The Center for Public Policy in Diverse Societies presents a screening of American Denial, followed by a discussion with producer/director Llewellyn Smith, Martha S. Jones, and moderated by the Ford School's own Joy Rohde.
>> Hello everybody. Good evening and welcome. I'm Susan Collins the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean here at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. And we're delighted that all of you could be here to join us this evening for a very special event. We are doing a preview screening of "American Denial" by Llewellyn Smith, who'll be introduced in just a moment. But I do want to say that we're delighted that he traveled to join us here this evening. I also would like to start by thanking our cosponsors. So in particular, the National Center for Institutional Diversity and also the Institute for Social Research. And we're delighted that the managing director, Marvin Parnes, is with us here this evening. Great to see you. And this evening wouldn't have been possible without the assistance of Women's Studies, Professor Jane Hassinger, who helped to connect us with Llewellyn Smith. And so thank you very much for that. We're delighted to have you join us as well. Well, as you all know recent events have sparked a national dialogue, actually an ongoing dialogue on race dynamics in the United States. The Ford School and the University of Michigan have been involved in a variety of ways and in particular through the month-long symposium in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. And this featured event is a part of those symposium activities. It is as great privilege for me to be able to welcome our special guests who are here with us this evening as part of that event. And let me start with produce-director, Llewellyn Smith. We are again delighted that you are here with us today. He has engaged the contemporary--on contemporary social justice issues and American history through a great number of films that I suspect many in the audience are very familiar with. In particular let me highlight, "Eyes On The Prize: American Civil Rights Years", "Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery", and there are a great many others. He also served as series editor for the superb PBS series, "America Experience". That I suspect many of you like me saw and found extremely provocative and informative. He's also cofounder of the Blue Spark Collaborative, which is as media company producing films that challenge perceptions of race and encourage intercultural conversations. He also examined some of the underlying structures that really helped to foster inequality in the United States. And in recognition of his many major achievements, he has won the Peabody, the duPont, and Emmy awards. And so that's quite a--quite an impressive feat. And so we are particular honored to have you here with us this evening. Thank you for being here. Martha Jones is an associate professor here at the University of Michigan with appointments in history, African-American Studies and Law. She earned an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship which as many of you know means that she's a superb teacher. Those are distinguished teaching awards. Her work examines slavery and freedom, citizenship and the rights of women. She's also an active writer and I suspect that those of you who are on Twitter have read her political commentary on issues of rights and race in the United States. She's also a gifted author and I look forward to her forthcoming book which is entitled "Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America". So thank you very much Martha for joining us this evening. And last but certainly not least, the Ford School's own Joy Rohde, who is an assistant professor here. She will moderate the discussion after the screening. And Joy is as historian whose teaching includes courses in ethics as well as science and technology. She's also a phenomenal teacher, I should mention. Her book "Armed with Expertise" was published in 2013. She's very interested in the role that social scientist play in domestic and foreign policy debates. And I suspect that she, like me, shares fellow historians affinity for Gunnar Myrdal who featured very prominently in the film that we are about to see shortly. Just a quick note about format. We will begin with the moderated discussion immediately after the screening. Our speakers will have a brief discussion among themselves and then open the floor for comments and questions from the audience. If you have a question, please raise your hand. We do have volunteers with microphones and please wait for a microphone before you speak and ask your question. For those watching online, we are delighted to take your comments through Twitter. So you may tweet your questions using the #AmericanDenial dock. With that, I would like to invite our special guest, Llewellyn Smith, to the podium to introduce his film.
[ Applause ]
>> Good evening and thanks for--first of all, I want to say I'm really honored and excited to be here to screen the film with you. I don't often have a chance to screen a film that I produce or direct with an audience, so this is a unique experience for me. A couple of one housekeeping note, the film would be broadcast--"American Denial" would be broadcast on PBS, Tuesday, February 24th. So, this is at 11:00 p.m. So, this is actually--this is I think one of the few screenings that I'm aware of, of the film before its broadcast. It--I would say just a couple of words and then I'll--I think this film should just play and speak for itself. But I would say it does continue my interest in looking at history as a way of interrogating how we understand the present. And looking at the way in which famous figures lives help us understand something about ourselves and about how we are shaping and examining the world. That said, I would let the film play and we'll have a discussion afterwards. Thank you very much.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you Llew for such a fantastic film. This is the second time I've seen it. And I'm glad I'm not a discussant because it's the second time it's left me speechless. So, I would like to turn the floor over. The way that this format is going to work now is that our discussants are going to have a conversation about the film, just briefly for about 10 or 15 minutes. And then I'll open the floor up to your questions. We really want to hear especially from you today. So, Llew and Martha, please.
>> Thanks. This is not working. So thanks very much, Joy. It's really a treat and an honor for me to be here with Llew. I've had the distinct pleasure to have a chance to talk with you over the last week about this film and the ideas underneath it. So, I'm just going to jump in and get us started.
