Love Stories -- Live Chat Transcript
of the Yahoo! Chat with the Wilson-Sims Family
September 16, 1999
Today PBS Online is very pleased to bring Karen, Bill, Cicily and Chaney
(the Wilson-Sims family) and "An American Love Story" filmmaker Jennifer Fox.
Welcome to all of you!
Let's get started!
asks: What made you decide to do the documentary?
Fox: For me the idea came out of my own interracial relationship.
As a white person, I realized how much racism was out there and seeing through
my boyfriend -- what he was going through as a black man -- I wanted to
make a film about how people survived the racial cauldron in America in a successful
way. I was looking for a positive role model.
Sims: I don't know. There was a time before we started
the film. There was a lot of talk about family values in Washington and it seemed
the more they talked about family values that the people they were talking about
were a particular race, or a particular class or a particular political party.
This was a way to show that family values are present in all families regardless
of the racial make-up of them and a way to show that even though we're an interracial
couple that we're doing the same thing with our lives that everyone else is
doing with theirs. A family trying to enjoy a good life.
Wilson: I don't know that it is our real life. It's the
life that Jennifer sees. I see something else, and Bill sees something else,
and my neighbor sees something else. It's all how you interpret what you see.
Sims: Also, [to show that] people have to deal with the
same problems we do. We have fears, hopes, dreams. You're seeing us on-screen
going through the mundane things that everybody goes through in life. It's all
about us all looking at each other
asks: For the family, do people treat you differently
now that your lives have been publicized i.e. ask you about personal things?
Wilson: Of course. People feel after watching 10 hours
of your life that they know you so nothing is too personal and I think that
the film is very intimate. I don't believe that we think it's really intimate.
They really don't know us. It's just a surface knowledge.
Wilson: People that we've known a long time have asked
us about things they didn't know. It's a very strange feeling for us to have
strangers respond to us in the way that they do. It's odd to walk into a room
full of strangers and know that they know an awful lot about you.
asks: How did Jennifer choose the Wilson-Sims family?
Fox: Once I decided to make a film about interracial love,
I put the word out to some editors of magazines and at the same time a friend
of my boyfriend's who was a blues musician told me, "Hey, you've got to meet
Bill and Karen and I did meet them and then I just found that their lives encompassed
many issues and story lines that many Americans grapple with of any race.
And they were tremendous. We really hit it off as people. I knew I'd be spending
the next year of my life with them.
Fox: Because Bill and Karen's family life always incorporated
extended family, it never seemed to bother them that I was sleeping on the floor
or whatever. It was incredible access.
asks: What has been the initial public response to
this documentary? Was it positive or negative?
Wilson: I think it's the consensus of the whole family
that it's been positive. (The whole family agrees.)
asks: What was it like having someone film your daily
Sims: It's like anything you do for the first time. The
fact that we liked Jennifer made it much easier. It was like having a friend
over the house with a camera
asks: Did you have friends & family who refused
to be filmed?
Karen Wilson: I
don't remember any friends or family that refused. There were situations.
Fox: I think the family was incredibly open. There
was one person on the Africa trip who was a pretty pivotal person in the
group. She refused to sign permission. So you don't see her. Which is a shame
because she would have lent a whole other perspective.
asks: Did the family have the ability to approve what
scenes were left in or taken out?
Fox: The family and I had an agreement that the family
had a right of approval -- primarily based on their well-being. A few words
were removed, but literally a few words.
asks: Jennifer, I applaud your work, perhaps you could
tell us a little about your own trials with an interracial relationship?
Fox: I don't think I went through anything that anyone
doesn't go through. It was really the shock of realizing what it's like to be
an African-American in America today- as a white person -- realizing that.
asks: Bill and Karen:Why do you believe that it is
so difficult for certain people to accept your marriage?
Sims: People as a whole don't accept things that are different.
If you look different to people who grew up with different experiences.
Wilson: People are afraid of the unknown.
asks: I am in an interracial relationship and my boyfriend
and I would like to have kids one day. Do Cicily or Chaney have any advice on
raising biracial kids?
