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American Love Stories -- Live Chat Transcript

Transcript of the Yahoo! Chat with the Wilson-Sims Family
September 16, 1999

pbs_online_host: 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.
PBS_online_host: Welcome to all of you!

PBS_online_host: Let's get started!

shsmith4 asks: What made you decide to do the documentary?
Jennifer 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.

Bill 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.

Karen 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.

Bill 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

Angel_with_the_GreenEyes asks: For the family, do people treat you differently now that your lives have been publicized  i.e. ask you about personal things?
Cicily 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.

Karen 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.

dudefed asks: How did Jennifer choose the Wilson-Sims family?
Jennifer 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.

Jennifer 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.

kvn3 asks: What has been the initial public response to this documentary? Was it positive or negative?
Chaney Wilson: I think it's the consensus of the whole family that it's been positive. (The whole family agrees.)

dudefed asks: What was it like having someone film your daily life?
Bill 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

reydsol 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.

Jennifer Fox: Umm

Jennifer 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.

emet2000 asks: Did the family have the ability to approve what scenes were left in or taken out?
Jennifer 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.

proteux asks: Jennifer, I applaud your work, perhaps you could tell us a little about your own trials with an interracial relationship?
Jennifer 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.

vega24 asks: Bill and Karen:Why do you believe that it is so difficult for certain people to accept your marriage?
Bill Sims: People as a whole don't accept things that are different. If you look different to people who grew up with different experiences.

Karen Wilson: People are afraid of the unknown.

laragazza98 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?
Cicily 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.

Chaney Wilson: I agree. Love them as your children and you can do no wrong.

karenwhi asks: It's touching to see how much the children love their parents - what are both children doing nowadays?
Chaney Wilson: I'm going to school. I'm a sophomore in college.

Cicily Wilson: I work for a community music school.

rkurvink asks: How long ago was this filmed?
Jennifer 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.

richtill89 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?
Karen Wilson: I don't think while they were younger, but as they got older

Bill 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.

Karen 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.

lynni8 asks: Chaney, you were only 12 when this was made. Did it bother you that strangers would see your first "date" with a boy?
Chaney 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

Chaney Wilson: I never thought about it then, but when I sit back and see it now all I can do is cringe.

Jennifer Fox: I'm sorry, Chaney. I'm grateful that you let us film that. It was so cute.

Karen Wilson: I didn't think it was a date. She was too young to date at 12.

sarahvowell asks: Jennifer, was the film intended for broadcast on PBS from the beginning, or did that come about after the series was complete?
Jennifer 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.

tjweeden asks: I remember 25 years ago people looking aghast at interracial couples in public places. Is it any different now?
Karen Wilson: I haven't noticed anyone looking aghast, but being in New York City is a lot different than being in Idaho.

Bill Sims: Don't be specific

Karen Wilson: Anywhere else other than New York City and we're in a diverse neighborhood.

gmwaoc asks: Cicily ... Did you ever consider transferring from Colgate since it wasn't the best experience ?
Cicily 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.

Karen 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.

mwrightesq asks: Why do the girls - Cicily and Chaney - have different surnames?
Karen 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.

djige asks: We love your documentary, as a biracial couple with a new baby, we would like to know if there are biracial family support groups?
Bill Sims: There are, but that's not something we're involved in.

Jennifer Fox: I think some contacts are on our Web site and there's a magazine, Interrace Magazine, that has quite a bit of info.

Bill Sims: The best support group is a strong family at home. I mean, for me, that's my group.

hinz74 asks: I'm wondering whether Bill could briefly talk about his belief that black culture is dead...an ironic angle for a blues musician to take...???
Bill 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

Cicily Wilson: It's the world culture.

mosmiley2 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!)
Karen Wilson: We know what Chaney's least favorite is!

Chaney 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.

Chikoka asks: JENNIFER... do you have any project for the near future?
Jennifer 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.

Wilson-Sims Family: laughter

skutzmellem asks: What surprises about one another have been revealed as a result of the documentary?
Karen 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.

b2canaan asks: When is Bill's next CD coming out and where can I get it????
Karen Wilson: Did they buy the first?
Bill Sims: Buy it at your local store. The new one was just released August 10. It's got something for everyone.

dtmlmt35 asks: Cicily have you been in contact with Tony since you returned for Africa?
Cicily 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.

kdando asks: So, what has life been like for you all this week?
Bill Sims: Sort of like this. Answering a lot of questions.
Karen Wilson: A lot of questions.
Wilson-Sims Family: laughter
Bill 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.

ds3ab 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?
Karen 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.

proteux asks: Chaney is college age now... has she had any of the same dilemmas her older sister faced?
Chaney 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.

mskeyes6003 asks: Karen: How is your health now?
Karen Wilson: Fine. A few years older and I've gained a few pounds. But fine.

dianaofatlanta asks: I have talked to people online that wish you both would quit smoking.  Do you still smoke?
Bill Sims: We wish we would, too.
Karen Wilson: It's a terrible habit, an expensive habit. Believe me, we wish we would too.

dudefed asks: Is the whole family in contact with Bill's other 2 children?
Karen Wilson: Absolutely. They are part of the extended family. We just talked to them yesterday.

