The Diversity Films Series, a semester full of films hand-picked by Sinclair’s Diversity Office started at the beginning of the semester and continues onward to the semester’s end. The series features a series of film events meant to inspire debate and conversation about Sinclair’s diverse community.
The films, all of which deal with the human condition and diverse perspectives, are shown in building 12. They are free to students, with the intent to stimulate conversation, inspire debate and to renew in the student body that always important constant: of understanding a world unlike our own, especially of those whom we have no way or view of the perspective of, in order to create a community of inclusivity and sympathetic compassion and understanding.
Michael E. Carter, Chief Diversity Officer here at Sinclair started in 2015 and the Diversity Film Series started the Spring Semester of 2016.
“The diversity film series just goes with our vision to provide activities and events that are about diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Carter. “So that’s a piece of what we do. We also support faculty and staff in these efforts and human resources. I often say we try to be the ‘conscience of the college’ in the diversity, equity and inclusion space.”
A great many of the films have been recognized or are created by filmmakers who’ve been recognized for prior achievements in their field. Starting in February, Spike Lee’s “BlackKkKlansman” will be the next film in the series.
Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” tells the true story of Colorado Springs Officer, Ron Stallworth, and his 1978 infiltration of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. The film is based on Stallworth’s own memoir, “Black Klansman.”
Lee’s debut film, “Do The Right Thing,” released back in 1989, a watershed picture in cinema for its realistic, modern portrayal of race relations in New York, famously lost to “Driving Miss Daisy,” a film that portrayed racism as a long-gone relic of the past, at the 1989 Academy Awards.
“I thought ‘Do the Right Thing’ was extremely powerful and nuanced and complicated and it shows how complicated we are. Some people are racist but there are some people who do racist things who are not racist themselves. I think many of us fall into that category…It was kind of ironic that it lost to ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ but I think that people are more comfortable with that movie. I think people like the fact that it dealt with race in a more passive and peaceful manner.”
As we all know, and we should’ve known then, racism is not by any means a relic of the past, written down in ratty, shriveled parchment, it is instead an ever-present, ever-constant aspect of many individual’s everyday life.
The series just finished up showing the film version of Angie Thomas’ book “The Hate You Give,” which, Thomas said, was inspired by the shooting of Oscar Grant, who was shot in Oakland, Cal. by a BART security officer. The film and book deal with a 16-year-old black girl who attends an affluent, mostly white school and her witnessing the shooting of her childhood friend by a white police officer.
Following “BlacKkKlansman,” playing Feb. 20 is Academy Award-winning film, 2018’s “Green Book”; a movie that tells the story of real-life jazz pianist and composer, Don Shipley and Tony Lip, Shipley’s driver and bodyguard for when Shipley toured the Jim Crow-era South.
The “green book” of the film’s title refers to the literal “Green Book,” often called the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” which was an annual guidebook for African-Americans traveling to the Jim Crow-era South. Often times blacks wouldn’t be allowed in towns after dark, a term later called a “sundown town” or be allowed to eat at certain restaurants or stay in certain hotels across the South.
“Green Book” also speaks to a lot of the issues at the time that may have been forgotten, some of which still exist today. Carter shared with me a story about a town in rural Northern Indiana, in which a woman approached him and told him about a recent apology from the mayor to the African-American community.
“I went into a shop and the mayor had recently issued an apology to the African-American community about it being a sundown town…This was a real thing. A lot of people don’t realize that just as the black migration was about jobs in Detroit and Chicago and other places, it was also a story of survival. A lot of blacks left for fear of being lynched in the south.”
Though many, including the Academy, sing the film’s praises, it isn’t without its critics. The film itself drew criticism from the Shipley family for being somewhat inaccurate, as to Lip and Don’s relationship.
Though, perhaps a more egregious critique of the film is the often-cited problem with feel-good films of its kind that deal with racism. That being, namely, that the film is a classic example of the “white savior” trope that has long been a black-eye on Hollywood’s history with films about diversity.
Beyond that, some have accused the film, rightfully, of being outright racist itself, as it features several scenes that confirm racial stereotypes, and at one point features a scene in which Tony Lip teaches Shipley how to “be black” by introducing him to fried chicken; something that the Shipley family has called out as being absurd, and worse yet, is a painfully oblivious attempt at bridging a gap through the use of confirming racist biases.
“A lot of people aren’t crazy about the movie and some people think it’s great. But that’s why we show the movie and have the discussion because not everybody is going to have the same opinion and that’s great. We want to have the discussion…We want to pick films that are thought-provoking to generate discussion. That is important to us. But that’s just a piece of what we do,” said Carter.
The Diversity Film Series continues with films like “A Star is Born,” which Carter cited as being a film he hoped would spur debate about depression; beyond that “Operation Finale” is playing in April and “Crazy Rich Asians” in May.
“We typically pick newer films, films that are thematic and we spread it around. We have films that are about race and culture, religion, women’s interests, we have films and documentaries regarding differently-abled people and LGBTQ issues. We try to keep these things in mind and represent who we are at Sinclair, and all the diverse people we have here.”