AMHERST, Mass. – The award-winning documentary film on race and culture, “40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk?,” will be shown in the UMass Amherst Student Union Ballroom on Friday, Sept. 26 at 4 p.m., followed by a discussion led by the film’s producer, Lee Anne Bell, who earned a doctorate in social justice education at UMass Amherst’s College of Education in 1982.
The program, sponsored by the College of Education, is part of the Homecoming Weekend schedule at UMass Amherst. Bell, who is currently Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education at Barnard College, will lead a discussion on race and culture in education settings beginning at 5 p.m.
Directed by Markie Hancock, the documentary explores the impact of racial integration in the Mississippi Delta through dialogue with black and white alumni from the class of 1969 at South Panola High School in Batesville, Miss. as they recall and comment on memories of that time from their very different racial positions and experiences. The film is the first recipient of the Charles and Margaret Witten Award for Distinguished Documentary Film in Education from the Museum of Education at the University of Southern California.
Bell has taught and written about storytelling as a means of teaching about racism. The film grew out of a phone call Bell received from Cheryl Johnson who, having received an invitation to a South Panola High reunion, was searching for someone who could help her and her African-American classmates tell the story of their experiences. That search led her to Bell’s book, “Storytelling for Social Justice: Connecting Narrative and the Arts in Antiracist Teaching.”
The film examines the experiences of 13 African-American and 13 white students who attended South Panola from 1967-69. It 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” attempts to provide a contemporary way to examine the impact of desegregation on those who participated in the first integration projects and to reflect on the progress that has been made and the challenges that remain for reaching the goals put forth in the 1955 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
“The College of Education has a deep commitment to equity, access, and social justice in education,” said Christine B. McCormick, dean of the College of Education. “Building on our legacy as a facilitator of important but difficult discussions and as a research-driven knowledge center, we will screen this important documentary and host an honest dialogue about race and education today.”