Every filmmaker wishes for his or her work to speak for itself, to be self-explanatory, to convey the emotions latent in the material, but rare in fact is the occasion that I have not shown my film and I have not been asked questions. The most surprising question is: why did I make the film? I think what this question seeks is to learn what is my personal connection to the material; what compelled me to spend two plus years of my life, to sit across from avowed racists, to watch black and white Americans struggle with our racial and historical legacy, and a few to even attempt to reconcile this shameful past.
BANISHED is deeply personal. It is deeply personal on a couple of levels. I was chased out of Charlestown in Boston, MA by a mob of angry whites simply because I am black. While I was only an individual, the intention of this mob was to keep the neighborhood white, not unlike the racial cleansings that I investigate in BANISHED that happened in the early 1900s. But I made BANISHED because I wanted to make a film that explored prospective solutions to the racial divide. In the horrible history I saw an opportunity for Americans to consider forms of reparation as a means of reconciliation.
This wish poses a formidable challenge to viewers. What role will the viewer play in this experience, what will the viewer take from the film that they can apply in their own lives? It is always my fear that viewers will not see themselves in my films. When watching people do horrific things one doesn’t want to identify with those acts, one much prefers to disassociate from any possible connection to those actions. But BANISHED is about us, about America. It is about our sense of justice and our sense of fairness. It is about the question of how to redress the past? It is about how to repair what is broken and ultimately how to reconcile our differences.
Traveling to three of at least 13 communities in America where white citizens expelled their black neighbors and where these said communities remain virtually all white, I did discover prospects for redress, reconciliation and reparation. I think that monuments, scholarships and even task forces are viable solutions, especially if they acknowledge the transgression. I think that some consideration on how to return or compensate African Americans for the land and property they lost is equally crucial. If African Americans were able to recover and subsequently return to the land that was lost and stolen from their ancestors the prospects for a more diverse and dynamic community would result.