taitaimom asks: Karen and Bill, what are the necessary ingredients for a long, happy marriage?
Karen Wilson: Work.
Karen Wilson: Tolerance.
Karen Wilson: Love.
Wilson-Sims Family: laughter
Bill Sims: Sense of humor.
Karen Wilson: Coffee in the morning.
Bill Sims: Good coffee.
Karen Wilson: Only Bill can make it.
Karen Wilson: And keeping your own identity.

clemmieh asks: Do any of you think you might write a book about this ordeal?
Karen Wilson: ordeal!
Jennifer Fox: Stranger things have happened.
Cicily Wilson: Who knows.

lisajudith asks: How's the kitty?  One of my favorite moments was when the camera panned down to cat on it's back.
Karen Wilson: When Chaney went off to college we got the kitty a companion. Tom and Eli and they are both fine.

freddy_4759 asks: Bill, you appear to be an excellent cook.  Any plans to publish your recipes?
Bill 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.
Wilson-Sims Family: laughter
Bill Sims: It's like winning an Emmy Right Jennifer?   or better.

dericksrainbow asks: Chaney and Cicily, how did you handle the "what race are you" questions when you were little?
Cicily 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, right?
Chaney 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 was.
Karen Wilson: You know, these are people from Queens. People from Queens are from all over the world.

barkerman32 asks: To the daughters-do your parents still interrogate your boyfriends?
Chaney Wilson: It's their job -- it comes with the territory
Bill Sims: of course we do -- we're good at it
Karen Wilson: CIA to our children

smnails2 asks: With both of the children gone, how are you enjoying just being the 2 of you?
Bill 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.

jgraettinger asks: You have changed us by sharing your lives; how has sharing your lives with us changed you?
Karen Wilson: We got to meet Bill Moyers and we wouldn't be able to be on TV or in the New York Times.
Bill 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 lives.

ogicu812a asks: Could you give pointers on boyfriend interrogation methods?
Bill Sims: Always ask them about their parents. Asking them about their parents tells a lot about them.
Cicily and Chaney: They should publish a manual!

janiswm asks: Cicily and Chaney, I am a black female with an interracial daughter looking at colleges.  Do you have any advice for her?
Cicily Wilson: don't give up your dreams, no matter what anyone says.
Chaney 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.

mpogue77 asks: What advice would you give to a mixed couple thinking about marriage?
Bill 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
Karen Wilson: if you trust one another and love each other you can work it out. Believe in one another.
Bill Sims: TAKE THE PLUNGE!
Bill Sims: And make sure that you're friends.
Jennifer Fox: I think Bill has a future as a Dear Abby columnist!

gmwaoc asks: Do either of the girls find it easier dating men of a particular race?
Cicily 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.
Bill Sims: I don't know how someone can NOT be attracted to a beautiful person.
Cicily Wilson: The soul is what it's all about.

jivemama73 asks: Jennifer, it was a complex audio situation. How did you handle it?
Jennifer 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

dowboy121 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?
Jennifer 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!

YattaYatta_99 asks: Jennifer: What film school did you attend?
Jennifer 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.

emet2000 asks: Jennifer: In the beginning did you have an outline or script?
Jennifer Fox: No. It was really discovered in the shooting. As I was filming, I outlined things on paper.

dowboy121 asks: What was the largest technical difficulty you encountered while filming?
Jennifer 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.

sunraytoday asks: Cicily, what do white people need to learn/see about black people; and what do black people need to learn/realize about white people?
Cicily 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.
Chaney 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 yourself
Jennifer 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.
Cicily 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.
Bill 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.

bmk_02458 asks: Cicily: did you ever ask those who inquired about your racial background,their reason for asking?
Cicily 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 done so.
Karen Wilson: They want to know what box to put you in.

actiondeb1 asks: This question is for any of you: Do you think this film will have a significant impact in changing people's attitudes about race?
Bill 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.

dianaofatlanta asks: What is one simple thing you think a white person can do in everyday life to combat racism?
Cicily 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.

ezor7 asks: Karen, What is the biggest misconception people have about you and your family?
Karen 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.
Bill 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.
PBS_online_host: 5 minutes left get your questions in.
PBS_online_host: Don't forget about the American Love Story Web site on PBS Online.
PBS_online_host: www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/
PBS_online_host: Where you can discuss these issues and other related topics with other visitors like yourselves.
PBS_online_host: Join us to continue the discussion.

lainielam asks: Bill, Karen and Jennifer, will there be a sequel?
Bill Sims: I don't think so. I think it's all been said.
Karen Wilson: I think we'll work on some real home movies!
Bill Sims: But never say never!
PBS_online_host: Would you do it again?
Karen Wilson: I would do it again!
Jennifer 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.
PBS_online_host: Do you have anything you want to add?
Jennifer Fox: Thanks for watching. Hope you got a lot of value--we did!
PBS_online_host: Thank you all for joining us for our Wilson-Sims Family Chat!
PBS_online_host: 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 stories.
PBS_online_host: 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.
PBS_online_host: Check local listings at PBS. www.pbs.org/stations/
PBS_online_host: The American Love Story Web site: www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/

Thanks to Yahoo! Chat for hosting this chat.
 
 





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