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Student-produced documentary on Silent Sam asks UNC, 'Who are you really for?'


Photo courtesy of Abby Igoe.

Protests, boycotts, overnight sit-ins, a Title IX lawsuit, blood, tears, a statue dismantled and buried in the dirt — these are the controversial events surrounding Silent Sam that will be explored in the student-produced documentary, "Silence Sam." 

"Silence Sam," a documentary created in the spring of 2018 by a media and journalism class led by Ligaiya Romero, will be shown Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Full Frame Theater at Duke University. 

“This film is important,” Abby Igoe, lead cinematographer, said. “It tells the history of student activism around Silent Sam and gives context to a complex issue.” 

Igoe said she enjoyed her experience working alongside inspiring activists in her class. Ligaiya Romero, visiting lecturer last year, offered the idea for this project in his class on multimedia narratives. 

Courtney Staton, lead and impact producer, said she and other classmates created the film with the intention of informing the UNC community about the events and repercussions surrounding the Silent Sam statue. 

Bringing attention to the racial issues surrounding Silent Sam while also holding the University accountable for supporting students’ sense of safety is important, Staton said. 

Though the documentary was made in light of events regarding Silent Sam and the controversial protests surrounding its removal, the issue goes much deeper than the topsoil holding up a Confederate statue. 

“Protests have never just been about buildings and statues,” Staton said. 

Fighting for the equality of all people is an underlying theme that is connected with the controversy over Silent Sam, and part of this fight is conveying messages through media, Staton said. 

Staton said the documentary and its creators received indirect censorship from administration, and specifically from Chancellor Folt. 

“There is a habit of telling activist students, ‘I feel your pain,’ and, ‘I’m doing all I can,’ but then later people like Chancellor Folt are calling us snowflakes,” Staton said. 

The Daily Tar Heel is not aware of Chancellor Folt calling any student activists "snowflakes."

Along with using terms that felt degrading to students working on this project, Jeremiah Rhodes, lead producer, said the University simply hasn’t shared enough about issues regarding Silent Sam. 

“The University has not been super forthcoming with information about it,” Rhodes said of the protests surrounding Silent Sam. “I want people to gain an understanding of what this statue was and is at UNC and the Carolina community at large.” 

Rhodes said he finds this film to be important to UNC as a whole and to him personally. 

“Being a person of color on this campus, I don’t get to ignore (racial issues),” Rhodes said. “The issues surrounding Silent Sam will forever be a part of my Carolina experience.”

Racial issues are at the heart of the documentary "Silence Sam." This is not the first screening as rough drafts have been shown to get feedback from students and organizers on campus. The screening on Friday is a “fine cut,” meaning professionals in the film industry have been invited to critique the documentary before it is finalized. 

The film will be hosted by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. April Walton, director for continuing education, said this center has supported many films made by students in the area, including at UNC.

“A space for these kinds of discussions is important,” Walton said. “This is what we try to do here at the Center for Documentary Studies.” 

Similarly, Rhodes said the documentary creates a space for people to become aware of the issues on campus so that more people can be educated and voice their opinions. 

“Our University prides itself on being liberal,” Rhodes said. “We need to truly accept diversity and inclusion, not just on a brochure.” 

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The idea of inclusion applies not just to the University but on a wider scale, Rhodes said. 

“I don’t feel safe here,” Rhodes said. “And so we are asking the University — who are you really for? We are asking America — who are you really for?”