“40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk?” is a documentary film project that explores the impact of racial integration in the Mississippi Delta through powerful and moving dialogue with black and white alumni from the class of 1969 as they recall and comment on memories of that time, from their very different racial positions and experiences. Like the currently best-selling novel The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by journalist Isabel Wilkerson, our project captures a powerful story that has been previously invisible to most Americans. The documentary tells a multi-layered story intercutting archival historical footage, vignettes from the high school today, personal profiles of participants, and the inter-group dialogue for reconciliation. 40 Years Later provides a contemporary way to examine the impact of desegregation on those who participated in the first integration projects and to reflect on our progress as a society and the challenges that remain for reaching the goals put forth in the 1955 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The production of the documentary is the hub of a larger school and community-based outreach project that will include DVD menu items of high school and college students responding to the documentary, a curriculum guide and discussion questions, all to be made available on our project website. “40 Years Later” will become a coalition-building tool for school and community groups interested in fostering dialogue about race and racism using the networks already created through the Storytelling Project at Barnard. In Mississippi, we will be working with the William Winter Institute to use “40 Years” in Batesville and other communities in the state to support cross-race conversations and coalition building.
We have shown clips from the film to groups of high school and college students in New York City as well as university educators in different parts of the country. These focus groups convince us that the film is indeed relevant to contemporary concerns, that people from all racial groups continue to see honest dialogue about race and racism as difficult to start and sustain, and that the film is powerful in provoking and encouraging such dialogue.
Barnard College and Hancock Productions are partners on this project. Professor Lee Anne Bell works with public school educators using her scholarship on race and racism in an innovative storytelling model that incorporates the arts to facilitate conversation and learning about race and racism. Markie Hancock, Documentary Director (www.hancockproductions.com) is a filmmaker who has produced educational videos about issues of race including “Off Track: Classroom Privilege For All” and “Echoes of Brown v. Board of Education” both distributed by Teachers College Press. Hancock has also completed other documentaries, including “Born Again” (currently airing on the Documentary Channel) and “Exclusions and Awakenings: The Life & Work of Maxine Greene.”
The project has received funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Daphne Foundation and the Maxine Greene Foundation as well as through Barnard mini-grants for faculty projects and the Mellon Mays University Fellowship Program.