Wilson: I think you should raise them just like any other
kids. Yes, they are different, but teach them that they are something special.
Everybody is different in some way and we should respect differences.
Wilson: I agree. Love them as your children and you can
do no wrong.
asks: It's touching to see how much the children love
their parents - what are both children doing nowadays?
Wilson: I'm going to school. I'm a sophomore in college.
Wilson: I work for a community music school.
asks: How long ago was this filmed?
Fox: We began filming the live verite scenes in '92 and
we finished in '94 and we finished filming the other interviews with family
and friends, etc. really up until the summer of '99. That's because one of the
episodes was done out of sequence.
asks: When your kids were younger and you had parent
teacher conferences. Did the teachers seem to treat you different because you
were a biracial couple?
Wilson: I don't think while they were younger, but as they
Sims: I noticed when they were younger that some teachers
treated the kids differently, but not so much us. I don't think that was because
they were biracial, but because they were black.
Wilson: I just have something to add. The reaction to us
would be quite different if I went alone or if Bill went alone and it would
be a totally different reaction if we went together.
asks: Chaney, you were only 12 when this was made.
Did it bother you that strangers would see your first "date" with a boy?
Wilson: It didn't bother me then, but it bothers me now!
Being twelve is awkward enough, but then to have it documented on film
Wilson: I never thought about it then, but when I sit back
and see it now all I can do is cringe.
Fox: I'm sorry, Chaney. I'm grateful that you let us film
that. It was so cute.
Wilson: I didn't think it was a date. She was too young
to date at 12.
asks: Jennifer, was the film intended for broadcast
on PBS from the beginning, or did that come about after the series was complete?
Fox: No. It was always intended to be broadcast on TV.
Initially I didn't know who would fund it. It turned out that PBS is the only
network that would allow a long-form series to be aired like this and as Bill
would say, this wasn't my first time at the rodeo, so I knew if
we got it funded it would get to TV.
asks: I remember 25 years ago people looking aghast
at interracial couples in public places. Is it any different now?
Wilson: I haven't noticed anyone looking aghast, but being
in New York City is a lot different than being in Idaho.
Sims: Don't be specific
Wilson: Anywhere else other than New York City and we're
in a diverse neighborhood.
asks: Cicily ... Did you ever consider transferring
from Colgate since it wasn't the best experience ?
Wilson: yes, I did consider it, but after thinking about
it for a long time I realized that no other place would be different. Especially
in a small, private college atmosphere. You know, it would probably be at the
same level as Colgate. So I just stuck it out.
Wilson: When Cicily started college, she was only 16. She
didn't have good coping skills. It's a tough age to be that far from home.
asks: Why do the girls - Cicily and Chaney - have different
Wilson: My father died about 9 months after Cicily was
born and he didn't have any sons so it was in recognition of my father.
asks: We love your documentary, as a biracial couple
with a new baby, we would like to know if there are biracial family support
Sims: There are, but that's not something we're involved
Fox: I think some contacts are on our Web
site and there's a magazine, Interrace Magazine, that has quite a bit of
Sims: The best support group is a strong family at home.
I mean, for me, that's my group.
asks: I'm wondering whether Bill could briefly talk
about his belief that black culture is dead...an ironic angle for a blues musician
Sims: I can talk about that. Culture is something
that people develop when they grow up separate from other people and we lived
in a country where we were not allowed to participate in the culture of the
country. Now that we are integrated, there are remnants in our culture still
around, but it is so intermingled with American culture that you can't say it
is specifically ours. You can walk down the street and hear language or see
the way a person dresses that is obviously a part of the black experience, but
everybody's doing it. We are not as isolated as we were before. There are still
remnants: music, arts, etc. But there is not a black culture separate anymore.
There is American culture
Wilson: It's the world culture.
asks: Do any of you have a favorite episode? If
so, why that episode? (Mine is the one about Chaney and Daniel -- brought
back a lot of memories of being 12!)
