Race Reels opens dialogue

With thought-provoking films and discussion time in a circle, Race Reels is not the average high school movie night. From topics that range from post-911 discrimination to racism in high school to Chinese adoption, the program shows a movie about race and racial identity each month and engages the audience in thoughtful, and sometimes difficult, discussion at the evening’s end.

Race Reels’ founder and School Within a School English teacher Abby Erdmann started the program three years ago with librarian and English teacher Lynne Cohen, social studies teacher Malcolm Cawthorne and visual arts teacher Krissie Jankowski. With a $3,000 award and the headmaster’s permission to use it toward whatever she wanted to do in the school, Erdmann said she had wanted to implement a schoolwide reminder to talk about issues around race.

“One of the is to bring racial issues to light that we don’t normally think about or talk about, raise some consciousness,” Erdmann said. “And the other, I would say, is to jumpstart a conversation about race. It’s to bring awareness to those of us who don’t know , and to bring comfort to those of us who do know. We hope to say conversations about race are necessary and nurturing, if difficult.”

Erdmann said she thinks Race Reels has had an impact on the schoolwide conversation regarding race.

“I do think people are talking more about race,” she said. “People who come are the ones who want to talk about race. But then they go and they talk about the movie in their classes. I think students see these movies and are touched and I think there’s a ripple effect.”

Senior Marisa Lazar also said that Race Reels has an impact on racial discussions around school.

“I think they’re incredibly well-made movies, so they’re really interesting to watch,” Lazar said. “It’s really great that we have a place where kids can feel comfortable sharing their own stories, interacting with their race and other races. I think it impacts the students who go to Race Reels in a positive way. It shows that there are so many unique ways to talk about race and also there are so many things to talk about that we don’t really get a chance to talk about in school and we might need to more.”

Senior Ellie Flammia said the discussion following the film allows people to open up about their own experiences.

“I think talking about it is just one of those moments that make people feel uncomfortable, but it’s enlightening and it’s a time for people to understand where people are coming from,” she said.

At first, the topics of Race Reels were predominantly about black history and black-white relations, according to Erdmann. Starting last year, Erdmann said they had wanted new angles. On Dec. 4, the program showed “Somewhere Between,” a movie about Chinese adoption, and included guest speakers such as Boston University researcher and teaching fellow Mark Zastrow, a Korean adoptee.

Lazar said she hopes Race Reels will continue to look at other racial minorities through the movies and is excited for an upcoming film on Native Americans.

“I think what does is to validate people’s experience and say, ‘We all need to be thinking about race and talking about it and worrying about it,’” Erdmann said. “So here we are doing it. Will they all be perfect? No. But hopefully it’ll be meaningful.”

Ashley Lee can be contacted at [email protected]