Thursday, April 9, 2015

It's open season: "People feel hunted."

Documentary filmmaker Rachel Lyon (left)
at screening of Hate Crimes in the Heartland at Harvard Law School
below: Tulsa, OK memorial for victims of the race riot of May 31, 1921
(Photos from

"What does it mean to be a Black body out loud?" asked dance artist Edisa Weeks at a recent Movement Research Studies Project forum.

One answer came as choreographer (and forum co-organizer) Whitney V. Hunter (Social Health Performance Club) lay like a crumpled corpse on the floor of a Gibney Dance studio and recalled the complexities of staging a #BlackLivesMatter "body count outline" intervention at Union Square Park when, as he discovered at the last minute, it was Greenmarket day.

In America, it's always Market Day--green or otherwise--and the artist/activist is challenged to complicate the easy, inebriating flow of that narrative. Rachel Lyon's Hate Crimes in the Heartland, screened last night as part of The New School's Creatively Speaking film series, is one film project that interrupts the same-old flow, dredges up history and connects the all-important dots. In April 2012, two white men went on a hunt through Tulsa, Oklahoma suburbs, shooting random Black people, killing three, critically injuring two others. Lyon's film looks beyond the "Good Friday Murders" and their aftermath to the city's post-World War I history of thriving Black businesses, white rage and tragedy.

Dealing with the Good Friday Murders, Lyon at first pelts the viewer with news media images and commentary too rapid to digest. However, her work becomes more effective--and moving--as she examines the story of the prominent, self-contained community of Greenwood ("Black Wall Street") Black people built in the wake of World War I.

On May 31, 1921, Tulsa's struggling whites, resenting Black success, rampaged through Greenwood, destroying 25 city blocks, leaving 300 people dead and 10,000 homeless. The shattered community still bears signs of decimation while white Tulsa rebounded and continues to flourish. Not a single person has ever been charged or faced justice for the genocide of 1921.

Lyon has been touring Hate Crimes in the Heartland around the US in an effort to bring awareness of this atrocity--certainly absent from my high school history books--and create opportunities for discussion of hate crimes, systemic racism, and strategies for empowerment.

Click here to order the film and consider hosting a screening in your home or community venue (discussion guide provided).

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