>> I think my first question is one that maybe other people are asking also, which is sort of why Myrdal, why An American Dilemma, why now? In other words, why come back to this study, to this moment? On the one hand, I think we could suggests that Myrdal and his moment are remote in time, a pre-Civil Rights moment, a moment that predates the explosion in scholarship including economics, and history, and sociology, anthropology, all taking up the questions that Myrdal asks. So why now? You know, I'm a historian and I'm a little skeptical about the historical analogies, all right, which is to say so much has changed, unless--but at the same time I sense that you thought there were something quite important that Myrdal had to offer us for thinking about the present?
>> That's a good question. The film originated among--myself and other producers, Christine Herbes-Sommers and also Kelly Thompson when we were working on another film, which we have talked about a bit, [inaudible] blackness. And Myrdal's story came up in the film and we want to tell a little about him, we decided we couldn't. But we saw that as an opportunity to explore his story in a separate film. And one of the thing is I think that was very compelling for me about his stories that he's fundamentally asking a question which I think is a kind of--in my view, a kind of eternal question, which is who are we as a society, and who are we as Americans, and who are Americans. And another way to think about it is who gets to be an American. He's not so crass. But I think there's a fundamental question there that he's asking. We have values. We have beliefs about what citizens--what it means to be a citizen, what a citizen should enjoy, what kind of rights a citizen should enjoy, is this true for all of us and do we all share this. And in Myrdal's time, he was essentially coming to conclusion that he was seeing something that was profoundly skewed from the extraordinary values that he embraced and he honored America, and that the world was honoring--and the world does honor America. And the answer for him was that the problem was not with the people who were being denied those opportunities, who were being debased, the people who were being repressed or oppressed. It was really, as he says in his writing, fundamentally it's something that is embodied in the structures, in the institutions, in the mind of America. And I think that what we're trying to pose in the question--in the film rather--is the question, is that true today? And I think that's--I think for--in my opinion, for any people who are concerned with social justice, concerned with understanding who we are as a people and do we honor justice truly. That's a question that continues and you'd be asked. That's not a historical question. That's a--as I said, that's an eternal question. And so, I think this is just the moment when we're asking that question. The film actually was--and I'll wind up by saying the film, we started production on this film--My gracious. I wish I could remember. At least I'm going to say about four years ago. I think we started the first--when we see the first small [inaudible] to begin and try to build out the film. So, it's not like we fought, that this would be a great film for this moment. I think there a lot of things are happening in this moment and time that we will begin to resonate with the questions are being asked. But it's been a long time, a long, long journey and the film had many different iterations before it's coming to be what you saw.
>> So, would it be fair to ask you whether this is an optimistic film or a pessimistic film? I think in watching I feel like I sort of tacked between those two points of view. And then there's that moment when Michelle Alexander whose important book, "The New Jim Crow" really lays out a historical and sort of sociological analysis of the contemporary moment through the question of mass incarceration. Even Alexander says, "But I'm not that pessimistic." And I wonder as a filmmaker, do you have that license to be how--where is the license in being optimistic or pessimistic or having a point of view? We talked earlier about being an artist and about having the capacity to put questions on the table. But I'm trying to understand better sort of way you think the film sort of comes down on what is clearly and, you know, it seems like an eternal question, like an ever present question.
>> It's a very good question. I was--when I'm listening--I was listening to your question and I was remembering that moment where Michelle Alexander says, "But I'm not so pessimistic." And I remember going--I remember discussion in the room discussion within myself about we don't let her say that last phrase, you know. It was really--because when you come to the--there's a point at the coming to the film where at least thinking about as a narrative, my feeling was I did not--I really--I'm trying to create--we talked about discomfort. I'm trying to create a kind of creative--I think we were trying to create. That's my vision I think in terms of the producers I think there's also a sense of this, trying to create a creative discomfort for the audience, a real discomfort. And there's a desire not to let the audience off the hook. That's my feeling. So, even the last bit of texts that says that the US--the New York courts, you know, struck down this law against about frisking. There was some controversial whether you should include that, because--and then I'll come to that. I think I'll come to the answer what you're--there's a long way to get to your answer because I think that it's important for us to really struggle with these questions in a real way. And so in the film, I'm trying to--I feel as a director, I want to create a space where those answers are not easy and you can't really get away from the discomfort and what you're beginning to talk about which is the kind of sort of pessimism. I don't feel--I don't think the film is so much pessimistic as it's really--and I think that Kelly and Christine would agree. It's forcing. It's trying to force us to ask really hard difficult questions that are not the answers which may not come so easily or so comfortably. And if we can do that, I think that that's an optimistic thing, actually. I think in the difficulty of being able to do that creates a kind of optimism for me. I think the pessimism comes when we say, "This is a question we can slip by. This is a question that we really--somebody else can address. I don't need to address." I think that's the response that makes me feel pessimistic about what might happen, what the possibilities are for us on this issue.
