Thu 8 Nov, 2007
Tags: Bristol, Providence, Rhode Island, Screenings
The local Rhode Island screenings of Traces are generating a fair amount of attention in the state.
Tuesday’s screening in Bristol has resulted in two stories, one in the Providence Journal (“Bristol’s Ties to Slavery Featured“) and another in a local paper, “Slavery Documentary Draws a Packed House.” This is precisely what we were hoping for, as the R.I. screenings are intended to raise the visibility of the film in the state, while the Bristol screening was particularly aimed at giving the residents of Bristol a chance to become familiar with the documentary and to offer their feedback.
And the Phoenix has a story this week, “Buried History: Filmmaker Sparks Fresh Dialogue About RI’s Slave-Trading Past,” focused on last week’s screening in Providence at the Black Repertory Company. (Disclaimer: I was interviewed for the story.)
The Bristol story refers to the immediate response from the audience: “a period of deafening silence … snapped by thunderous applause. ”
Interestingly, one Bristol resident is quoted as confirming our belief that many — although not all — Americans were raised without an awareness of the basic history of slavery in this country. She said that her Bristol family had passed down the story of the DeWolf family’s prominence in the slave trade. But “since I was in eighth grade any teacher I told about this story said I was wrong or didn’t believe me. I wondered why I knew this history, but no one else did.” (The ProJo article notes that young people in Bristol are now learning about the town’s prominent role in the slave trade.)
The article also quotes my uncle, Dain, saying in response to an audience question that he believes black Americans will not be impressed by apologies, that such actions let whites “off the hook” while blacks need to see concrete actions. I agree with Dain, up to a point, but I’ve also been struck by the strongly positive response I’ve received from many blacks, based on the mere acknowledgement by whites of our painful, shared past. It seems there’s still room for frank and honest discussion of the past to make a difference, even if few people will be impressed by formal statements of apology or regret.
The Phoenix article describes the audience’s response to the film as “explosive.” It also quotes a black audience member as agreeing that the film, despite focusing on a white family’s response to issues of race, also speaks to the black community: “It was like therapy to me as an African-American man, watching this film.”
Meanwhile, the Providence Black Repertory Company, which screened the film last week, describes the film on their blog as a “must-see” and adds, “we hope to bring it back to Black Rep so that it can be shared with more community members seeking a point of entrance in the debate.” We look forward to that, too!