‘Banished’: an interview wit’ filmmaker Marco Williams

POCC Block Report Radio presents ‘Banished’ Saturday, March 29, 7pm, at the Black New World, 836 Pine in West Oakland

Photo – Marco Williams

by Minister of Information JR

“Banished” has to be one of the best documentaries created that focuses on the forced removal of Black people from land that they owned, after chattel slavery, by mobs of white people unjustifiably. It shows a part of the Black experience in Amerikkka that is rarely shown in documentary form. 

This film also goes into the present day ramifications of this grand theft by interviewing and following the descendants of the forcibly removed Black people when they addressed the white descendants of the thieves who stole their land. 

This documentary about rural land grabbing is especially significant because these land thefts are still going on in Black neighborhoods, in a modernized fashion, all across Amerikkka, including most prominently in New Orleans, but also in West and East Oakland, Hunters Point and Fillmore in San Francisco, South Central Los Angeles, the West and South Sides of Chicago, Harlem, Baltimore, D.C., West Philly and some more. 

So I talked with Marco Williams, the director of the film, about his motivations for making the film and his opinion about how it has already been received.

MOI JR: Can you tell us how you came up with the concept for your film “Banished”?

M. Williams: “Banished” is a co-production between an organization out in Berkeley – actually, the Center for Investigative Reporting – and my production company, Two Tone Productions. And in fact the folks at the Center for Investigative Reporting approached me, because they were aware of the work of the journalist Elliot Jaspin. So that’s the foundation. 

Elliot Jaspin is in my film. He is one of several journalists who have done some research on this hidden history, on where white citizens expelled their Black neighbors. But I had to take this raw data from Elliot Jaspin, who really is trying to write a historical document, and I wanted to find a way to look at and examine the past and see its impact on the present. So the concept that I came up with was to ask questions regarding how can the past be redressed. And I really started to think about the question of reparations. 

MOI JR: What was the time period that you covered in the film?

M. Williams: “Banished” and these incidents of racial expulsion occur between like 1865 and 1930. My film focuses on three communities: Forsyth County, Georgia; Harrison, Arkansas; and Pierce City, Missouri. I look at these three communities and they’ve had these incidents of racial violence in the early 1900s. 

MOI JR: What was the personal mission in you doing the film?

M. Williams: You know, I have a body of work that really looks at race relations and the dynamics of race – the pains, the problems and the frustrations between Black and white Amerikkkans – and in this one I thought that there was a possibility to look at perspective solutions.

MOI JR: I understand that your film has been showing all over the country and on public television. What kind of dialog has been happening around this film, and how do you feel about it?

M. Williams: I feel really good about the response to the film. You know you’re doing something right when you make a film and total strangers contact you. They contact you telling you their stories. They contact you expressing gratitude for illuminating this story. So I think that first and foremost the conversation has been, “Wow, I didn’t know about that! And thank you for giving me a way to think about and talk about reparations.” And I think that’s really been the underlying conversation, is how do we redress the past. 

MOI JR: Now I’ve seen the film, how has white audiences responded in relation to Black audiences? Have they both responded in the same way, or what kind of dynamic do you see coming from both of those groups?

M. Williams: You know that Black and white have, on the one hand, responded similarly to a certain extent – a surprise at their ignorance at knowing this history. I would say that overall Black audiences have been somewhat more passionate in their response because we are the victims in this story. Or we’re the explicit victims: We’re the ones who were kicked out, expelled from our land, losing property, livestock etc. 

But there have been many whites who have been very agitated by the story because they see the injustice of it. They express kind of a shame, an embarrassment that this happened, and they are equal to the question of how can we redress or repair the past. 

MOI JR: I know that that was a question that was looming in the air at the end of the film. Have you or any of your audiences discussed how you think that it could possibly be repaired? I know that in the movie, one of the white residents of one of the communities that expelled its Black population said that land was out of the question.

M. Williams: Yeah, but there hasn’t been anything concrete. I have reflected on one kind of solution. It may not be the solution or a solution, but a starting point. And what I imagine – and this comes out of screening the film in a variety of places and listening to the kind of conversations that I started by saying, “What about creating a reparations tax fund for these episodes of banished Black Amerikkkans and the loss of African-Amerikkkan-owned land?” – so what I imagine is that there is a banished tax, and all Amerikkkans are taxed and now there is a fund created for this. 

And what happens is that when a white landowner in one of these communities wants to sell their land, they must sell it first or offer it first to the descendant of the people who were expelled or the descendants of other people who were expelled off of land in that community. But the land is sold at market value. So if it’s a million dollars, it’s sold for a million dollars. 

Now if the Black descendant can pay for it, then he or she pays for it. If they can’t, then they tap into the reparations tax fund. That’s a kind of solution. Now that requires policy makers in respective towns to institute this, but it is a starting point. 

Email POCC Minister of Information JR at blockreportradio@gmail.com and visit www.blockreportradio.com, hiphopwarreport.com and myspace.com/blockreportfilm.