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Why Challenging White Supremacy Matters

By Poh Si Teng

International Documentary Association (IDA) logo, Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, made possible by the New York Community Trust. 2021 Open Call Theme

This past year was challenging and full of despair. The names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and numerous others lost to police brutality and white supremacy galvanized a nationwide movement—a reckoning long overdue. 

It was also the year the COVID-19 pandemic devastated our communities, especially impacting communities of color at the frontlines of the pandemic—the essential workers so quickly dismissed as low-skilled by a society that thrives off their precarity. 

And it was the year that forced many of us to grapple with our own mortality and the resilience of the communities that make us who we are.

Yet it would be disingenuous to presume that the past year was particularly out of the norm for many. Black communities have long borne the brunt of police brutality and the racist policies that define their access to housing, credit and public services. Communities of color, women, people with disabilities, and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are subjected to the vagaries of a predatory health care system that undermines their pain and reinforces historical inequities. 

The legacy of white supremacy has persisted since the founding of this country. To live in the United States is to be intrinsically bound to white supremacist structures in our public and private institutions. We all participate in this system, assuming the role of upholder, enabler, victim or survivor. 

Earlier this year, as we considered different themes for IDA’s Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, it was clear that we needed to engage more mindfully with issues of white supremacy through our documentaries.

There is no equitable future without a recognition of our inequitable past and present. As documentary filmmakers it is our responsibility to tell the stories of our time, interrogate the structures that define us, and contribute to self-determination and freedom. While some of us resist white supremacy by merely existing, others require deeper introspection and honesty when thinking about our adjacency to, or inheritance from, white supremacy.

To challenge white supremacy is to recognize the richness of our diversity. It is an interrogation conducted as much through action as through thought. Not merely in the stories we tell but also how they are told, and by whom. 

The only way we shift from the simplifying narratives that dominate and diminish our lived experiences is by doing it together. It is something we must do.

To introduce Challenging White Supremacy, this year's open-call theme for the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans will lead a discussion on systemic racism and documentaries on May 12. IDA Funds Director Poh Si Teng and grantees Jon-Sesrie Goff (After Sherman) and Hillary Pierce (At the Ready) will share their perspectives on exploring and challenging white supremacist structures in the United States through nonfiction storytelling.



Thea deadline to apply for funding is Monday, June 28, 2021.