“The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view, regardless of how extreme it may be…
[C]hallenge them…politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform. So he [Roger Kelly, former Grand Dragon] and I would sit down and listen to one another over a period of time. And the cement that held his ideas together began to get cracks in it. And then it began to crumble. And then it fell apart.”
Davis and Kelly are now friends, and Davis is godfather to Kelly’s daughter.
We often say that Americans need to have a conversation about race, but with whom should we have it, and of what should it consist? As Davis points out, if a group of people who all agree that racism is bad get together and talk about how bad racism is, what is being accomplished?
Certainly Davis’s approach is not for everyone, and the movie documents some of his conversations with people from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Black Lives Matter movement, who clearly take a different view of how to deal with hate groups. Which is not to say that one approach is right and another is wrong; the Southern Poverty Law Center has shut down entire chapters of the Klan, while Davis has converted perhaps two or three dozen people, not by setting out to convert, but by making genuine human connections, with humor and compassion. By listening, and trying to understand.
This film, directed by Matthew Ornstein, has won numerous international awards and special prizes, including Special Jury Recognition for a Portrait Documentary at the SXSW Film Festival, the Jury’s Recognition for a Film that Provokes Continued Conversation at the Athens International Film and Video Festival, and the Nashville Public Television Human Spirit Award.
Ornstein opens the film with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy, one that is worth repeating here:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of [each] generation.”
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For a list of ten films about white supremacy, click here.