When we released our first film, Light in the Shadows, the world wasn’t ready for it.
Recorded in 1998, our founder, Shakti Butler, intended to use this shorter film (45 mins) to raise funds for the production of other World Trust projects. In the movie, a conversation unfolds among ten American women from a range of backgrounds. The women lived in the Bay Area and came from African, Arab/Middle Eastern, European, Jewish, Asian, Latina and multiracial descent. They spoke frankly about the social and emotional impact of engaging with the world within the racial identities attributed to them.
The participants all came to the table with decades of social justice advocacy behind them. These were skilled communicators accustomed to the language of race and inequity, unconscious bias, social constructs, patriarchy, transformation, collective humanity, and healing. They shared personal anecdotes and past pain. They challenged one another and showed support. It turns out the film’s greatest achievement was also its perceived flaw. The conversation in the film—and for those after who viewed the film—consistently broke down between white people and people of color. When the credits rolled, white women viewers hated the movie. People of color loved it.
At one pinnacle moment in Light in the Shadows, an African American participant explains that the fight toward racial equality is her life experience, something that she cannot avoid even if she wants to do so, and that in fact, her life sometimes depends on that fight. But for her fellow Jewish participant, the black woman goes on, the fight against racism is “work,” something a white woman can put down and revisit when she chooses. That’s privilege, the women of color in the group explain. Their intention is to acknowledge how white privilege’s presence shifts how race gets talked about in this particular gathering of women, which is a reflection of what happens elsewhere in their lives and in the world.
It’s a powerful moment, because the women show both vulnerability and resilience. The understanding is not immediate, but they stay in the conversation.
At that time, in the late 90s and early 2000s, we did not see such clear and direct communication about white privilege being discussed, especially among women. For the women of color, that statement about life versus work was an “a ha!” moment, reflecting the burden of systemic racism over generations. But for the white women in the group, the statement was met with genuine confusion, some defensiveness, and for white viewers later on, the comment and the ensuing discussion were perceived like blatant personal attacks.
Watching Light in the Shadows today, the film resonates for its potent relevancy.
A conversation that was rare at that time, has become much more common today. We see discussions about race and its relationship to privilege and power parsed out in blog articles, social media posts, late-night TV monologues, and beyond. Technology isn’t the only driver. The 2016 presidential election revealed deep xenophobia and racism at the most fundamental levels of our country’s social strata. For some of us, that experience was no more than an unveiling. We knew what lay beneath the surface. But for many, the cracks in our foundation are finally visible, perhaps for the first time.
At World Trust, we want to capture this moment, where collectively, we are willing to look where we haven’t always wanted to before.
We are re-releasing Light in the Shadows, knowing that the conversation is still challenging to witness, but it’s one that we are more primed to hear. We will be updating the conversation guide too, and will release it to you in the coming weeks.
We see people engaged in the tough business of rooting out bias and dissipating conflict. We believe that individuals are willing to ask themselves new questions as they understand their place in systemic racism and ask themselves questions such as:
- How I have I been trained to think about the space that I occupy?
- How is that training problematic, in terms of being able to build equity in my family, or in the place that I work?
- How is that training problematic when I try to do organizing work?
- What do I need to see, about myself, about my place in the United States, that I don’t currently see?
These are questions that if answered thoughtfully, might illuminate the disparity of power that fuels so much injustice in our society. With that knowledge, we can make different choices. We can create a different kind of future.
Watch Light in the Shadows. Use the conversation guide. We hope it spurns action in your own life and within the communities you care about. We intend that through the listening, we can align and connect with one another, which is really what it is to be human.