Greetings again from the darkness. It’s inexplicable how so much hate-based violence was ignored by the mainstream media for so long. Documentarian Dawn Porter is here to correct some of that. The film opens as a backhoe breaks ground in search of a mass grave site in Tulsa. If you watch or read the news, you have seen the current day reporting of the 100 year old massacre that occurred in 1921 in Greenwood, the “Black Wall Street” area of Tulsa. Over two days, an angry white mob killed hundreds of blacks, destroyed buildings and homes, looted valuables, and displaced thousands.
Details of the Tulsa massacre have finally been brought to light, but Ms. Porter, working in conjunction with “Washington Post” reporter DeNeen Brown, also pulls back the cloak of secrecy on how the Red Summer actually began in 1919 with tragic and violent events that led up to Tulsa. These events occurred in East St Louis, Omaha, Washington DC, and Chicago. We learn that Elaine, Arkansas still refuses to search for what might be one of the largest mass grave sites in U.S. history. Of course, the connection to the modern era is easily traced to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and too many other events to list here.
The film is well-researched and well-documented. Reporter Brown acknowledges picking up the torch left by Ida B Wells, whose courageous reporting and research were instrumental in leading to these stories getting published – even if it’s decades later than it should have been. Historians and academic leaders are given a platform to discuss how the media previously ignored these stories, and the 1990s interviews with survivors of the Tulsa massacre are especially poignant.
Tulsa’s mayor, GT Bynum, and Reverend Dr Robert Turner, are both working in their own way to find justice for those impacted. Bynum’s directive for mass graves is: location, excavation, and identification, so that names will be known. Turner is pushing for reparations as the main form of justice. The talk of reparations and the importance of the Black Press are provided substantial emphasis in the film, and the inclusion of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, allows for familiar and distinctive visuals to reinforce the points being made. The old saying is that there are two sides to every story, but in this case, the hatred on one side deserves no attention, while the stifling of the victims’ stories has gone on for too long. Dawn Porter’s film ensures the story doesn’t remain buried.
Premieres on NatGeo and Hulu on June 18, 2021