We tried to give a talk on race at a feminist film event and were heckled – Reel Good Film Club
Maria Cabrera and Grace Barber-Plentie
28 Jul 2016
There’s been a lot of talk recently, post-Brexit, that we young liberal folk live in a bubble. The fact that we’re surprised by recent events is proof of this – that we surround ourselves with like minded individuals when it comes to political views, which makes every taste of the “real world” that we get more of a shock to our system. But, after the events that we experienced whilst giving a “flash talk” at the Prince Charles Cinema in London two weeks ago, we’ve discovered that said bubble isn’t as welcoming and liberal as we initially thought.
We took to the stage to give our interpretation of Thelma and Louise, which had just been screened, from the perspective of best friends. We’d been booked and invited to do so by The Bechdel Test Fest who organised the event, but we were met with shouts and heckles by people who disagreed with what we were saying and ignored by many who, although staying for the previous two white female speakers, left as we went on stage. As is in-keeping with our film club, Reel Good, we chose to discuss the film not just as best friends watching it, but as black, female best friends who found it difficult to align themselves with the film and its protagonists. Therefore race was, naturally, at the forefront of what we were discussing.
‘We were met with shouts and heckles by people who disagreed with what we were saying’
While both the organisers and venue have issued statements apologizing to both us and the audience for the turn that the event took, neither one of them have acknowledged the clear racism attached to our heckler’s comments. We thought it important to explain why it was so, the impact it has had and why it is crucial for it to be addressed explicitly. If you want an audience’s POV you can read Genevieve Richardson’s blog post, which we are grateful for as without this we are sure this incident could have easily been swept under the rug.
The comments that were made were upsetting, yes, but it’s nothing that we’ve never read online. Having them shouted at us as we were attempting to talk, (at an event that was not interactive, we should hasten to point out) however, was on another level. As two women who are more than used to holding their own in arguments and panels, it is important to note that unwelcomed interruptions from audiences are not unusual. We’ve been interrupted before at panels and have been attendees at other events in which other female and non-binary panelists have been interrupted. However this wasn’t just one interruption, this was a group of shouts coming from white people exclaiming “it’s not about race” to two women of colour, the token black girls in the panel, in a hope to silence us.
And for those assuming the same thing of the audience members that people have been assuming about Brexit voters – that they’re all “just ignorant bigots” – we can only say that you’re mistaken. The majority of the people that heckled us probably consider themselves part of the “liberal” bubble. That is, we presume, aside from the woman who sat behind our friends and commented “this is why I voted leave” as we walked onstage. These are audiences members at a screening of a feminist film, run by a feminist film club, these are not the homogenous ignorant monsters that has been created to represent every bad person in the world. There are white liberals who, for some reason, having two women of colour try and shed a different perspective on a film beloved to them shook them to the core so much that they had to verbally abuse us.
We love the chance to discuss differing points of view on films and would’ve happily welcomed healthy and non aggressive debate after we had finished speaking as has happened to us at many other panels that we have spoken at. But we were robbed of this chance and instead had to deal with events that have left us shaken. The aftermath has been exhausting – we’ve had to be constantly reminded of what happened thanks to people writing negative comments on social media about us, as well as people trying to voice their disgust at what happened. What we experience caused a very very real, visceral reaction. It was traumatising, both on the night and in the weeks that have followed, because it was abuse. While we’ve now reached the point where we feel comfortable writing about what happen, it’s still something that we both think about all the time cos it was really fucking traumatising.
‘The aftermath has been exhausting – we’ve had to be constantly reminded of what happened thanks to people writing negative comments on social media about us’
What went solidified the views that we, alongside many other women of colour have had for a long time – things can be shit for us. When we try and speak out, we’re silenced. As good things have happened for the Reel Good Film Club and we’ve been offered exciting creative opportunities, it’s been easy to attempt to stifle these views and think, “maybe things really are okay”. But they’re not. There’s no easy, immediate answer on how they can be changed, however we feel so lucky to be surrounded by other WoC who are speaking out and creating safe spaces specially for us.
That’s why, the only advice we’ve really been able to give every well-meaning person that’s asked us “what can I do?” in regards to what happened has simply been: keep supporting us. If this means that we reject opportunities to appear on other people’s platforms, and in larger forums in the future, then so be it. We plan to strive on and keep doing what we’re doing, celebrating PoC in cinema through non-profit and affordable screenings in which our experiences and perspectives are valued, where we can express how we feel about film freely, have fun and chat shit.