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Films Combating Racism Directed by a Mormon (Part 3 of 5)

The LDS Church has had a rough history when it comes to race, so it may surprise you to find out that one of its members has made several award-winning documentaries, including an Emmy dealing with racism.  We’ll talk about these award-winning films from director Loki Mulholland.

Loki:  “An Ordinary Hero,” which is about my mom, and the student movement. Then, there’s “The Uncomfortable Truth,” which is about the history of institutional racism in America, how we got to where we are. That’s actually a genealogy journey, as well, very fascinating. I get messages from people asking me about–all sorts of questions about that film still.

GT:  Well, and your family had owned slaves, right?

Loki:  We owned people. Yeah. We actually helped start the whole thing, quite frankly. We arrived in Jamestown in 1610. We started–we were one of the original planner elites. We served in the House of Burgesses. We were there. We also were one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. So, we’re real Americans.

Loki:  I say that a little cheekily, sacrilegiously, but the fact of the matter is, I get people who tried to argue that I’m not a real American, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, “Hey, wait, hold on. Hold on one second, now. We fought in every war. Right? We did all of it, we did everything. We were there for all of it, the good and the bad.

Loki:  “Black, White, & Us”  is about racism through the lens of transracial adoptions in Utah. So, these were white families who believe that racism doesn’t exist anymore, and then they adopt these black children. It’s like this eye-opening experience for them. Because now suddenly, their neighbors, their own family members, everyone else is coming out of the woodworks saying all sorts of stuff to them. But, they actually have to confront racism, because these are their children.  They can no longer sit there and go, “Yeah, but maybe that’s not what the police meant when they pulled you over, and maybe this and maybe that.  Maybe that’s not what your teacher said.”  And it’s like, “No, I mean, this is actually for real.” It’s a fascinating exploration.

Loki:  Another film is “After Selma,” which is about voter suppression since the 1965 Civil Rights Act. So, Selma, Alabama, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that has iconic images.  People are like, “Oh, well, everyone can vote.  All as well.” Well, no, not all is well. There’s still a lot going on. So, that’s that film. Then, obviously, the “End of Slavery,” and “The Evers.”  This is about the family of Medgar Evers, and his assassination. He was shot in the back by Byron de la Beckwith while standing in his driveway. We interview his wife and his kids and so forth.  We have to understand that these historical places, actually, these people are still alive in a lot of cases when it comes to civil rights movement. These are real stories, these are real people, real lives, real impact. So, when you go and see their house where he was killed, it’s not just merely, “This is an historical place.” It’s like, “No people lived here. They laughed. They loved. They cried.  It’s making history real.

Have you watched any of these films?  Check out our conversation….

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Loki.

529: Son of a Civil Rights Icon

528: End of Slavery (in Utah???)

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Son of a Civil Rights Icon (Part 2 of 5)

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland began protesting for civil rights in the early 1960s and was part of many of the important civil rights protests of the decade.  Her son Loki has become an Emmy-award winning director and in our next conversation, we’ll talk about why he made a film about his mother’s activism.

Loki:  By the time my mom was 19 years old, she had been involved in about three dozen sit ins and protests when she joined the Freedom Rides and was put on death row. That’s the beginning of her story. She’s kind of the Forrest Gump of civil rights. She was everywhere and knew everyone, from Fannie Lou Hamer to Dr. King, Jackie Robinson. Actually, I learned more about my mom after I made the film than I did during making the film, because there’s new stuff that comes out all the time.

GT:  Yes, so you’re talking about “An Ordinary Hero.”

Loki:  “An Ordinary Hero.” Yes. I’m sorry. Yeah. So, the documentary that I did about my mother called, “An Ordinary Hero,” which is about her life in the student movement of the civil rights movement.  When she was 10 years old, she went to Georgia where her grandmother lived, the southern grandmother. Every summer they would go there.  When she was about 10 years old, on a dare, her and her friend go to the black quarters.  Of course, they had a different name for it then. She saw the discrepancy in the living situations, but in particular, the schoolhouse.  So, the schoolhouse is like classic, straight out of Hollywood, black one room schoolhouse for black children, with no glass in the windows, no paint on the walls. [There was] a potbelly stove in the middle, for heat, an outhouse. This is in stark contrast to the brand-new post-World War II brick building, that was in this little town for the white students. Now that building is still the nicest building in Oconee, Georgia.  It’s now just a rest home for, probably for all those students, [who were there] 70 years ago. So, she sees this, and she says, “This is wrong, I’ve got to do something about it.” She said she’s actually said that it rattled her soul, because of what she was taught in church. My mom’s Presbyterian, [she was taught] that we do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  “If you’ve done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.”  She says all of that good King James stuff. She really took that to heart.

