At the risk of sounding like a lazy writer, I am starting off this reflection by saying that there are no words for this year so far. At least in English. Perhaps in my language, Te Reo Māori, there could be a more appropriate way to get the feelings across; words that hit at the exact spot where we feel the pain, the sadness, the way our breath leaves us in a rush or the sharpness one feels in their chest when distressed. I imagine that many other languages not steeped in shallow, pale, restrictive structures also have this ability; to convey the wounds that colonization would rather us wake up to everyday, blood and all, and never find a way to suture.
Even if we find the words in English to say what we are feeling, sometimes it’s simply too hard to talk. To write. We struggle to find ways to speak about not only the events of the past few weeks that have hit our Asian relatives in particular but also the reality that these events have been the norm in America since its founding. That our Asian, Black, Pacific Islander, Latinx, and Indigenous relatives have been carrying wounds in distinct and shared ways since the United States’ inception. These sores are inherited. This pain still runs in the veins of thousands of descendants. And each time an act of violence is committed, it is both shocking and unsurprising to those who carry this history. This injustice is not new. Which then leads me to wonder: how many different ways do you tell that same story? What does these stories justice? What honors a memory when just words don’t feel like they’re enough?
This is where the 2021 Racial Justice Reel Camp comes in. This is the part when we all pull out our laptops, tablets, or phones and watch these films one by one, together. This is the part where each film finds a way to compliment the one before it even with differences in genre and presentation. This is where memories, lives, and stories are given justice and light in several different forms. The personal, the experimental, the simple, the explicit: no stone is left unturned and participants brought their heart into every aspect of their creations. This is where we find a language.
It is always a boldface lie when people with privilege declare “there is no way for me to learn about racism,” but it is especially an embarrassing one when saying it out loud in a day and age like this. When resources and commentary are so rampant and available that even mainstream media can’t escape a tiny mention in their regular broadcasts, even if it remains incredibly watered down in comparison to the actual, transformative material existing outside of it. It is also embarrassing when we remember we live in a world where the films made in this camp exist. Films that everyone can view and find something to understand, cling to, carry home in their hearts. Films that mirror many peoples’ experiences and others that can educate those of us with privilege who could stand to learn a little more. Films that scream “End police brutality” and “do better” at you in color, voice overs, and quick transitions. Stories about trying to find self-love and acceptance in a world that has been trained to see your beauty as confusing and without proper form. Shorts told from the perspective of ducks who want the audience to understand that racism and discrimination shouldn’t be accepted or tolerated by anyone, including across species.
Portraits of blue skies, fields, and laughter as we get to see for just a minute what pure, uninterrupted Black joy and love looks like. Like, do you see what I mean? What we can learn from these approaches, these stories, these films? What we can feel, what we can hold with us as we keep walking into a better world made by and for all of us? This is also a part of the revolution.
And that’s what keeps me hopeful. I have written it many times and while I wish I could find other ways to say it given I’m a writer and am always trying to find different ways to phrase a thing, sometimes you just have to say it straight out. Repeat it. Once more. I am hopeful. I am hopeful because of these participants. Because they make films and art that quite frankly, the ongoing huli needs. We need these films. They are what help to keep us going. When I sit down and am witness to another one of these showcases, I can again feel the depth of my love for my relatives, my communities, and my whenua. This love reminds me of why I want to keep fighting, uprooting, and turning over; because me, the people I love, and the places we all call home deserve a world that loves us just as fiercely right back. When I remember this love, I am moving again. I am huli-ing the colonial systems in my body, mind, and spirit and am reclaiming my space. I help the ones I love to do the same. I remember that if me and my friends can do this with ourselves and each other, well then of course we can do it with the world.