>> So, you open the door to this scene, right, behind the scenes which is the debates that are going on among you as creative folks behind this film. So I have to ask you about the decision to include that image of I think it's a young Trayvon Martin. Am I mistaken?
>> No. That's really interesting.
>> It's not--We actually wanted to include Trayvon Martin. And there was a--there was an image that we actually had in the film for a long time. And what happened was that we couldn't get the rights to the image. And I think it was just that we--the conversations, it wasn't that we were denied. It's just--we just couldn't in time to get a clear honest answer that "yes, you can use this image", and so we decided we would not use it. But we did--You're right. We were trying to--with the image that we use, we're trying to bring that to the floor. You made me think of one thing when I was watching the film. I just want to say this is--it's interesting in terms of just the creative experience. That scene where we have the young people being frisked, which is a scene I directed and we can see that scene. Those are high school kids. The two guys actually behind them are both filmmakers. They're not really cops. But the kids, when they did the scene, it was really interesting because we sort of blocked the scene and walk through, just the way you would in a feature film. And now, this is going to happen, I will now do the shoot. This is all shot with still. It's not a film. So it's hundreds of stills that we're building to the scene. And I remember after we did the frisking part, these guys were--two things happened. One is you can see their body and their face is changed. And part of it is because they have been frisked a lot. And one of the things that they've said to me was after we shot they said "Actually when the cops do this, they're way rougher with us than you were." So, it was one of those moments where you think that you really understand the reality of what you're trying to portray and then after you sort of put together they're saying, "No, no. It's way worse than this." And how their physical bodies changed from we're acting to "No, this is really happening." was very powerful for me, anyway.
[ Inaudible Remarks ]
>> I'm going to assert my privilege as moderator and turn your question around. Your first question to you Martha, which is can you talk a little bit about the ways in which you see gaps between Myrdal's argument, his assessment, and what we're experiencing today? And another piece which you may or may not have an answer for which is, you know, if not Myrdal, what other figures might we want to think of in terms historical figures that might be--maybe more resonant?
>> It's a great question. On the one hand, I think that--I don't think today we might lean as heavily as Myrdal did on this notion that there was a higher American ideal. And I think today, we might more rely on a narrative that suggest about the ways in which inequality, racism, colonialism, are themselves elements of the American creed. And so, where is I think it doesn't mean politically and rhetorically that we still don't hold the nation up to those ideals as Myrdal maps them out, but I think that is in some sense more rhetorical, more strategic than it is analytic. And that in the analysis, I think we would say, right, slavery, racism, genocide are all part of the founding fabric of the nation that it is that paradox, that dilemma that is the American dilemma. It's not the disjuncture between the creed and the ideals. It is the way in which the lived experience of, for example, people of color or those who we come to call people of color are part of the foundational fabric. My other reflection in watching this is on the other hand, I would hard-pressed to point to. And gosh, I wouldn't do this in front of live room point to who I think might be appear to Myrdal today because I'd leave someone out and offend someone, maybe. But more to the point, I was just struck by Myrdal's range and ambition as an intellectual. I had forgotten that he was trained as an economist because so much of what we learned from "An American Dilemma" is about psychology, sociology. And so, this style of an intellectual whose, you know, interdisciplinary long before places like the University of Michigan, you know, sort of trade on that notion, right? He just is working that way because it makes sense and it's a part of his ambition. So, in that way, it's quite remarkable to imagine that way of working. And he's also working outside the academy in this moment, right? So he's working for Carnegie, which is this extraordinary project in and of itself that is neither the academy nor the state that has this enormous world view about race, about racism, and race relations and is doing many things in this period in addition to commissioning Myrdal study. Carnegie is, you know, sort of a core philanthropist, right, in the very circumstances that Myrdal is studying. So, that's very hard to point to the parallel, the easy parallels I think.
>> So we've taken our 15 minutes. And we could probably go forever. But we would like to open up the floor now for discussion. There are two mics circulating. Cliff has one.
[ Pause ]
>> Thank you. First of all, thank you for the film. It was--if your purpose was to generate discomfort I believe you succeeded. I wanted to ask a question about "An American Dilemma" itself as master work of social science. I believe Myrdal wrote two books, a really thin one which is the one that people read the beginning of the two volume set and the rest of it. And what's impressive to me is the mountain of evidence that he collected and compiled with it very substantial stuff on the problem of racism and racial discrimination, how deeply entrenched it was. The portrait he paints of the American South and The Great Depression in the way African-Americans in particular suffered is very hard to read but extremely powerful. And there are chapters on corruption in political system and the police as tools of oppression and violence, you know, it's just one thing after another, horrible thing after another. And at the very beginning of the book he writes this, I think, concoction of a conflict between our commitment to moral values on the one hand and our practice of racial discrimination on the other. And if you only read the first part of the book, it's quite optimistic. How could he come to that having written his other book? And--So this gets back to a point that Martha Jones made earlier, pointing to Michelle Alexander who makes a very compelling persuasive case about mass incarceration as a tool of racial domination. And she says in your film, "Nevertheless, I'm feeling pretty optimistic about the future." I don't--
[ Inaudible Remark ]
[ Laughter ]
>> I hear you. I hear you.
