It’s unlikely that any lecture documentary since An Inconvenient Truth would have the stimulating potential of Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America – and if that sounds like weak praise, it wasn’t meant to be.
The film features a speech by Attorney Jeffrey Robinson (former Associate Director of Legal Affairs of the ACLU) at the New York City Hall on June 1, 2018. His subject is nothing less than the history of anti-black racism in the United States.
For Robinson’s arguments, the historical evidence is clear, but much of it, he promises, may be new to many viewers. He shows how the text of Article V of the Constitution protected slavery from amendments until 1808, reads the Confederate states’ declarations of secession, and has the choir sing the unloved third verse of The Stars and Stripes.
Directed by Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler (daughters of Chicago 7 lawyer William Kunstler), the film alternates scenes of Robinson’s journey across the country. He visits Charleston, where the fingerprints of slave labor can still be seen; Staten Island, where he meets Eric Garner’s mother; and his native Memphis, where his parents had to figure out a workaround to buy a house for the Black family.
Robinson nuances themes – unconscious bias, reparations, how to deal with the fact that George Washington owned slaves – that have become social hotspots without ever losing his core progressive message. It’s a confrontational film, but never alienating, and much of what it contains is compelling.
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Rated PG-13. Discussion and depictions of racist violence and derogatory language. Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes. In theaters.