Documentary cast discusses ‘facade’ of post-racism on campus
Alumnus Jerald Harkness knows he only scratched the surface of the country’s racial tensions with his 1994 documentary “Facing the Façade.”
By documenting the experiences of Black students on IU’s predominantly white Bloomington campus, the film confronts the perception that racism is a problem that has already been solved.
This week, as issues of racial inequality were at the forefront of public consciousness, Harkness, BA’91, Cert’91, watched his own film for just the second time to prepare for The Media School’s Black Film Center/Archive’s “Facing the Façade” virtual reunion and discussion.
“It’s always so emotional to look back,” he said during the event Sunday. “It took me back to that time.”
Harkness joined Media School associate professor and BFC/A director Terri Francis for a discussion of the film and a reunion with its cast: Anthony Montgomery; Chance Powell, BA’98; Dara Randolph, ’93; Daryl E. Rice, BA’94; Kimberly King-Jupiter, MSEd’93, PhD’98; Tia Cavanaugh-Goggans, BS’89; and Quake Pletcher, BA’93.
The participants discussed the film, its legacy and its potential to be more than just a documentary: a historical document, a piece of memory for each of the people involved, a testament to the way that things have not changed.
“Once it’s done and you turn it over, it’s totally not yours anymore,” Harkness said. “Everybody is going to bring in their experiences to the story that you’ve told.”
Randolph and Pletcher watched the film with their children. It prompted provocative discussions about difficult realities for both of them.
“For me it is for my children,” Pletcher said.
The conversations it led them to were ones he had tried to initiate with them before, with limited success. But what they were able to discuss after “Facing the Façade,” he said, was one of the most thorough and productive talks they’ve had.
Randolph said the film provides an opportunity for white people to better understand the challenges Black students face.
“I also thought that white students would see it and be clued into the experiences of Black students on campus,” she said.
But even in the days since she started promoting Sunday’s event on social media — 26 years after the film’s release — she heard from others in her life who told her they had no idea she had felt that way at IU.
Powell’s 18-year-old daughter is headed to college in the fall, and he hopes it will be a safe place for her to learn, mature and discover who she is and how she will impact the world.
“I do not believe that was provided for me at Indiana University,” he said. “I’d like to say it’s different for my daughter.”
Kimberly King-Jupiter, now a professor at Alabama State University, provided insight into why change comes slowly at many universities.
“The nature of student activism is it’s difficult to engage the institution at a structural level,” she said. “They know you’re going to be there for, ideally, a short time.”
King-Jupiter said most predominantly white universities — IU included — have a low percentage of nonwhite faculty members. Minority faculty members face additional challenges, such as being treated as diversity hires. And when there are few professors of color who can provide guidance and welcoming authority to minority students, those who do spend more time on this responsibility, contributing to burnout and less time for publishing research, which factors into tenure decisions.
“Facing the Façade” was the film debut of Anthony Montgomery, a “Star Trek: Enterprise” alum and star of “Leprechaun in the Hood.” He acted in the fictionalized opening scene, in which he encounters a pair of white students on campus who call him by a racial slur. Montgomery said that in the scene, he channeled a pain he was used to suppressing.
Having been one of a few Black students in Ball State’s theater department, he was used to feeling out of place.
“When Jerald wanted me to convey this guy, I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I live him every day,’” Montgomery said.
At the end of the discussion, Francis brought all of the participants back to the idea of the facade. It’s a striking idea that rings with truth, she said.
The United States itself is billed as a land of the free, and yet for so many, the participants of the discussion included, it is full of pain and alienation.
King-Jupiter recalls being told by her mother at a young age that the more education she got, the more racism she’d escape. But that wasn’t true, she said; the more education she got, the more her white peers perceived her as a threat.
“The facade is this illusion of a dream, that this country allows you to move up through hard work,” she said. “We navigate the lie that this country offers equal mobility for all of us.”