>> Right. And you weren't sure that that would--that should be part of the film. OK, I get that. But--So this is a question, I suppose, primarily about "An American Dilemma." How do you reconcile his extremely persuasive thousand-page book about the entrenched problem of racial discrimination in America on the one hand and this story at the beginning about how if we just live up to our values, the problem the race discrimination go away?
>> I don't--I mean, you may have some thoughts about this. I don't know that he's only saying if we just live up to our values. I think that he's--And I think the question of values is a really tough one. I mean, I think that--just as a side note, I think is very important. I have, you know, this--the note from Ralph Bunche who basically says, "This is, you know, I'm not with you on this. I don't think that people are really so absurd about this as you are." And in fact, among his staff there's some controversy whether that was really, you know, the appropriate or power lens. But I think that just from--and this is slightly--I don't know, this is not academically informed view but I think that there are several things going on and I think they have to do with the very thing that he's trying to examine and explain, which is there is denial going on. I think he's trying to embrace this idea of America in almost--the word is not romantic but it's a very--the idea of these values are really quite profound for him. And one of the things he talks about and writes about is that in your--but especially in Sweden, there's no--there is no fundamental statement, you know, that the state that it is in documents about this is who are Swedes, this is what we believe, this is what we stand for, this is what we believe all Swedish. There's nothing to like that. And I think the fact of such a statement about his ideals was very--had a very profound affect for him. At the same time--And I think he did have genuine affection and real hope for the country. At the same time, I think that you're right, how do you reconcile that against what he's looking at which is in the end it adds up to, you know, profoundly, almost corrupt sort of a system at history that goes on further back than we want to think of oppression and racism. So--And I think that there's a--I think what you're kind of implying is that there is a kind of--there is a kind of a dance he's trying to do a bit. But this--at the same time--But at the same time, I think that, again, I'm not sure that it's unjust to sort of say he's being--I don't think he's just to say is being disingenuous. I think that--the last thing I would say is I'm not sure how you can--how you could--I imagine, I'm trying to imagine, and I'm trying to imagine him sort of reconcile those two things. And I think it's pretty--it's a very big challenge in a place that he has great affection and connections with, and also trying to understand how it can also be this other piece that he's just discovered that he's never been part of this, never seen. That's kind of a--
>> And I thought, for me, it's the moment when you focus in on his relationship with Alva [assumed spelling], right, that you suggest a kind of thesis or lens through which we might understand Myrdal but we might understand ourselves as our profound capacities for denial. And at least for me, in thinking about where we are in the mid-20th century, you know, we're on the cusp not only of a civil rights revolution but a woman's rights revolution. And it seems to me Myrdal, not in any way would let him off the hook, is of a moment, right, in which he's quite capable of not seeing, right, the questions that he's deeply and, you know, that are--
>> Clear, yeah.
>> --sort of he's deeply embedded in.
>> And I thank as well for the presentation and the discussion. And I was thinking about a strain or maybe attention that I think was in both American dilemma and at least the elements of which I think are in the film, which is our minds versus structures and maybe not somewhat piggybacking of what you're saying a lot of American dilemma is, talking about psychology attitudes, belief that this American psyche which the film rather goes into. And then--But we--and, you know, talks about how that was in Brown V. Board and the Clark Doll study that is about attitudes and beliefs, but then we do have Myrdal saying we need large structural forms. I think that tension continues because that--I mean, people studying American dilemma. But the myth of that is just about attitudes and beliefs. And no one to say attitudes and beliefs are unimportant but rather looking at the error of causality from institution, structures, historical, inequality and, you know, state promotions and public policy is leading that and thus coming up. You know, Myrdal wasn't really--he talks about big structural forms. He wasn't really a policy prescriptive but we can be. But I think that's--at least the elements of that tension are I think both in America dilemma in the film and I think those continue with us today. We can look at issues like form of action where that tension is. The case of leading at least legal defenses where it's been upheld is its diversity and really of the white mind or benefit the white mind, the white student will benefit from attitudes and beliefs. Not unlike his which again, no one is going to say it's unimportant but it doesn't say, oh, we need to say, for example, do a form of action rather remedies as a part of the least we can do to run the historical and ongoing racial inequality. But I wonder if he had that--he saw the tension or see the tension [inaudible] doing the film right in a view, ongoing in any kind of interesting way.
