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A Litmus Test for Racism?

How to stop racism

A Litmus Test for Racism?

It is November 4th, 2013, and the PYRITE DVD launch is just over two weeks away! More importantly, however, it’s time for me to start talkin’ it up out here and to start doing my part to change the world.

I’ll be back with more on that nearly every week going forward, and you can catch a first glimpse of this over at The Walk a Mile Project as well, but for now, the concept of kicking racism in the arse still sits front and center here at Hollywood 27.

To that end, I’ll be working diligently to get PYRITE to the people, and I’m also stepping out into the speaking world with a program for high school and college students, in which we candidly discuss the topic of racism and how mankind’s lowest common denominator can be defeated.

I’ll be partnering with others to make that so, we’ll be offering optional free showings of PYRITE as a talking point, and honestly, I’m really, really excited about it. Those of you who’ve known me for any length of time know this is exactly the kind of thing I should be doing… and I’m glad to finally be in the right place.

But more on all that later, as this inaugural post here is specifically about reactions to the earlier version of PYRITE, which we showed a while back at a private premiere party. And specifically, it’s about how those reactions showed, with an almost eerie accuracy, where people stood on the issue of race.

So when I refer to a litmus test here, I’m talking about the film’s effect on unsuspecting viewers – meaning first time viewers with no knowledge of the script or story in any form. Discussing their opinions afterward revealed a dividing line similar to that in Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING.

I’m of course in no way suggesting that PYRITE is on the same level as DO THE RIGHT THING, which is probably my all-time favorite film dealing with the subject of racism. There’s no way we could touch that level with a first project, but I have definitely noticed some similar reactions from the audience.

The main premise for the litmus test lies within the film’s most decisive moment. I won’t play spoiler here, it’s simply enough to say that it is, literally, a punch to the face. From that moment on, life paths are altered, some irrevocably, and the main character’s ideals, which he has spent the first half of the film clinging to, are brought deeply into question.

The litmus racism test, despite spawning from this moment, isn’t so much about the moment itself… it’s about the audience’s reaction to where the moment takes place, specifically Chicago’s West Side.

Safety in the neighborhood we showcase here is the main issue – and most people who feel it is unsafe equate the danger to race. One of my least favorite quotes, indeed the first I heard after our private premiere of the film, was an older white man who said “Well thanks Eric, I’ll make sure I never get off the EL [in that neighborhood].”

Although that was not the kind of reaction I was looking for, it speaks directly to the issue PYRITE focuses on – the clash of stereotypes and ideals. It also brings up a slew of questions… Is a black neighborhood safe for a white person to walk through, or a white neighborhood safe for a black person to walk through? Is it safe to take a bus or a train through?

Can people walk wherever they please during the day in Chicago and be secure? And perhaps more pointedly, can they FEEL safe?

The passionate answers to these questions seem to be given by people who have one thing in common: they’ve never actually walked through the neighborhood in question!

I’ve heard idealists literally yell at me for making the film’s plot twist that way, because they feel I am only promoting stereotypes… that I am hurting minority neighborhoods.

I’ve heard the jaded prejudicial side as well, including one contingent that tried to forbid people in their family from venturing into or even through poorer black neighborhoods in the city because PYRITE “shows what happens there.”

The arguments can be quite heated, and to be honest, that’s the point here, to get people talking. I find both sides a bit perplexing at times as well, in light of my personal background and the fact that we actually filmed PYRITE on location in Cabrini Green, Englewood, and of course on Chicago’s West Side.

We were on location at all of those places for multiple days, and for hours on end… and no one was killed (as if this is shocking news in Chicago).

Yes, it’s a shame that people are surprised by it instead of simply expecting that answer. Obviously, I was not trying to tell people to stay away from those neighborhoods, not in the slightest.

There were multiple, positive reasons that we filmed on location in those areas, and I think it’s extremely important for people to understand that we practiced what we preached before they let their opinions go to far.

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But with all the differences of those opinions, the racism test itself is pretty clear and straightforward – the people with racist tendencies automatically defend the stance that you should not walk through many parts of the city, period, if you’re not part of the racial majority in those areas.

Whether they realize it or not, fear and ignorance are the two main factors at play. I’m sure it’s not all black and white, things seldom are, but I would venture a guess that this litmus test is surprisingly accurate.

And as for the other side of the equation, those who swear by the safety of the neighborhoods, and may want to ban my film (LOL), I personally think the litmus racism test is equally effective.

The story in PYRITE has one strong underlying theme throughout – this clash between ideals and stereotypes, and the people who cling to each of them.

I find it very interesting that the people who emotionally react the most to the film are, in doing so, proving the very point of the story itself.

In their excited responses, in the moment where they feel the truth is crystal clear and shining right there in front of them, they are instead missing the lesson within PYRITE. And yeah, there is a lesson.

I wrote it, it’s there, whether anyone else likes it or agrees with it, it’s there. And it is, quite directly – don’t let yourself get so far to one side of the problem, that you blind yourself to the reality of the situation. Don’t cling to the black and the white.

I’ve had so many debates on racism thus far in my life, and although I think this applies to any emotional subject matter, I’ve seen one common theme throughout: passion overshadowing the truth. Anger overshadowing our ability to listen.

In PYRITE, when you break it down, the story is just trying to subliminally hit the viewer with this one premise – don’t hold so tightly to your ideals, or your prejudices, that you prevent yourself from seeking the truth.

Not the black, not the white… but the human shade of grey in which the truth tends to be shrouded.

For viewers who see the film and react strongly on one side of the equation, I hope you’ll see the potential in the litmus test theory, take a step back, and listen carefully to the other side. It will probably bring you closer to the truth.

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