Nothing About Us, Without Us, is For Us: Taking a stand against a Gross Misrepresentation of our Student Movement.
by Courtney Symone Staton, Kristen Marion, Maya Little, Michelle Brown
I am a current student at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. I am one of the student organizers at our school and have been for the past three years. I am one of lead producers and impact producers of a film called Silence Sam, a student-led documentary on Silent Sam, a confederate monument which stands at the entrance of UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus and the silencing of student activism by university administrators.
Three of my friends emerged as characters in a film called The Commons: Maya, Michelle, & Angum. And yet, despite being featured as characters, they did not know they were part of this film until I told them on Friday night after watching it at The True False Film Festival.
There are multiple injustices done in showing this film.
By only showing our protests and a small part of our student sit-in, the film reasserts the idea that students are not willing to have civil discourse or organize effectively, when in fact, students were actively holding meetings with administrators and faculty leaders.
The directors of The Commons did not tell enough of our truth and because of that, the film these filmmakers have presented a falsehood.
During the question and answer on Friday, the filmmakers of The Commons referred to our film multiple times as a student film. Student films are films. Student movements are movements.
This student-led movement deserved a student-led film. To them, we say when you mention our film, do not call it a student project, do not call it a student film, give our work the respect and power it demands and call our film by its name. Silence Sam.
It may be legal in our state of North Carolina to film people without their permission in a public space. But, it is not just.
There is no excuse for not making contact with our community. There is no excuse for the people in this film not knowing they are part of this film. The makers of The Commons live in Chapel Hill and know where our campus is.
The fact that they didn’t know is the fault of the filmmakers.
The black women activists who have led the movement to remove confederate monument “Silent Sam” from campus, who have faced persecution from administrators at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, the policemen of Chapel hill and surrounding areas, who were on the front-lines to protect others students of color from the threat of violence posed by pro-Confederate white supremacists are not in support of this film.
Our activists engage in civil discourse daily and are persecuted because of it.The protests have been and continue to be our last resorts to immediate threats.
We are ready to voice these concerns wherever you attempt to show this film.
If we are truly going to be in the fight for social justice and safety, we must humble ourselves to allowing the communities we both attempt to document and serve to be the leaders of their change and be the leaders of their history.
By filming us without our consent you contribute to the violent history of state surveillance and to the continued marginalization of black people by the documentary field and people of color. You contribute to the traumatic legacy of white people “studying” us for science and their own gains. Your art, like the University of North Carolina, was built on our backs. And to this we say: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”
This letter is signed by:
Courtney Staton, former co-president of the Campus Y, current UNC student organizer & 2018 NeXt Doc Fellow
Kristen Marion, former UNC NAACP co-president
Maya Little, Silent Sam Defendant
Michelle Brown, former student organizer