Wilson: We know what Chaney's least favorite is!
Wilson: I have two. Cicily's trip to Africa and the one
where my mother goes back to her high school reunion. I liked Cicily's trip
because I can relate to what she's going through as her sister and as a biracial
individual. And as far as the last episode with mom and dad, I don't know, I
just love to see them together. They are so cute.
asks: JENNIFER... do you have any project for the near
Fox: I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete. I think
I'm still overwhelmed. "American Love Story" is being distributed in Britain,
France and Germany and we just finished a 5-hour cut yesterday. So, there's
quite a bit of distribution work to be done. In terms of other projects, I have
ideas and a screenplay or two that I've been working at for a number of years.
I'm also looking for a job if anyone has any ideas.
asks: What surprises about one another have been revealed
as a result of the documentary?
Wilson: I wouldn't consider it a surprise I always knew
that the children loved us. I just never realized how much they respected us.
One of the other surprises to me was how cooperative everyone was in front of
the camera -- our friends and extended family.
asks: When is Bill's next CD coming out and where can
I get it????
Wilson: Did they buy the first?
Sims: Buy it at your local store. The new one was just
released August 10. It's got something for everyone.
asks: Cicily have you been in contact with Tony since
you returned for Africa?
Wilson: We did write for about a year or so after I came
back and then, I didn't hear from him for awhile and found out that he had spent
2 years in jail for falsifying a passport to try and get out of Nigeria.
asks: So, what has life been like for you all this week?
Sims: Sort of like this. Answering a lot of questions.
Wilson: A lot of questions.
Sims: For me, it's easy because I'm a house husband. I
can stay at home and not have to deal with the public.
asks: Karen, as a white woman who has been with a black
male for 24 years, I am still amazed at how many white people will just
start talking to me about blacks in a negative way, assuming I feel as they
do because I am white. How do you handle those situations?
Wilson: I usually try to diffuse it. I don't look at people
by the color of their skin. I just try not to participate. I mean, I don't get
into a long dissertation. If there was name calling, I could. I have a
temper. I judge people by whether they're nice or not.
asks: Chaney is college age now... has she had any of
the same dilemmas her older sister faced?
Wilson: yes. I have. It's something that I think we will
always face going into a new situation. I think the older you get the easier
it gets for us as you get more used to it.
asks: Karen: How is your health now?
Wilson: Fine. A few years older and I've gained a few pounds.
asks: I have talked to people online that wish you both
would quit smoking. Do you still smoke?
Sims: We wish we would, too.
Wilson: It's a terrible habit, an expensive habit. Believe
me, we wish we would too.
asks: Is the whole family in contact with Bill's other
Wilson: Absolutely. They are part of the extended family.
We just talked to them yesterday.
asks: Karen and Bill, what are the necessary ingredients
for a long, happy marriage?
Sims: Sense of humor.
Wilson: Coffee in the morning.
Sims: Good coffee.
Wilson: Only Bill can make it.
Wilson: And keeping your own identity.
asks: Do any of you think you might write a book about
Fox: Stranger things have happened.
Wilson: Who knows.
asks: How's the kitty? One of my favorite moments
was when the camera panned down to cat on it's back.
Wilson: When Chaney went off to college we got the kitty
a companion. Tom and Eli and they are both fine.
asks: Bill, you appear to be an excellent cook.
Any plans to publish your recipes?
Sims: There's always plans. Maybe one day, not right now.
It's for my friends and the people I know. The only way they can taste what
I do is by coming to my house. Although, I wouldn't mind getting recipe published
in Good Housekeeping. It's my dream.
Sims: It's like winning an Emmy Right Jennifer?
asks: Chaney and Cicily, how did you handle the "what
race are you" questions when you were little?
Wilson: To find out who were were, they always asked where
we were from. So, I would answer, I'm from Ohio. Chaney says, I'm from America,
Wilson: Yeah, or I say I'm from Queens because it throws
them off. People who didn't know where Ohio was or that it was part of America,
you could see people racking their brains wondering where in the world Ohio
Wilson: You know, these are people from Queens. People
from Queens are from all over the world.
asks: To the daughters-do your parents still
interrogate your boyfriends?
