Veteran ITVS filmmaker Marco Williams has a history of creating films that examine race relations between white and black Americans. Williams provided BTB with some background to his and Whitney Dow’s documentary Two Towns of Jasper, streaming free from September 17 – 19 on ITVS’s Indies Showcase.
On September 21, 2011 Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of the three white men convicted for the racially motivated murder of James Byrd Junior, a black man, in Jasper Texas, will be executed. The chaining and dragging of James Byrd behind a pick-up truck formed the basis of Two Towns of Jasper, the film that Whitney Dow and I made.
In making the film, there was an opportunity to comment on race in America during the last half of the last decade of the twentieth century. In using segregated film crews to film Jasper’s residents over the course of the three trials, there was the space for each black and white resident’s to speak openly about their views on race and race relations.
It has always been important to me to give voice to the crime and pain of racism in America. As a black man, I felt it was a birth right burden and responsibility to make comment, to highlight, to call attention to racial injustice. I have created films that examine race relations between white and black Americans.
Two Towns of Jasper represents a most extreme attempt to highlight the chasm between the races. I wanted to make this chasm vivid because through acknowledgement of the divide there was the best chance to bridge it. Overcoming the gulf could only occur if we appreciated our racial differences rather than trying not to see the other’s race or our racial differences. Oh how I hate the refrain: “I don’t see race (color)”.
What has changed in America, with regard to race, since we made Two Towns of Jasper thirteen years ago? Well, President Obama became the first black man elected president of the United States. Some say this signifies that race is no longer an issue. A memorial was erected on the Washington Mall to honor the Reverend, Martin Luther King Junior.
But things are not so rosy in Jasper. The city has had a tumultuous summer. It seems that racial tension has bubbled to the surface, yet again, but this time it is not due to a racially motivated crime but division within the political leadership of the city. Am I surprised?
While I am not one to join the chorus that we now live in a post-racial America, I do wonder what it means that race is so little spoken about these days. Will this silence or omission about race change as the 2012 presidential election cycle begins in earnest and someone offers the words: Black Incumbent President?
When you watch Two Towns of Jasper, I hope that you look at it not simply as a chapter in our nation’s history, but that you look at it as a mirror, as a prism that gives you pause to look at yourself in the racial prism of America and that you look at it and look around yourself, your family, your community, your nation and ask what has changed, what remains the same, and what still needs fixing?
Watch Two Towns of Jasper streaming free from September 17 – 19 on ITVS’s Indies Showcase.