The Confederate statue Silent Sam may be gone from McCorkle Place — but conversations about systemic racism on UNC's campus are not.
The Campus Y hosted a virtual screening of the documentary film “Silence Sam” Wednesday, followed by a panel about the future of anti-racist activism at UNC. The film, created by UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media alumni, follows the student activism that led up to the toppling and removal of Confederate monument Silent Sam from UNC’s campus.
At the event, Campus Y co-directors of outreach Eleanor Murray and Kalley Huang moderated a discussion that featured Black Student Movement Vice President Julia Clark, co-chairperson of UNC’s Black Congress Tamia Sanders and filmmaker Abby Igoe. Panelists discussed the prevalence of white supremacy on campus, the importance of passing down accurate knowledge and the difference between performative and productive activism.
“Even after Silent Sam came down, we saw the remnants of Silent Sam still popping up on our campus,” Clark said.
During the panel, both Clark and Sanders said that even despite Silent Sam's removal from campus, then-Chancellor Carol Folt's resignation from the University and David Perry's installation as UNC's chief of police — the issues of white supremacy on campus are not resolved.
“Change in leadership does not change a foundation,” Clark said.
Panelists discussed ways people can make meaningful change.
Sanders said that people need to continue asking questions and participating in discussions, even if they are difficult, and that one conversation is not ample action.
“They’ll come to events and feel like that’s enough and walk away with that on their shoulder,” Sanders said. “But after this, people who are experiencing that marginalization have to live with that.”
Igoe spoke about how journalists often seek out stories in marginalized communities that they are not a part of, and how it’s unethical for film producers to profit from trauma.
She said that Black people are often used as subjects and not included as participants, adding that it was important to “Silence Sam” filmmakers for Black students to lead the production of the project.
“We were finally trying to do something different to empower our community and to empower specifically Black students to own their own story,” Igoe said. “If you’re going to be sharing stories like this, what is your identity and how does it relate to the identity of the stories you’re sharing? Are you working with those people that you’re telling stories about?”
The 30-minute documentary was created by former UNC students in visiting professor Ligaiya Romero’s Advanced Documentary Storytelling class with the intention of starting a dialogue, not just about Silent Sam.
“It can be really easy for it to seem like because Silent Sam is down, the film no longer has relevance,” Jeremiah Rhodes, the film's co-producer, said. “But even though the statue itself is no longer up on campus, the principle of systems, universities, businesses of all of these things that are intentionally and also sometimes unintentionally oppressing the people that they’re meant to serve, in particular their Black students or employees, those things are still very much present.”
The film opens with a dedication to “those who fight the systems of white supremacy that UNC upholds” and a shot of a student demonstration to remove Silent Sam from campus. It describes the legacy of the monument, provides its context within UNC’s history, and outlines student activists' efforts and challenges they faced to remove the monument.
“The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a long history of activism,” Vice Chancellor for University Communications Joel Curran said in a statement. “It is an important part of who we are at Carolina, and it will continue to be part of the essential public discourse on the issues of our time.”
Since its premiere in 2018, the film has been shown in and around Chapel Hill and at events like the New Orleans Film Festival and the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia.
“I hope that people continue to be willing to be uncomfortable and to be faced with the legacy of white supremacy and its continued existence among our campus, among our country and among our world,” Rhodes said. “People’s lives quite literally depend on it.”
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