Friday, November 18, 2011

Sound Bites Bite

So, I’m going to be interviewed by a well known national news program.  I always knew that there was a chance that at some point all of this stuff (making the movie) would get to a point where it just felt so weird that it was surreal.  The details would get so “out of this world” that I would become numb – experiencing my life as an observer. 

I think we’re there.  The “awe” the “wow” of the whole national news program thing is completely lost on me.  I’m just watching now and waiting to see how it all shakes out.  Every now and then my girlfriends ask me for updates on the movie and the book.  We meet for coffee or have quick calls.  That’s when I check in.  Otherwise, I am completely and utterly checked out. 

I think a part of me doesn’t want to get too wrapped in all of this.  In my normal, every day life no one asks me to write books or to be interviewed by national news sources.  People ask me for sandwiches and to glue dearly loved toys back together.  I have a simple, rich, lovingly chaotic life that I will be returning to when all of this is over.  On some level I want to stay connected to my simple life and not get overly wrapped up in all this other stuff.  This is one of the main reasons I’m not bouncing off the walls with excitement.

There are two others.  Race and family: the themes that seem to being chasing me when I’m not chasing them.  Maybe it's race, or maybe it's class, or maybe labels don’t matter.  In my pre-interview with the news program’s producer he asked me if I thought things had changed in Greenwood since the airing of the 1966 film.  I never know how to answer this.  I usually say that I can’t answer that because I’m not from Greenwood and answering that is arrogant or somehow insensitive.  Who am I to go around shouting my California girl opinions from the rooftops?

One of the questions presented during my first filmmaking trip to Mississippi was, “Did desegregation work in Greenwood?”  Someone on the production team encouraged Raymond and I to start asking this in interviews.  We did.  It turns out that a lot of people have questions about how well desegregation worked in that small town.

I don’t think anyone would say that Greenwood should go back to an era of segregation when a white cop could beat up my grandfather and his partner could shoot Silas McGhee in the face, both without consequence.  Some people would say that the work wasn’t taken to completion.  Whites were allowed to open private schools, they moved to the other side of the bridge and on and on.  But can we really legislate hearts and minds?  If you disgust me and I resent you, what laws are going to make us live peacefully with one another? 

I home school my kids partly because I think the public school system is in serious trouble.  But I don’t go around criticizing the schools because I really don’t have any solutions.  How does one adult meet the educational needs of 30 kids for seven hours?  I don’t know.

I feel the same way about Greenwood.  There is something otherworldly about it – at least for someone like me who grew up in a large city.  Some parts are beautiful.  Other parts are blanketed in hopelessness like an LA fog.  It permeates every orifice, every door, every home, and every heart.  It’s the kind of place that would make you believe that there is no way out.  Of course (the pundits would say) there is always a way out.  A football star can pump his legs, push against the soil with his toes, stick his neck out and run like hell to get as far as he can from the house he grew up in, the one that was a stone’s throw away from the home where Emmett Till slept on that fateful night.

Desegregation’s impact on Greenwood, MS is delicate and painful to talk about.  When white businesses were integrated almost all of the black businesses eventually closed.  Then many of the white businesses started to shut down or moved to the “white” side of town.

The other thing I feel apprehensive about when I anticipate this interview is the story of my family.  I still haven’t come up with the perfect, empty, yet provocative sound bite to give to the press about why I needed to find Booker Wright in the first place.  I don’t want to throw my family under the bus, but I also don’t want to lie.  Were we a success story or did the stench of their fear-filled Greenwood past follow us to the West Coast, haunting my parents to the point that they simply couldn’t properly parent us?  I’m not supposed to say that.  I’m supposed to say something else.  I’m supposed to walk a verbal tightrope that keeps my soul clean and honest but that also appeases my entire family, including my abusers. 

“You have to respect and honor your family.”  “Alcoholism is a disease, you have to treat them like they’re suffering from a disease…” even if their suffering left you on the edge of sanity.  “Think of them first.  This is not a time to dishonor your family.”  Think of the abusers. 

How did I get nominated to be the spokesperson, again?  Oh yeah, I wanted to learn a little something about my grandfather?


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