Back in May, I put up a quick post about the Kickstarter for Whitelandia, a local documentary, in which filmmakers Matt Zodrow and Tracy MacDonald planned to work with "Black American communities, individuals, and organizations in Oregon" to tell the story of Oregon's less-than-great history with race.
The Kickstarter met its goal, and Whitelandia started production earlier this week—but it turns out that one of the black individuals who Zodrow and MacDonald implied was supporting the film has no desire to be involved with it. Writer and scholar Walidah Imarisha, who was featured in Whitelandia's trailer/Kickstarter promotional video, posted last night that she wanted no part of the film and had not given Zodrow and MacDonald permission to use her likeness in the video.
The truth is, Whitelandia’s producers (who are both white) used the footage of me without my knowledge or permission. They took it from a program of mine that is available for viewing on youtube. I also learned recently I am not the only one who has had this unfortunate experience. At least two local organizations have said Whitelandia used footage from their projects without consent, credit, or notification. In addition, the Whitelandia creators told several media sources I was involved in the project, telling one I was an advisor to their project, before I had ever met with them.
More than just really bad filmmaking practices, these incidents speak to deeper issues of white privilege, appropriation and domination.
And more than just using a clip of my program without permission, the producers stated several times, in our one face-to-face meeting as well as in various emails, that my timeline, my research and my analytical framework I put forward in my public scholarship form the spine of their film. Again, without my input or even knowledge. This situation, where my work as a Black female scholar has been used by two white filmmakers without conversation, credit, compensation or control reeks of intellectual colonialism. (Via.)
Imarisha's entire post is well worth a read, and does an excellent job of highlighting one of the obvious hurdles Whitelandia faces: It's a film about race that's being made by two white people. As Imarisha's post makes clear, if Zodrow and MacDonald don't have the support of some of the people they told their financiers that they did, it casts a great deal of doubt on the project.
I reached out to both Imarisha and Whitelandia's producers to ask about their reactions to these developments; Imarisha didn't return emails by press time, but Zodrow replied that he and MacDonald felt "disappointment" when reading Imarisha's post, claiming that Imarisha had voiced no complaints about the filmmakers' use of the video, which was posted on YouTube in 2012 by "Joe Anybody." The Whitelandia video that featured Imarisha went online this past March; prior to that, Zodrow claims, Imarisha contacted the filmmakers "via Facebook two months before, in January, inquiring about the project and offering her support. Tracy MacDonald and I met with her on March 13, at which point we discussed the trailer and the use of Joe Anybody's video. She voiced no objections to her image being used."
At the end of April, Zodrow says, Imarisha contacted them again and asked that she be removed from the video. "Our reaction was to immediately remove the five-second clip from the trailer, apologize for any missteps or cloudy communication we were responsible for, and to let her know that we would always remain open to her involvement in the project," Zodrow says. "Walidah made the request at the end of April... roughly in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign... and thanked us for removing the clip."
One of the lines that stuck with me in Imarisha's post was her statement that Zodrow and MacDonald were falsely claiming support not only from her but also from others; obviously, having the support of and input from black Portlanders was one of the major things that made Whitelandia seem like a good idea. I asked Zodrow if he could clarify who they've been talking to for the film. (He sent over some names this afternoon—the Mercury has yet to reach out to each person identified.) "It is a very long list," Zodrow said, "but I can give you the list of interviews we conducted just this week."
Dr. Cal Henry
Jo Ann Hardesty
Roger David Hardesty
"Dr. Henry is the head of Oregon Assembly For Black Affairs," Zodrow says. "He and the board for the OABA are advising for the film. Also, Jo Ann Hardesty and David Hardesty are on-staff as consultants."
Regardless, I suspect Whitelandia will have quite a bit of ground to make up, at least in the court of popular opinion—on my social feeds last night, Imarisha's post was getting quite a bit of attention. On one hand, Imarisha's post could point to some pretty worrisome things about Whitelandia; on the other, it could also draw attention to one of the project's challenges, and even apply pressure and focus that could make Whitelandia a better, more well-rounded production. I suppose we'll see when the film is released, which Kickstarter backers were told would be in January 2015.
I'll update this post if and when we hear back from Imarisha.