri and Harrison, Arkansas. In each case present residents probably know this shameful history but the present community deals with it in varying degrees of avoidance and denial, much of which was captured on film in conversations between Marco Williams and a member of the KKK or a retiree who deliberately chose to retire to a community he knew had no blacks. Well-intentioned groups in local communities were attempting to come to terms with this shocking history in baby steps by identifying the presence of the KKK as the problem. They were confronted by an outside discussion leader who said, "The KKK is comfortable here." White supremacist groups do not operate openly and above ground in communities where they know they are not welcome. An unsettling silence falls over the table, and the meeting is adjourned.

Looming large is the issue of reparations. Should the descendants of black families who suffered horribly at the hands of the descendants of white families be given something back? Land or money, grave markers and plaques or at least a public acknowledgment and apology? In the Q&A following the film, people made suggestions about taking statutes of limitations off legal cases filing claims to lost land, noting that the Supreme Court dismissed in 2005 reparations to survivors and descendants of those affected by the Tulsa, Oklahoma riots in 1921. Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Jr. says: "Until there is justice in Tulsa, there can be justice in no other place in America. We will fight with every legal, political and moral weapon we have." Here's a recommended list of reparations in the Tulsa case.

I must look into an island off the coast of Maine identified by Marco Williams as another such case. Manohla Dargis in her NYTimes review of the movie dated Sept 26th says he doesn't go far enough:

In late 2006 The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., published a series about an 1898 white riot to destroy a political alliance between blacks and poor whites in Wilmington, N.C., where the literacy rates for black men were higher than those for whites. One agitator, a former Confederate soldier and the future mayor of Wilmington, vowed that he and other like-minded whites would never surrender “even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.” What followed was a coup d’├ętat, possibly the only time that a municipal government was toppled in American history. Black residents were murdered; the local black newspaper was torched, and survivors exiled. Reconstruction died, and Jim Crow moved right in.

Watch the movie on PBS in the Spring. Its going to the New Orleans Film Festival in two weeks.

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