Wilson: It's their job -- it comes with the territory
Sims: of course we do -- we're good at it
Wilson: CIA to our children
asks: With both of the children gone, how are you enjoying
just being the 2 of you?
Sims: We're enjoying it. We miss them, we glad when they're
here. It's nice--we can eat out, eat on paper plates if we want to. We have
milk in the refrigerator.
asks: You have changed us by sharing your lives; how
has sharing your lives with us changed you?
Wilson: We got to meet Bill Moyers and we wouldn't be able
to be on TV or in the New York Times.
Sims: Some of the things we do (like this) have changed,
but our lives together have not changed. We have the same purpose--the same
asks: Could you give pointers on boyfriend interrogation
Sims: Always ask them about their parents. Asking them
about their parents tells a lot about them.
and Chaney: They should publish a manual!
asks: Cicily and Chaney, I am a black female with an
interracial daughter looking at colleges. Do you have any advice for her?
Wilson: don't give up your dreams, no matter what anyone
Wilson: As far as problems at school, I think it's other
people who have the problems. It's to be expected no matter where you go there
probably isn't a "safe" school where you won't be asked about your background
or looked down upon for it.
asks: What advice would you give to a mixed couple thinking
Sims: If they're serious about it --get married! They're
probably thinking about the problems they'll have as a mixed couple, but if
they were a same-race couple there are going to be problems. Marriage is difficult.
It's a growing process. There are going to problems along the way. If you love
each other get married and start the problem solving
Wilson: if you trust one another and love each other you
can work it out. Believe in one another.
Sims: TAKE THE PLUNGE!
Sims: And make sure that you're friends.
Fox: I think Bill has a future as a Dear Abby columnist!
asks: Do either of the girls find it easier dating men
of a particular race?
and Chaney: It doesn't matter what your background
is-- you just have to be a good person. If you're attracted to someone, you're
attracted to someone.
Sims: I don't know how someone can NOT be attracted to
a beautiful person.
Wilson: The soul is what it's all about.
asks: Jennifer, it was a complex audio situation.
How did you handle it?
Fox: It is always complex when you're shooting real life.
In the beginning, when I was shooting solo without a sound person, I just had
a mike on the camera with an extender on it and later we added a sound person
named Jennifer Fleming. She would "boom" (put a mike on a long pole that can
extend into the scene). It's good for group conversations. Also, we would radio
mike whoever we thought were the main people for a particular situation. It
was a combination of radio miking and booming
asks: Was there anything that was filmed by Jennifer
that was not included in the series that you would have liked to have been included?
Fox: So many things: more of Chaney--she but
because you're editing for story whatever is extraneous to the story gets cut.
In episode 9, Chaney was making fun of Cicily and teasing in that sister way
that got cut, because we have to cut for the drama of the episode. We hoped
that more extended family would get into the episodes -- such as Karen's sister
Nell and Paul, her brother-in-law. They were very key to family events and I
don't think that reads as much in the film as in reality because Nell and Paul
weren't central to any of the dramas that were happening while we were
filming. Karen was sick that year. The family's history is not in it as
much as I wanted. People would be surprised how limiting 10 hours is!
asks: Jennifer: What film school did you attend?
Fox: I went to NYU undergrad for a year and then dropped
out of school to go make a film and now I teach at NYU.
asks: Jennifer: In the beginning did you have an outline
Fox: No. It was really discovered in the shooting. As I
was filming, I outlined things on paper.
asks: What was the largest technical difficulty you
encountered while filming?
