Film Studies Against Racism

June 5, 2020
Statement from The Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies

 The Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies strongly condemns the endemic racism, oppression, and violence suffered by Black people in the United States of which the brutal killing of George Floyd represents the most recent (and mediatic) manifestation. We feel the urge to echo Chancellor Subbaswamy and Dean Julie Hayes’s statements issued for the larger UMass Amherst community and for the College of HFA respectively, and declare with equal vehemence that in our program there is no room for racism, xenophobia, bigotry, or hatred of any kind.

The current events open up a number of urgent questions for our historical moment. Police brutality is just the most visible manifestation of a deeply rooted, systemic problem. In this regard, the Covid pandemic and the unprecedented wave of unemployment have hit disproportionately the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities that already suffer the highest poverty rates in the US, barriers to education, and a broken healthcare system.  The protests in response to the murder of George Floyd are a reminder of similar outcries propelled by other senseless and unforgivable brutal deaths: Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile—and so many more. What should we do to defeat racist terror and violence? How can we stop history from repeating itself? How can we speak of victimhood, without omitting reference to agency and resistance? When will Black lives matter equally in this country? 

It’s time to listen and express our deepest sympathy and solidarity with Black people, and all people of color, but also to speak up, to protest, and to act. Apathy and silence are not the answer. In these uncertain, turbulent, and precarious times, there are many ways to channel emotions into actions. Peaceful and passionate protests across the country - from Amherst to Los Angeles, from Minneapolis to Houston - are having a global impact. Many cities around the world are seeing marches in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and against white supremacy and institutionalized racism.  As film lovers and cinema scholars, this is also an opportunity to reflect on the power of moving images. We cannot help but think that the murder of George Floyd would have remained invisible if it had not been filmed. We believe that films and other visual expressions like those suggested below can guide us in our reflections and concerns, and contribute to awareness, agency and change. Cinema can be a potent catalyst for awareness and action against violence and injustice.  

In his latest short film 3 Brothers (2020), African American director Spike Lee denounces police brutality by combining, in a sort of video-essay, clips of the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner along with footage from his Oscar-nominated film Do the Right Thing.  This work begins with the question: “Will history stop repeating itself?” In a recent interview, Lee admits he feels optimistic and encouraged by the diversity of the protesters who have been marching this week: “That is the hope of this country, this diverse, younger generation of Americans who don’t want to perpetuate the same shit that their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents got caught up in. That’s my hope.” Ultimately, this is our hope too: we are proud of our students —young women and men embracing diversity, showing respect for the other, and envisioning a future free of hatred. We have great confidence in this generation who will face the legacies of history and bend the world toward equality, dignity, and justice.

In solidarity
Barbara Zecchi (Director of Film Studies Program)
Barry Spence (Undergraduate Program Director)
Daniel Pope (Honors Program Director)

Recommended Films 

Malcom X (dir. Spike Lee, 1992)
The Glass Shield (dir. Charles Burnett, 1994)
American History X (dir. Tony Kaye, 1998)
Fruitvale Station (dir. Ryan Coogler, 2013)
13th (dir. Ava DuVernay, 2016)
Whose Streets? (dir. Sabaah Folayan, 2017)
I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, 2018)
3 Brothers-Radio Raheem, Eric Garner And George Floyd (Spike Lee , 2020)