>> I'm lost. The tension between--
>> Mind structures--
[ Inaudible Remarks ]
>> You know, I guess that the thing that I--I mean, this I think comes back to--this comes back to, you know, what you are saying about Myrdal and also the blindness. I mean, I think the thing that we sort of begin to--at least for me, I think it's important to remember. I think it's very important is that, you know, we can talk about structures and we talk about policy but our policies are created by minds that people to, you know. So again, I mean, I think that there is--I think there is a tension between we want to say that we can start to create these policies or these things could actually happen. But again, who's in the room and who is a part of the conversation about what these policies are going to be. And I think that's a--I think that's not an insignificant blind spot, you know. It just as Myrdal, you know, has these, you know, tremendous ideas and this amazing intellect and he's got this vision that he can execute. He's got this one amazing blind spot which is that he's in absolute, you know, unreconstructed patriarch and he's wife, you know, eventually calls him on it in an extraordinary way. So, it's sort of--to me, it's a similar kind of a thing, which is that there is this--there is the structure but the structure is also people, the structure is also a shape. It also comes from somebody. It doesn't, you know, policies and the students have built and don't just sort of appear on thin air. So I think that's part of the--that is part of the tension. And I would describe that as a question of the "who's at the table" question.
>> I guess I connected to that. To me, one of the moments that really stuck with me is when you remind us, A, that Carnegie can't imagine an African American social scientist running the study. So--
>> Especially black soldiers. Yes. Yeah.
>> Yeah, exactly. And then Bunche being, you know, sort of the lone, you know, sort of African American figure and ultimately a critic, right, in some sense.
>> He wasn't alone. He wasn't--I'm sorry, he wasn't only but he was certainly clear the most important and the most impressive and the most dynamic of--yeah, you're absolutely right. I'm sorry, what--
>> No. Just to say I think it goes to--it's one of those spots where you can think about how minds and structure, right, are intersecting, right, in that moment when Carnegie has--they have a vision for what they should be, right, and it's partly about the structure and who's at the table and the structure, the deep structures of American philanthropy and all of those things coming to play.
>> But it's also a space in which you got those more intimate sort of scenes between Myrdal and Bunche, you know, where we see also attitudes coming to bear. So maybe I'm just trying to suggest that there are spaces where it's not--where we can see the two in play and that's part of what's interesting for me about the film.
>> Yeah. Yeah. That's a really interesting because, you know, many folks here may already know WB Bush essentially invented, you know, American sociology. And he's in American and he's not somebody that they want to bring on. I mean, so, there again, this idea of policy. And this institution with this great vision but there's an extraordinary blind spot. And their assumption is it's going to have to be someone outside America and it's going to almost certainly, absolutely without much question anywhere be a white person. That's what they're looking for. And that says a lot about them, and it says a lot about the moment. I mean, there's a real powerful tension there, you know. Here's what we want to do. It's high-minded. It's wonderful. Nobody can do it. And we're just as blind as everybody else that we're trying to--as a society that we're trying to understand.
[ Pause ]
>> I'm hearing a lot of things described as questions, which to me aren't questions at all. They've really been answered and very concretely and particularly over the less let's say 25, 30 years by the gentlemen down here said the mounts of evidence that go to Myrdal, put together. But there have been mounts, and mounts, and mounts, and mounts, and mounts, and mounts, and mounts, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books, films like this one and other great films that have been produced that clear up things that are being described right now as questions. It is unquestionable that this country was created with a racial hierarchy built right into the structure. It is unquestionable that the way that our minds are not allowed to see the disconnection between the so-called freedoms and our ideals, and the reality that we live has been skewed and has been told in story form and has been played out for us in our history books in thousands of different ways that prevent us from being able to see those connections. We have not taught it in school. When I was kid, you know, I went to school every single day said the Pledge of Allegiance every single day. "Pledge of allegiance liberty and justice for all," ended it that way. Never thought, never thought of the massive contradiction that existed between what I was saying and the way and I grew up first 15 years of my life under legal Jim Crow segregation. Never thought to compare what I was saying with the reality that I live because my teachers, the society in general didn't make those connections, didn't allow us to see those connections. It had a story. It had an explanation for why things were the way they were. And a big part of that explanation was the pathology of race, that black people were pathological as a racial group. Now, today, we tell a different story. And John Paul in the film address this when he talked about how in the past, they would have said that, you know, black people are racially deficient. Today, they say we're culturally deficient. And that's the explanation that we all get, you know, that we deserve to be arrested, that we're criminals et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and other people of color get the same. And different stories but similar stories as well. So, to me, the dilemma is not so much how can we--how do we continue to not make those connections as how do we get that information, the mounts, and mounts, and mounts of information out into the broader, the general public get--I call it down to the streets. How do we get that down to the streets? This film is better than we are giving it than this discussion is a giving a credit for being. It unearths. It reveals a ton of wonderful stuff. It's wonderful that Michelle Alexander is in there. It's wonderful that John Paul is in there. And they're saying things that could help to pull the veil away from our eyes, but--so the question is how do we get those--and the implicit bias, I could go on and on. And I know I'm talking a long time. But, how do we get that stuff down to the street? How do we get it out into the general public? And how do we stop talking about these things as if we don't have the answers? They're not questions for a lot of us. They're very, very clear.
>> Thank you.
