Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America is among the films premiering at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. The film is a 118-minute documentary directed by Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, produced by Jeffery Robinson, Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler, and written by Jeffery Robinson.
Off-Center Media produced the film. Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America follows ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson’s groundbreaking talk on the history of U.S. anti-Black Racism is interwoven with archival footage, interviews, and Robinson’s story, exploring the enduring legacy of white supremacy and our collective responsibility to overcome it.
Jeffery Robinson had one of the best educations in America. He went to Marquette University and Harvard Law School and has been a trial lawyer for over 40 years. In 2011, Robinson began raising his then 13-year-old nephew and, as a Black man raising a Black son, struggled to tell his son about racism in America. The shocking murders of George Floyd and the ensuing swell of protests across this country have forced a reckoning, not just with police brutality against Black Americans, but with the painful history of slavery and anti-Black racism in America. Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America is a documentary feature film that confronts this history head-on.
In Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, Robinson shows us how legalized discrimination and state-sanctioned brutality, murder, dispossession, and disenfranchisement continued long after slavery ended, profoundly impeding Black Americans’ ability to create and accumulate wealth as well as to gain access to jobs, housing, education, and health care. Weaving heartbreak, humor, passion, and rage, Robinson’s words lay bare an all-but-forgotten past, as well as our shared responsibility to create a better country in our lifetimes.
The film’s backbone is Robin’s 2018 Juneteenth (June 19) presentation to the New York stage at the historic Town Hall theater on Broadway. In his presentation, Robinson asks the audience to examine who we are, where we come from, and who we want to be. Using Robinson’s Town Hall performance as an anchor, the directors, Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, skillfully and beautifully interweave historical and present-day archival footage, Robinson’s personal story, and interviews with Black change-makers and eyewitnesses to history.
The documentary takes audiences on a cohesive and comprehensive journey from the past to the present. The film takes us from a hanging tree in Charleston, South Carolina, to a walking tour of the origins of slavery in colonial New York. Even today, police altercations have ended in the murder of unarmed Black people and more. This film brings history alive as it explores the long-lasting legacy of white supremacy in America. And then explains how it is society’s collective responsibility to correct and overcome it.
In Who We Are, Robinson is a powerful storyteller who brings history to life and delivers an eye-opening message of how our collective history was stolen from us. He challenges that while America is known as the “home of the free and the brave,” that also doesn’t mean that it can’t also be one of the most racist countries in the world either.
This documentary opened my eyes wide open to how deeply encoded white supremacy and the oppression of Black Americans is in American history. Most people, like myself, will say that they learned about American slavery at least during their high school education. Granted, it is no secret that the education students receive regarding American Slavery is not consistent or taught to the fullest extent. However, Who We Are, shows that even people who have had the best educations will have their eyes opened to information about slavery and anti-black racism in America that will leave you stunned to have never known before.
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America essentially holds up a mirror and magnifying glass up to American history to show how our country’s foundations intertwin with white supremacy and oppression. It is a mirror because the documentary references how historical events and the Civil Rights movement reflect the protests and leaders we see today involved with the Black Lives Matter movement.
And the magnifying glass is the closer look that Who We Are takes at the laws written by our country’s historical heroes, the founding fathers who tell us exactly who they were. Throughout the film, Robinson uses his law expertise to break down how the laws written by America’s founding fathers wrote to uphold white supremacy.
Personally, over the last few years, I have found myself feeling exhausted and not always eager to engage with media that centers or focuses on racism. For example, there have been moments when I am just so angry and sad at the treatment and murders of people like George, Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner. It is like a feeling of numb rage and hopelessness that drains so much emotional energy on this topic. And sometimes, all I want to do is scream and cry in anguish because I am aware that I live in a country built on the foundations of white supremacy and hate towards people that look like me. Now that doesn’t mean I ignore racism or the current issues at hand. It just means that sometimes I don’t want to feel emotionally drained by the conversation of racism in this country.
Thankfully, I am pleased to say that Who We Are, does not suck away my emotional energy. I felt informed and inspired by this film, as it felt like it gave a different perspective on racial and social justice. This film felt different from any other documentary I have ever seen about racism in America before. I think a large part of that is due to the film having the right balance of examining the past atrocities and current without inundating the audience with feelings of sorrow and pain.
However, some moments show the imagery featuring videos of police altercations and archived photographs of lynchings that may be sensitive or triggering to some audiences. But, it is essential to know that these images and videos are not included for shock value. They are included because they are a part of this history. I can only hope that other audiences can feel the way feel after watching this documentary.
Overall, Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America is a unique must-see documentary necessary for everyone, regardless of race, to watch at least once. It is the kind of film that truly opens your eyes and makes you realize how deeply the country’s foundations are rooted in White Supremacy and how the tumultuous times we face now reflect the past. This film examines American history and shows how it is so intertwined with White Supremacy. It tells a comprehensive and cohesive story anchored by Robinson’s talk, accompanied by dynamic storytelling and archival footage. I honestly can not recommend this film enough. This film is a collaborative effort between Black and white Americans to get back our nation’s stolen history. It is not meant to replace the difficult conversations about race and injustice. It is intended to help bring more of those conversations out. All of us can take a step in the right direction to explore the history that was stolen from us and accept that our shared moral responsibility is to stand up against racism.
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Overall, Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America is a unique must-see documentary necessary for everyone, regardless of race, to watch at least once. It is the kind of film that truly opens your eyes and makes you realize how deeply the country’s foundations are rooted in White Supremacy and how the tumultuous times we face now reflect the past.