Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America | Review | SXSW Film Festival 2021

 

Photo Credit: Emily Kunstler

"Slaves were treated as family - the wanted to be there," a bearded white man in Charleston, South Carolina, grips to a confederate flag as he avoids the questions from lawyer Jeffrey Robinson. On Juneteenth of 2018, Robinson spoke, chronicling the legacy of systemic racism in North America, and now Emily and Sarah Kunstler extend the conversation in documentary format. 

The men in South Carolina are only one encounter, but they personify and embody the conversations avoided by white Americans across the country. The Kunstlers travel from 1740 to the present-day, identifying key moments and stories that audiences may or may not know. They trace the literal fingerprints of a city built by enslaved people, the indents inside the walls of marketplaces where their bodies got passed between abusers.  

Who We Are is a compelling look at a conversation that revives in fleeting internet trends as and when it suits the polemic of white people. Emily and Sarah Kunstler don't need to strive to engage their audience. Robinson's story compels on its own. He visits unmarked trees where lynchings took place, mothers and loved ones of those taken brutally by police, the motel where Dr King was shot and killed. It holds the foundational laws built to perpetuate racist legacies to account and strips the conversation back to a human and contemporary level. It connects the past to the present while driving past George Floyd memorials in Oklahoma as it memorialises and marks the location of a mass grave where approximately 4000 Black and African-American people remain unaccounted for under an interstate. They highlight the preferred method of hiding, secrecy and white supremacy of governments who alter history to fit their narrative. 

As well as highlighting history known to those who seek it, Robinson shares his own experiences of growing up. Revealing the horrors of living in a segregated community and having truths revealed by friends, "this is what luck looks like," he says, knowing that his story is a rarity. His history is so rich that it could be its own subject, but by sprinkling it amongst stories from the past, it contextualises the present-day hatred that still thrives. 

It feels like a call to action, wishing to move away from what Robinson describes as "snuff films" that our society has grown to desensitise and into humanity and compassion. Beyond its existence as a documentary, it wishes to be a movement that mobilises and encourages placing truth back into the picture. 

On their website, they address the desire to "correct the American narrative on our history of racism" and provide a wealth of resources for people to initiate that education. 

https://thewhoweareproject.org

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Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America is playing as part of the 2021 SXSW Film Fesitval.

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