>> I mean, it's a--that's the 64,000-dollar question. No, really because I think that, you know, one of the things that's powerful about film that doesn't happen with--you know, one of the things that's powerful about film is that it is accessible. It's a merely accessible. And one of the challenges that in terms of the streets, in terms of just I think you're talking about the public, you're talking--I presume you're talking about the public, you're talking about each other communities in terms of just getting it out there. Film makes--made these ideas really, really powerful accessible. I think the challenges--the challenge for me is always been a question of distribution, you know. And--
[ Inaudible Remark ]
That's a very good question, too. That's--What you should do if that's really a concern, seriously, is you should talk to your local public television station. Because the way that ITVS is scheduled unfortunately is that really has a lot to do with local stations on what they want, where they want to put it. And our film is a part of the ITVS series, so. So that's part of it. But the other part of it is I'm especially interested in trying to understand how these things happen and are available even outside of broadcast. You know, I'm excited about the broadcast. I'm excited about festivals. But it's also something that could have a life in communities, it could have a life in environments like this and teaching institutions and so on, and that's something I hope is going to happen as well.
>> This is the third time I've seen this film. And I'm more thrilled each time and see more to ponder and to make use of. I think the question about what do we do with it is really pertinent. But I want to say that I appreciate this film in part because of its complexity, its multidisciplinarity. It's looking into multiple streams of scholarship and it's resisting a tendency to participate in processes that slice and dice our thinking about complex social problems. I'm a psychoanalyst and so I'm concerned with how the mind gets sliced and diced. And I know that--or how identity is built around processes that are about splitting and about the repudiation of that which is uncomfortable, and painful, and ugly. And if we continue to engage both at a large social level and does in individual level in that kind of repudiation, unconsciously, we can't make the kinds of changes. But you've given us ways to think about that repudiation and ways to become curious about the organization of our own minds and our own thinking. And I really, really appreciate that. Thank you very much.
[ Pause ]
>> Hi. I'm Silvia Pedraza, professor of Sociology and American Culture.
>> I want to defend Gunnar Myrdal's choice of pointing out the contradiction between the American creed and the values that we hold dear and the actual practices. Because I think that for example, when one compares the history of race relations in the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean, there's a number of differences but there--and profound similarities, you know. They both start with the institution of slavery. But in the end, in the Caribbean and Latin American, you end up with a much softer pattern of race relations. I call it softer because that's what the literature calls it, and I don't know what else to call it. But basically, there was no Jim Crow, and much larger and mixed race population, and much closer relationships in terms of friendship, for example, a neighborhood patterns than in the United States, you know. So, the United States is a much more, you know, harder case of race relations. OK. And one of the differences between the two, why do you get such different outcomes when the beginnings are so much more similar, one of the differences between the two is that in the United States there is the statement of a creed and also the contradiction and the denial of that creed in actual practice. It's not the only one. There are different patterns of colonization. You know, the Spanish and the Portuguese are one same and the British are another. There is different family structures and gender patterns, different rates of manumission for whatever set of reasons there's a lot more freed people from slavery in the Caribbean than there is in the south of the United States. There is a number of differences. I'm not going to boil it down to one. But I think that one key difference is that in the United States there is a statement about who we are and who we believe, what we believe in that doesn't exist in Latin America. Yeah.
>> And again, that was Myrdal's point. That was--One of the things I [inaudible] to him was that he did--he didn't see it in Europe, he didn't see it in his own country. Yeah.
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>> Questions? OK.
>> Yeah. I just wanted to make a comment about the title "Denial". And this kind of piggyback what the psychoanalyst and also going to what the gentleman said about the mount of evidence. It really seems that, you know, the film is great. This is, you know, really powerful documentary. But we got tons of these things and it seems that it's not so much the content that, you know, presenting that's dealing with the recipients with the--you know, we're talking about the whole public here in terms of addressing issues of denial. How do you go about that in terms of specifically trying to break down those defense mechanisms that are going on? That's a really powerful block. And I'm not sure just as much evidence, you know, in films and information that we put out that it gets through because, you know, this .has been going on since the framers, you know, the Constitution that denial began, you know, right back then with the people depend the constitution. So--And this is why I say I'm very--you know, a lot of us are probably very frustrated with media and with our leaders in terms of not trying to approach that. And it has to be approached, you know, in a sophisticated way to try to break through defense mechanisms of people. And you need to have the people there at the top who are savvy to that which, you know, I guess is questionable. And it seems that we have a very opportune time right now because we are resurrecting all these issues. They are fresh right now. But what's going on is we have two camps going on. It's just falling back into the old pattern, so a lot of defense mechanisms are kicking in. And, you know, you can look in New York City and the [inaudible] and the police and the protest. I mean, it's just that--but there's an opportunity there if it could be grasped by the right folks to really use this to, you know, make those connections and have that dialogue start, so. Just a [inaudible].
>> Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I think you're touching on is, you know, the--I think when we create films like this one, filmmakers create--this I think in terms of the work that we're doing as filmmakers. You know, there's no silver bullet and we--I don't imagine that people are going to take this film and suddenly it's going to be, oh, you know, the lights are going to go on and that's the end of it. I think there are several things I would say. One is that part of the points of what happen to the film is that it's what happen afterwards and also whether a conversations or whether situations like this where people can actually talk about it. I think that's one thing. And I think the other thing is that we're trying to--even in creating this film and not having a sense that several years later that we were going to be in this sort of political moment in America where, you know, races sort of in your face and back on a table in such a visceral sort of important way. I think that even without knowing that, what we're trying to do is to create a piece that a film that can be part of a public conversation, that can be part of what is already sort of being discussed around these issues. And there's always been a constructive, or a sideline, or a dead end, or inspiring, or devolving, or fragmented conversation around race that just doesn't go away. And so when we create that we want to be part of that. And I think that the last thing I would say is that anything that--in my view when we're talking about this earlier, but anything that begins to sort of encourage us to see--you know, and this is sound--this is going to sound sort of tripe, but to begin, to see this question of race is a human question that is question of racism as a human question that involves all of us and affect us, you know, I think is very powerful. I mean, in some ways that's really the power of what--you know, when you start to defend Gunnar Myrdal, I mean that sort of brings us back to the power and the importance of what it means, the difference between what the law says and what I believe. You know, the law can provide all kinds of remedies but do I believe that when your children are harmed that's the same as my children getting harmed. Do I believe if I'm a teacher that I've got to struggle and make sure that all the children that are in front of me get the same. What do I actually believe? And I think that's what we're trying to begin to probe in a way that's very difficult to sort of get to. We all can talk about what we think the law should be and we all should obey the law and the law should be for everybody. But there's something else that we're trying to get to in a film which is a bit more--to my mind, what really drives society and drives the questions that we're talking about, you know. At some level is they're not legal questions. At some level it's about what do we believe about equality, how do we live it, what really happens when we're in those situations, and how--and so that's what we're trying to really explore. And I think that anything that begins to put that on the table in an undeniable way or unimportant way is very important piece of this conversation as well.
>> So, I'm going to put you gently on the spot because--
>> Oh, sure.
>> --you offered up a really--I think a really what was for me a powerful and a provocative way of thinking about racism and the place of racism in American culture. Remember, it was your environmental analogy.
>> And I ask you that--you know, so, want to say what the analogy was?
>> Oh, the analogy [inaudible]. Yeah.
>> And because I think that it goes to this question about whether our work is about on the one hand, the answer might be, right, that we're not--that abolition is not the vision, right? Abolition is not what's possible and that keeping racism at bay, right, mitigating racism. So, where are you now today at quarter to seven on that, 4 o'clock you were--you had a powerful analogy there?
>> The analogy is not my--it's not--it's an analogy that's stuck with me but it's not mine originally. I was saying that I was some years ago we're--Ford Foundation was a funder of "Unnatural Causes" which is a film that I was one of the--I was an executive producer for and we were in a room full of Ford lawyers and they're talking about the race--the work they are doing around racial injustice around the world. And they were all doing different kinds of pieces and they're all extraordinary pieces, I mean, and difficult and even dangerous and just amazing work that they are talking about. They are just sort of reporting and sharing this. And at one point, someone in the room was listening to this litany of sort of cases and setbacks and assaults and not individual but sort of assaults on human dignity. And he was basically saying, "Where does this end? What's--When does this come to an end?" And another person in the room, I can't--I wish I could remember his name, said essentially, we have to think about this in terms of as an economic--think of it is a source of an environmental kind of problem. It's not that there's a bullet [inaudible] ends it. But if you think of it as environmental problem, it's almost like there's a river and we want the river to be pure, we want to drink the water, we all want to drink the water. People are dumping things in the water. It requires vigilance and continual work. Sometimes it was going to be really dirty but we can serve [inaudible] begin to find the sources of that dirt and we're going to deal with it. Sometimes it'll be--But the idea is that it's not that there's end, it sort of requires continual work and continual vigilance. And I think that's--that to me I found very realistic and somehow not so much reassuring but it was a different sort of way of thinking about why I'm doing the work that I'm doing. Because, you know, I take what you're saying in terms of the--and also what you're saying and it's what--that what come [inaudible] that we sort of know this and we sort of--and sometimes sort of when do we get--when do the things to begin to click and things begin to sort of shift in a really dramatic radical way so we can really begin to see progress. But I think part of it is there's continual work that has to happen because we're dealing with individuals and we're dealing with structures and some of those structures have really long, long roots. When Michelle Alexander is talking about the mass incarceration system, that's a long ancient sort of a shadow that we don't even want to talk about in some ways that goes--that does go back to, I think, slavery. So, how do you begin to face those kind of challenges without sort of being ready to throw up your hands and find a corner? And I think that's--this idea of environmental--I'm thinking about the race question in terms of activism as a kind of environmental question, I thought was really quite affecting for me anyway. That's a long way to go. And I think--And I do come back to as a touchdown question. I still sort of feel that way because otherwise, you know, is the answer then that I've got to sort of create a piece of worth that actually I can actually see, actually changes this, or actually has this effect, or actually--and I'm not sure that's the--I'm not sure that's what's--in terms of my sense of work as a producer, required of me, you know. Because if it was, I don't think it's something that I can actually do. Here's a piece of work that's going to actually, you know, make a 90-degree turn and this--that's just not--I don't have that--I don't know what that subject is. Tell me. I'll find the money, I'll make it.
