Monday, September 20, 2004

1st post

Today, the death of my maternal grandfather brings me to Houston. Yesterday at approximately 5:20pm central time my mom called, and my grandmother reported that she had just seen GP's last breath.

Thought it seems strange to me that this is the moment and location (Bellaire Public Library) that I get off my ass to start a blog, I'll take a push where I can get it. I'll probably write more about my grandfather in the coming days, but for now, I want to talk about the situation I just escaped in St. Louis.

For some time I've been trying to produce a documentary about the race dynamics in my hometown. It has been taking me way too long. The more I look at it the more I feel like I'm not being honest with myself, and the more honest I am about the real stuff going on in my head, the less I want to show it to anyone.

It has become totally autobiographical. but that is not what i am escaping from right now.

I've showed some first drafts of it to some friends, and friday I got a call from a friend of my sister. she had seen a version of it and had recognized an anecdotal situation in the video that was described by one of my interviewees. She felt the feelings and situation described in the interview reflected badly on her mother. For the past few days (from friday till I left town because of my grandfather).

my defense for using the footage was that nowhere is the woman's name mentioned, nor the location, nor the time frame. From my perspective I have done everything possible (without marring my footage, or reducing emotional impact) to protect the identity of the accused party.

However, people who are already familiar with the interviewee may be able to guess who she is talking about.

On saturday I had a meeting with the woman who feels wrongly accused in my video. When i asked her what she wanted me to do with the footage, she responded that she would never dream of infringing on my rights to free speech. Later she told me she was going to have to look into what her legal options were. of course, she would "hate to have to take suit against me".

Goddammit. as if i didn't already have enough problems getting this thing done.

One thing that comes to mind in this situation: the goal of this production has been to avoid the blame game that is common to exposes of racism. I've tried to focus on confessional type situations with the minimum of "explanation" and "blaming". (i feel that especially on as sensitive a topic as this one, the defensive reaction on the part of the audience needs to be as mitigated as possible).

BUT - i feel at some point i do need to show a face that has been hurt in a particular situation. This is needed to make it real that there are implications for children's self-esteem. Unconscious race bias isn't just a general negativity projected out into the world, but a real thing that certain particular real people suffer from.

the point of this is that at some point in the video I need to have a person (preferably a child) talk about a time when unconscious race interactions had a negative impact on them. In every situation that I can imagine, if the situation were not fictional (this is a documentary after all) there would be someone who could recognize the situation as presented (no matter how i disguise it) and claim to have been defamed.

my first reaction was to say to myself, this sucks, but I'm probably going to have to remove this footage. squeaky white wheel gets the grease, but yesterday I got a call that felt even worse.

the "defamed party" called me and was clearly trying to discern who else may feel slandered by me and may be interested in campaigning against me. Up till that point, I was totally willing to believe the "defamed party" that the situation represented by my interviewee may have been exaggerated.

I was inclined to call my interviewee up and see if she would stand behind her interview on these points, and go with her feeling on it, to pull or not to pull the footage...

but after I feel like "the defamed party" is trying to start a campaign against me, I don't really want to go to special lengths to protect her...

I'm still in a quandary about this one, but a couple of things are sure. I'm going to have to look into my own legal situation to protect my butt. someone is going to be mad about this video, and friends of the family are probably the least of my worries.

I wonder if I have the emotional fortitude to produce this thing...


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