HOT DOCS FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! In Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, co-directors Emily and Sarah Kunstler bring to the screen an engaging walk-through of ACLU lawyer Jeffery Robinson’s devastating talk outlining the history of racism in the United States. His revelatory perspective on systemic racism in this country emerges as he peels back the layers until we see, finally, what should have always been blindingly obvious. He shows us that the foundational elements of this nation were built by the work of enslaved people. The economy of the south, fantastically wealthy at the time, depended on it. In many ways, the rest of the country did too, because the rising tide floats all boats.
Robinson begins, as do many people who are not subject to racism, by pointing out that no one from the last couple of generations owned slaves. He tells the audience at the outset, “slavery is not our fault. We didn’t do it. We didn’t cause it. But it is our shared history.” The filmmakers could have been satisfied with presenting the talk from Robinson without embellishment, and that would have been a fine film that got the point across. Instead, they flesh it out with interviews and archival videos of everything from the Tulsa massacre to the assassination of Dr. King.
“…outlining the history of racism in the United States.”
These recollections are compelling and refresh the history in our minds, but there are also many small, personal stories of individual examples of racism. Some of the most affecting moments in the film come from Robinson talking about his family and growing up. They were compelled to have a white couple buy them a house and transfer the ownership to them because sellers would always mysteriously find some reason not to sell to them upon discovering that the buyers weren’t white.
There are two aspects of Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America that make it so vital and compelling. Firstly, Robinson’s presentation style is captivating. He’s one of those gifted speakers who can have an audience leaning forward in their seats to hear his next point. We are on his side from the outset.
"…the forces that spawned such hateful power have persisted and chased us across time and space..."