A few years back I won a $35,000 dollar fellowship for a doc i proposed to Re:New Media ( a Rockefeller grant). I ended up using the money to make the film White Lies Black Sheep instead. I would still love to see this doc come to be some day.
Below is a little promo I put together for it. Below that is the synopsis I submitted.
Battle for Brooklyn
The promise, illusion, and failure of integration in America
Battle for Brooklyn is the second feature length documentary by director James Spooner. In the course of an hour, he will take us on an honest and sometimes uncomfortable look at some of the realities of contemporary race relations in America and ultimately its failures to achieve an integrated society.
The film is set in the neighborhoods that run along Bedford Ave, the longest street in Brooklyn, New York. These blocks are home to at least 14 distinct ethnic and religious groups. The film will be set in
the following neighborhoods:
Sheapshead Bay Russian Immigrants, Whites Americans,
Midwood Jews, Haitians,
Flatbush Caribbean Blacks,
Crown Heights Labovitch Jews, Caribbean
Bed Stuy Caribbean Blacks, American Blacks, Hasidic Jews
Williamsburg Hasidic Jews, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, White Americans
Greenpoint White Americans, Polish immigrants.
Although adjacent, these areas are extremely diverse and divided along color lines and economic standing. Bedford Avenue’s analogous residents sometimes have similar cultural experiences. This can create two or more valid, yet conflicting points of view. To help address these often complicated issues of America’s racial divide, it will be advantageous to get perspective from both the academic forum and the residents .
Topics segmented for clarity, Battle for Brooklyn, will give an aesthetic signal when a new area is going to be addressed. A brief, studio lit, introduction from experts in the fields of: economic policy, sociology, and ethnic studies will open with relevant facts, statistics or anecdotes. Issues such as gentrification, the co-opting of foreign cultures, and arguments for and against affirmative action will be delivered.
Following these academic vignettes, Battle for Brooklyn, will cut into neighborhood slices of life. Here the audience will gain access –via the camera lens– into communities both foreign and familiar. These telling visual accounts will be expounded upon by testimonials from the clashing members of that particular neighborhood.
Because there is much room for misinterpretation, the films first goal will be to define, for the audience, differences between integration and desegregation. Integration being the bringing together of people of different racial and ethnic groups in an unrestricted and equal concordance. Desegregation differs in that it makes discriminatory practices illegal but real integration — the intermingling of the races in a social, economic and/or otherwise harmonious way– is not necessarily the goal.
With these definitions in mind, the film will explore claims that although desegregation is now a relative reality, the promised integrated society is not. Capitalism – which has long been the golden calf of the establishment – depends on, enabling the illusion of such a society. Everything from clothing companies to the armed forces benefit from perpetuating this false impression. This “United Nations” style advertising, with one “key” person of color or television sitcoms set in fictionalized mixed neighborhoods, are dangerous, because they ease the consciouses of the mainstream while barely appeasing and thusly sedating people of color. We are lead to believe serious progress is being made when the nightly news is reported to us by a Black or Asian commentator; allowing ourselves to believe we are progressive, “ there is after all one brown face on TV”. Desegregation has added to the wealth and opportunity of the already ruling classes at the expense of the very people who demanded it. Exploring these charges of a corporate conspiracy to maintain the facade of integration may prove disturbing. Even more troubling, is that despite efforts from the various advertising and federal agencies – regardless of their intention –a segregationalist mentality, manages to permeate this society; starting with our youngest constituents.
From name calling on the playground to a high school that designates three separate proms according to race, Battle for Brooklyn, will begin to expound upon the true state of America’s racial divide. Moving from this country’s children to its adults, the documentary will ask how “the illusion” effects our lives, at home and in the work place .
Addressing hot button issues like: gentrification, affirmative action and reparations, will continue to stir this emotional pot . The fact that these are still touchy issues in our society, help to prove that integration is– in no uncertain terms–an American false hood.
It will also be important to the story, to show working examples of integration. It has been stated by many, that the military is the best example of a cohesive communal work force. The film will take the viewer inside the military to see what sacrifices must be made to achieve this level of “success”; Allowing the viewer to ask themselves, as a civilian, “Am I willing to trade aspects of my personal freedom for an integrated society?”.
Finally the film will look at Brooklyn’s’ Hasidic Jewish and Asian immigrant communities. These unapologetic, segregated communities have enjoyed a personal freedom and unparalleled economic voice within New York. Comparing and contrasting them to their American white, Black and Latino neighbors, will serve as an important spring board for post film discussion. How do they interact with each other and their surrounding neighbors? What can neighboring communities learn from them?
As previously mentioned, established authors, professors and community leaders will serve as narrators on the topic to be discussed. The professionals are yet to be chosen, but examples of candidates are Cornel West to discuss the differences between desegregation and integration; Randal Robinson author of “Debt, what America Owes to Blacks”, to explore the economic potential of black dollars and the debate for reparations; Arnold P. Abbott, author of “When in Doubt…Blame a Jew” to explain the Hasidic Jewish position on community and social economics.
This “expert” segment will be introduced by a shift into a studio lit, tightly framed close-up of each expert and their commentary. An example of this could be Barbara Diggs- Brown, co- author of the book “By the Color of Our Skin”. Looking into the camera, she cites examples of skewed conception about black/white relations from her book; “If you ask most white people if they have a close black friend, many will enthusiastically say ‘yes’. But, statistically speaking, if only 1/3rd of white America had even one close black friend, it would mean, every single black person in America, would have to have 6 close white friends. There just aren’t enough black folks to go around.”
From this hard-hitting statistic, the film will venture in to the newly gentrified neighborhood of Williamsburg. The audience enters a hip-hop party called “Kill Whitie” [sic], to surprisingly find that the only people of color at this—a self described “ghetto booty bass” event– to be the security. White, twenty something’s dances, laugh, and drink to their conscious attempts at irony. Girls emulate the provocative movements they have seen done by black woman in music videos, as their male counterparts– accessorized in four finger gold rings and matching capped teeth- watch with congratulatory indifference.
The scene moves down the block, where the audience is introduced to those that are being emulated. A teardrop is tattooed under the eye of a Williamsburg native of Puerto Rican decent.
“Drop” as he is known around the neighborhood, went to prison 15 years ago, at the age of 23. With only three months of freedom under his belt he is having trouble adjusting. Returning home for any ex – con can be tumultuous, but to come back and find your neighborhood, a mere shadow of it’s former self , adds a new dimension.
Most of the former residents have been forced out of the neighborhood by wealthy landowners, hoping to raise the rents and lease to a younger , less experienced group —and thereby susceptible to exorbitant inflationary price tags. A new generation of white artists and students, have moved in. To them their getting “deals” on apartments that even 2 years ago went for less than half the new asking price.
Drop has no idea about the party they are having a few blocks from his home. He like millions of others have had to live with the burden of their race, for them hip-hop is not just music or a weekly party. For them hip hop, both negative and positive, is a lifestyle- a refuge- that they created as a reaction to poverty and injustice. Though this refuge is consistently threatened by capitalism and privilege they cannot simply grow out of it.
Battle for Brooklyn, will then cut to a hip-hop event deeper in an un-gentrified section of Brooklyn. Even with the same songs being played, besides the obvious demographic of attendees, how do these parties differ? Are people frisked for weapons in Williamsburg? How does this simple, arguably necessary act, change the attitudes of its guests?
Expert statements, local testimonials and visuals, comparing and contrasting cultures will help give us a clearer understanding of why we segregate ourselves. Battle for Brooklyn, may leave the viewer asking more questions than it will answer, but given America’s racial and cultural climate, discussion maybe just the answer we are looking for.