>> This is going to be our last question.
[ Inaudible Remarks ]
>> This is not an academic question. Can I ask it?
>> I appreciate what you just shared about that environmental analogy, because we're all--I feel very impatient. And watching the film almost makes me more impatient. But my question is that I am struck by this one moment in the film where one of your voices talks about incarceration with a maybe. He says, "There are people who believe"--or I don't remember what he says exactly. But he isn't definitive about our structure of incarceration even though, Michelle Alexander is, you probably are, I am. And so, I'm just wondering back in the editing room, was there any conversation among you and your other producers about how to frame that? Because it seemed as if you softened it--
>> I wish I could remember it.
>> Does anybody else remember what I'm talking about?
>> Is it a voiceover?
>> No. It's--your main--
>> I'm sorry, is it--was it voiceover?
>> No. He's--
>> Was it--it was it--was it my voice as a narrator?
>> I don't know if it was your voice but it seemed like it was coming from the man with a very long dreadlocks.
>> Yeah, Vince. OK.
>> So he--
>> I remember. Yeah.
>> --made a statement about incarceration that was not definitive.
>> He says, "Some people argue that" or something like that.
>> Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
>> Exactly. So I just wanted a little back story about why you decided to be so soft on that?
>> That's a good--I wish I had the actual--I think I know what you're talking about. I think he's trying--I think what he's doing is he's beginning to set up what falls which is Michelle Alexander's social historical analysis of what we're actually seeing with mass incarceration. And I think that the only--I think what's--if I remember correctly, I think part of what was--first of all, that's a statement from a much longer interview that we deal with him. And that was one of the things he was talking about was the same issue of mass incarceration. And I think that what we're trying to do is to use him to sort of set that up, but he's a historian. And actually, his area of expertise is Caribbean history and slavery in the Caribbean. So he's trying to be careful about putting himself out there as a--I think putting himself out there an expert in this area. And the film we asked him to do a number of different things which he does very well, but he's also trying to be careful about saying that this is an area that he's really got as much expertise as Michelle Alexander. It's a place where we really wanting him to work. He would--He's doing what a narrator would do but maybe not as effectively, you know, in your view.
>> Yeah. I mean, what I heard, you know, is that there are variously interesting and not interesting academic debates that Michelle Alexander's thesis is generated. And historians are right at the center of rethinking the ideas that she is so powerfully articulated. So I--So that's an academic answer in the sense to question that I know wasn't about academics. But we can ask a question in this room. I think it would be a fair question about that tension, right, which is to say about sort of academic thinking which takes us back to Myrdal, you know, which is to say, why Myrdal's ideas don't carry the day is that certainly in academic conversations but not only, right, Lorry [assumed spelling] in academic conversation, in political [inaudible]. All of this is profoundly contested to reign, right, which is to say Myrdal is writing and then we get--you know, we could ping-pong between Myrdal is some version of the left and insight about race in American and then we could pong back to, you know, Monaghan [assumed spelling], you know, half a generation later who takes us to another position. And we could go back and forth and appreciate, I think, that one of the answer I think to the question about sort of how and why is that these ideas don't get traction is that they're deeply contested in that contest is undergirded by the equivalents of Carnegie, right, on the other side, right, to not only facilitate the studies but to promote the ideas both in academic and in political and in popular culture. When I think about your film and I think about how deeply insightful and persuasive it is, I also know that then Americans flip, you know, 16 channels to the left or to the right. And they're watching yearly some of those very same scenes that you stage, right, could have been lifted from some reality TV program, right, about cops in America. And that's the--So, it seems to me television is a battleground, right? And that's why it's hard for these ideas to carry the day in part because for me, that's why it's--for me, that's part of the reason it's hard for those ideas to carry the day, is because we can flip the channel and someone is promotion a narrative that trades on some of the very same imagery and reads in a very different way. And so, it seems to me you're working not only to educate another generation, right, that each generation has to learn this history and this story. And so there's that work. But that you're also bumping up against other sorts of popular culture representations and narratives that are interested in your questions would have a profoundly different, right?
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>> So, thank you so much. We're out of time. But thank you Martha, thank you Llew.
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>> And I just wanted to say some thank yous as well to Joy and Martha for joining us and to Llew for his very powerful film and also for taking the time to be with us this evening. Thank you all for joining us and for your comments and your questions. We hope you'll stay. We have a reception just outside the double doors to continue the conversation a little bit more informally. Please join me in a final round of applause. Thank you.
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