Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Shakti Butler: Stimulating Dialogue among Diverse Film Viewers

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Shakti Butler: Stimulating Dialogue among Diverse Film Viewers

Article excerpt

in october 2012, depaul university in chicago hosted the premiere of Shakti Butler's latest film, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity. Thanks to the superb organization of the event by numerous campus cosponsors, an audience of over five hundred students, faculty, staff, and community members was on hand to see the film and participate in the discussion it sparked. And it did spark discussion, not only because of the issues it brought to the fore but also because Butler, the founder of World Trust Educational Services Inc., invited audience members to engage those issues and prepared them to do so.

One aspect of Butler's presentation that can disarm an audience, one she uses regularly in her workshops and talks, is the brief breathing/ focusing exercise she asks audience members to participate in before she begins. This may take just five minutes, but sitting up straight, breathing deeply, and clearing one's mind pays dividends when people respond by directing their attention to the task at hand: seeing and hearing with open minds and hearts what they are shown. Beginning a presentation in this way, however, carries a certain risk since it veers from the traditional modus operandi for academic programs and can create some dissonance and resistance. As an integral aspect of Butler's identity and a reflection of the conviction and honesty she brings to the table, the approach has proven effective.

Interviews and personal stories have been essential to Butler's films since she began making them. Identifying herself as an educator as clearly as she is a filmmaker, she brings multiple voices into her work as she explores issues that revolve around racial/ethnic and gender identity. With Cracking the Codes, she successfully integrates many voices with other filmmaking techniques she has used with her previous films: theatrical sketches, dance, voice-over narration, music, poetry, historical documents, and superimposed titles that introduce subtopics and, in Cracking the Codes, provide an overview and outline of the film content. Supplementing the films are extensive guides and reference materials on the World Trust Web site ( to help users mine the films' multiple levels of information and insight.

Brief analyses of her earlier films, all of which remain relevant, demonstrate Butler's long engagement with the inequities that revolve around race/ethnicity and gender in the United States. These films include The Way Home, a record and distillation of the conversations of sixty-four culturally diverse women who discussed their experiences over a period of eight months; Light in the Shadows, a film that brings together ten women who participated in The Way Home while dramatically reconfiguring the makeup of the group; and Mirrors of Privi- lege: Making Whiteness Visible, a compilation of interviews with prominent white educators who are countering racism and sexism in their work and in their lives. Moving from these earlier films and then back to Cracking the Codes for further analysis will provide some understanding of the films' value and can serve as a gateway to the rich trove of resources Dr. Butler and her colleagues have produced.

The Way Home

Sixty-four culturally diverse women in conversation over eight months? Butler manages to film and edit the results of this lengthy exploration into an accessible ninety-two-minute film, weaving the film together by highlighting themes and creating visual links between segments. That she does so effectively reflects her insight and commitment to antiracism, the feminist movement, and education as well as to her filmmaking skills. The sixty-four women, all with a background in speaking and facilitation, met in eight ethnically identified councils that include African, Arab, Asian, European, indigenous, Jewish, Latina, and multiracial Americans. Questions of identity and the ramifications of one's identity within a society that regularly uses race/ethnicity as a measure of value anchor the exchanges as the women grapple with intra- as well as intergroup biases. …

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