Fox: Miking Bill's voice. He has a voice that you shouldn't
wear a radio mike for. You want to get the mike off his body, because he's very
deep and the mike on the body picks up the deeper [register]. The problem is
in documentary filmmaking is that the best kind of mike is the radio mike because
you're very mobile -- and I don't think we ever solved the problem really well.
asks: Cicily, what do white people need to learn/see
about black people; and what do black people need to learn/realize about white
Wilson: I think everyone, regardless of race or background,
needs to learn that everyone deserves respect. If we all opened our minds, we
could learn a lot from each other as human beings.
Wilson: People think that we are ambassadors for both sides
since we experienced both sides, but that's something you have to find out for
Fox: As a white person, I think that there is a parallel
reality that black people, in particular black men, experience. A very
painful condition where they've been harassed so many times for so many years
that they feel like they're living in a police state. If white people only knew
the reality, things could be different. Bill said it really well in the first
episode with the story about the cat and the mouse. It really captures that
feeling when Bill says he feels like a mouse going out to the cat farm.
Wilson: Part of the problem with the communications with
the races is that there's no way for any one to have the experiences the other
race has. So that's why it's critical for us to keep an open mind and embrace
tolerance in dealing with other people in our lives.
Sims: Black people and white people need to throw away
the stereotypes and go out and treat each person as if you don't know anything
about them. There are so many stereotypes about black people and about white
people, we've already made a judgment before we've even met the person. You'll
never get to know them if you prejudge them. There are good black people and
good white people and there are bad black people and bad white people. Most
of the time people who tend to stay with people of the same race then bad things
happen to them bad things still happen to them.
asks: Cicily: did you ever ask those who inquired about
your racial background,their reason for asking?
Wilson: of course. I always ask, "Does it really matter?"
Especially when they press the question, because I knew that once they knew
my racial makeup, they were going to stereotype me if they hadn't already
Wilson: They want to know what box to put you in.
asks: This question is for any of you: Do you think
this film will have a significant impact in changing people's attitudes about
Sims: It will start people talking. That's one of best
ways to change things. It's a start. Even this chat room is a big help in starting
to change people's attitudes . Too often in America we think about talking after
something bad has happened. It's too late then: after the act has happened.
Talking's gotta help.
asks: What is one simple thing you think a white person
can do in everyday life to combat racism?
Wilson: I don't think white people are the only ones who
have prejudices. People can do what dad said before: Look at people as individuals.
Judge them by the qualities of their souls, passions, sense of humor, temper,
whatever you would define as a good person without thinking of race.
asks: Karen, What is the biggest misconception people
have about you and your family?
Wilson: A lot of times when I'm with my girls they don't
even know we're a family. I'm not sure they assume we're a family which is a
shame. When we walk up together we don't look like alike. People wouldn't even
assume I was part of the family.
Sims: People have the misconception about interracial couples
that one or the other wants to be the other's race and neither one of us has
asked the other to give up that. We're people to each other The reason we want
to be together is that we have a lot of things in common and that filters
down to the kids. And when people want them to take a stand against one race
or the other That's not what we're about. It would be the same if we were the
same race. The kids would be just as much Wilsons as Sims.
5 minutes left get your questions in.
Don't forget about the American Love Story Web site on PBS Online.
Where you can discuss these issues and other related topics with other visitors
Join us to continue the discussion.
asks: Bill, Karen and Jennifer, will there be a sequel?
Sims: I don't think so. I think it's all been said.
Wilson: I think we'll work on some real home movies!
Sims: But never say never!
Would you do it again?
Wilson: I would do it again!
Fox: I can't think of a better way to spend seven years.
In fact, I'm sad now because this memorable period of my life is over.
Do you have anything you want to add?
Fox: Thanks for watching. Hope you got a lot of value--we
Thank you all for joining us for our Wilson-Sims Family Chat!
Remember that PBS Online has a Web site for An American
Love Story at www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/.
Visit it for more information about the Wilson-Sims Family and more discussions
about negotiating differences between people in relationships. Share your love
And don't forget to watch the Wilson-Sims with Bill Moyers tonight on PBS.
Episode 9 and 10 air tonight on your PBS station.
Check local listings at PBS. www.pbs.org/stations/
The American Love Story Web site: www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/
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