On Wednesday, Dec. 6, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Middlebury’s Marquis Theater on 65 Main Street will present the second installment of “Seeing Color/Seeking Justice,” billed as “a racial identities/racial justice film series.”
The screenings, which take place on the first Wednesday of every month at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., aim to educate Vermonters and visitors about current and historical injustices done to black Americans and people of color and how these manifest in the local community, while raising funds to support local anti-racist organizations.
Next week’s film, “Loving,” delves into the history of interracial marriage in the U.S. It is a fictionalized story of the relationship between Richard and Mildred Loving, plaintiffs in the 1967 Supreme Court case (Loving v. Virginia), which overruled state laws that prohibited interracial marriage. This year marks only the 50th year since this landmark Supreme Court decision. In a recent New York Times movie review, “Loving” is described as “startling” due to its “insistent, quotidian quiet” — “it was the absolute ordinariness of their love that defined them [Richard and Mildred], and that made the fight for it into an indelible story of this country.”
“Rumble,” shown in November as the first film of the series, is a documentary about how Native Americans of Canada and the U.S. influenced rock ’n’ roll in America. The proceeds from the screening went to support the effort led by the Vermont Abenaki Tribe to replace Columbus Day permanently with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the state.
“We have a two-pronged mission,” said Joanna Colwell, one of SURJ’s Middlebury organizers, “to educate white folks in our community about how white supremacy and bigotry harm everyone, and to funnel money toward Black Lives Matter and Migrant Justice.”
SURJ Middlebury is a chapter of a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. According to the 2010 Census, Vermont is 95.3 percent white, making it one of the whitest states in the country.
As Bernie Sanders’ home state, Vermont is considered by many to be “a liberal, progressive state,” as Colwell said, “but liberals and progressives have a tremendous amount of work to do to understand [our] own privilege and begin to dismantle racist ideas in our own minds, as well as in our communities. We will not succeed in uprooting institutional racism without making an effort to understand it.”
Colwell also addressed the current challenge on the college’s campus of getting people who would not otherwise self-select to show up — faculty, staff, students and administrators alike — engaged in the push for racial justice.
SURJ Middlebury hopes to tackle this “crisis of empathy,” as Colwell labels it, and acknowledge the truth of racial inequity and violence in our country. This film series provides one means of doing what Colwell aims to do.
“I feel like great films can be a powerful way to increase empathy,” said Colwell.
Ben Wells, owner of the Marquis Theatre, reported in the Addison County Independent that “seeing movies brings us together as a community and can show us aspects of ourselves that may have been hidden [to us].”
Wells, Colwell and fellow SURJ organizer Kathy Comstock chose the films for the series after putting on multiple showings of “I Am Not Your Negro” in March of 2017. SURJ and The Marquis Theater are promoting this year’s film series through local papers, faith communities, social media and flyers around town and on campus to achieve maximum attendance.
“We hear the voices on campus (students and faculty of color) who feel like Middlebury has not been an inclusive or welcoming environment, especially after the Murray fiasco. We are always looking for ways to listen better and amplify those voices,” said Colwell. The SURJ organizer acknowledged that the group’s efforts are imperfect. They welcome input about how they can do better.
SURJ Middlebury emphasizes the recognition of past injustices and the lived experiences of people of color in order to build a society free of discrimination and racial violence. The racial justice film series attempts to create a wider audience for this mission.
The recommended contribution for moviegoers is $10. The funds donated at the screening of “Loving” will go in part to the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, which presents “Free & Safe: The Underground Railroad in Vermont,” an exhibit tracing an important story of two slaves battling for freedom in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Though there will not be a screening in January, the film series at the Marquis will continue in February with “Whose Streets” (2017), a documentary showcasing the Ferguson uprising and the global movement responding to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The film, directed by activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, draws attention to police brutality in St. Louis County and the greater U.S.
In March, the documentary “Step” (2017) will be shown. Director Amanda Lipitz follows the lives of three seniors of the first graduating class at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and their struggles to get to and graduate from college. The stories of the individuals in this documentary intertwine through their participation on their school’s step dance team in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.
In April, the project will show “Dolores” (2017), the story of a lesser-known activist in U.S. history: Dolores Huerta. Huerta is a feminist and, along with Cesar Chavez, cofounder of the first farmworkers’ union. At 87, she is still fighting for racial and social justice. “Dolores” illustrates the challenges she faced in her fight for social equity in the 20th century.
The final movie in the series, “Little Boxes” (2017), will be shown in May. Despite comedic overtones, the movie touches on themes relevant to life in Middlebury, given that Vermont is one of the whitest states in the U.S. The film tells the fictional story of a biracial family who moves from Brooklyn to Rome, a predominantly white town in rural Washington, exploring the family’s difficulties adjusting to a different living situation and social context.
Students interested in this project should be on the lookout for advertisements for upcoming screenings.