A standing-room-only crowd showed up for the Race Reels movie night held in the MLK room on Tuesday, Jan. 11. The featured movie was Identity Crisis, a documentary made by Spencer Brown ‘14 about his and some of his classmates’ experiences growing up biracial in Brookline. Brown attended the event, and spoke and answered questions after the movie.
Social studies teacher Malcolm Cawthorne welcomed attendees to the event and introduced the movie. He explained that Race Reels rarely showcased work made by students at the high school or its alumni, but that having a “home perspective” was valuable.
According to Cawthorne and Brown, Brown made the movie while he was a senior in high school. In the discussion following the movie, Brown said that the concept for it formulated while he was in a class called Constructions of Self during his junior year, and was brought to fruition as his senior project in a class called Identity, Race and Literature, which was taught by former SWS English teacher Abby Erdmann, who also founded Race Reels.
Brown said that the work he did addressing his relationship with his own identity in his junior year class allowed him to feel comfortable asking others about their identities when he was a senior.
The movie started with each of the mixed-race BHS students Brown interviewed for it introducing themselves, and defining their racial background and how they identified themselves. The first question Brown asked each of them was, “When was the first time they realized they were different?” One student remembered the time he was skiing with his father, who is African-American, and someone said they “didn’t know that Black people skiied.” Another talked about the time she tried on the same makeup her friends, who were White, were wearing and realized that it looked weird on her.
The students then discussed confusion or discomfort they had related to their identities. They talked about wishing they could be one race or another, how they acted differently around groups of friends of different races and how it was easier to be biracial if you were outgoing because you could fully fit into groups of people of different races more.
Brown asked the students in the movie how their parents addressed race with them, and most said that their parents either didn’t address the topic or approached it with a sense of pride.
After Brown had the students discuss what their role was in multiracial America, and what seemed to be closing remarks from Brown, he rewound and acknowledged that he and the students had never touched on the definition of race itself. Then he showed clips of them trying to define it. One said that race involves being cast into boxes, but that being biracial isn’t seen as an acceptable box. Another said that race should be how you view yourself, but in reality it comes down to how the world views you.
Following the movie, Brown explained the process of making the movie, and answered questions on everything from his personal views on race and his identity to cultural appropriation to how biracial children should be raised.
The next Race Reels will be held in the MLK room on Feb. 2.