Boston University News Service
The Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline premiered “Who We Are: The Chronicles of Racism in America” on Feb. 4. The film analyzed race relations in the United States throughout history.
The film is the first of the theater’s — known by patrons as “the Coolidge” — Black History Month program initiative, for which the theater has crafted events and films that both align with the month and uplift people of color’s voices.
“I think a film like this and information like this has been necessary for the last five years,” said Jeffery Robinson, executive director of the “Who We Are” project and lecturer in the film. “I think the right time is pretty much any time in America, as quickly as possible when it comes to these issues.”
“Who We Are” follows Robinson in one of his presentations on the history of race in America and interweaves on-the-ground interviews and archival footage.
The film came about after Sarah Kunstler, the co-director of the film and a lawyer, attended one of Robinson’s legal seminars. After the presentation, Kunstler said she was forever changed.
“It made me realize that every choice I make either has to be working towards dismantling racism or upholding the current structure,” Kunstler said.
Kunstler introduced the lecture to her sister and co-director, Emily Kunstler, and approached Robinson with the idea of presenting his story to a broader audience. On June 19, 2018 — also known as Juneteenth, the newly federally recognized holiday that celebrates the emancipation of African American slaves — the Kunstler sisters recorded one of Robinson’s lectures and began to follow him across the country.
Robinson said he has been puzzled by ongoing debates among parents about preventing the teaching of what they call critical race theory across the U.S. He said the debates are timely with the film’s release, which reexamined the narrative of racism in America.
“What they’re saying to their children by taking that information away from them is: Everything is fine and the world looks the way it does because of how hard people work,” Robinson said. “And that is not the truth.”
The reexamination in the film also highlighted how those in power have upheld white supremacy in the U.S.
The ultimate goal of the film, according to the co-directors, was to show that together everyone has the power to make systemic change.
After going to one of the film’s screenings, Lindsay Silverman, from Brookline, was left in tears. The film had left a strong impression on her and began a process of reflection.
Silverman recalled previous conversations with her white friends, who she said were very defensive to the notion of benefiting from white supremacy.
“What are you scared of? Is this idea of white supremacy so fragile to you?” Silverman said. “It’s a tough watch but it is necessary.”
Mark E. Anastasio, the director of special programming at the Coolidge Corner Theater, said the hope is for the community of Brookline to learn something new from the film.
“The film critic Roger Ebert once remarked that movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all of the arts,” said Anastasio in an email. “At the Coolidge, we hope that films like ‘Who We Are’ will prompt audience members to absorb and reflect upon its stark and timely message.”