Loki:  She had to memorize the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and she really believed it.  “The values of what our country espouses,” she said, “We’re just not living up to them.” So, when she sees this for herself, for the first time, for real–we can see things all the time, but it’s not–when it finally registers, I guess, is the point. [She] kind of connected the dots. All of a sudden, it became, “Wow, this is wrong.”

Loki:  That’s the 1963 Woolworth’s lunch counter, Jackson, Mississippi, where they poured the stuff on her head, and there’s Ann Moody and John Salter and a mob of two or three hundred people behind them.  I can probably count on my hands the number of times my mom has been–that’s when I thought we were going to die.  I found out later, she was, actually, on the Klan’s most wanted list, and was actually hunted down for execution.  But, because they failed, they ended up killing a couple of her friends, instead.

GT:  Oh, wow.  That’s terrible.

Loki:  My mom’s pretty cool.  I get people asked me all the time, “Well, would you sit at the lunch counters?”  I’m like, “Well, I don’t have to. My mother already did. But I have to do what I can do, because doing nothing is not an option.”

GT:  So these films are kind of your lunch counter.

Loki:  Films are my lunch counter, it’s my way of continuing that process of healing and educating and  moving the work forward to help us actually form that more perfect union, to go back to the principles of who we are as a nation, of who we want to be as a nation. We’ve gotten better. We honestly have, I mean, good grief. We don’t have slavery anymore. We don’t have Jim Crow anymore. I mean, we actually had a black president, we have a black Vice President.  That’s progress.  It doesn’t mean that there’s still not that foundation of racism that we still need to work on, that each of us need to work on. There’s something to be said, when President Oaks is saying Black Lives Matter, when the First Presidency is very open about race and racism in America, and within the Church, and how we should be living as members of the Church, as well. There’s, I mean, you can either take the buffet approach to the gospel and pick what you like, and so forth and ignore the rest. or say that–the argument I’ve always heard is, “Well, they’re just trying to be with the times.” I’m like, “Okay, when has the First Presidency ever tried to be with the times?”

What do you think of Loki’s activism?  Check out our conversation….

Loki Mulholland tells about his mother, civil rights icon Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Loki.

528: End of Slavery (in Utah???)

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End of Slavery (in Utah???) Part 1 of 5

Did you know slavery was still legal in Utah until 2020?  We’ll talk about the drive to remove this provision in the Utah Constitution with an Emmy-award winning director, Loki Mulholland who directed the film “The End of Slavery.”

Loki:  My latest project is called “The End of Slavery: the Fight for Amendment C.” It’s about the fight to actually take the language of slavery out of the Utah State Constitution.  When the Utah State Constitution was written, they actually wrote in the language of the 13th Amendment, which was that slavery is abolished, except as a punishment for crime for those who’ve been duly convicted. What that means is that you can be re-enslaved again, not you and I, but African Americans, because that’s what it was written for. So, that was created as a nod to the South to re-enslave people, to put them into penal farms, and then do convict-leasing. So, what they would do is, if you were African American, you could be arrested for something like loitering. Loitering meant that you didn’t have a job and you were just kind of hanging around. Well, the problem was, is that white people weren’t going to hire black people. So, you couldn’t get a job. So, now you get arrested, you’re put into a penal farm.  You’re leased back out to the mines, to the railroads, to the farms, to the plantations, and worked like a slave all over again.  This is all for the black folks.

GT:  It’s not just picking up trash on the side of the road.

Loki:  No, it’s not just picking up trash on the streets, not things like you think about today. But, that was really the start of kind of the jailing institutions that we have today.  It was just another way, not only to re-enslave people, but also to take away the right to vote. Voting is power and African-Americans, at that point, had the right to vote, but we need to take that away from them. So, that became, also, part of that whole system. What was interesting was, Utah was founded 30 years after slavery ended. The Civil War was done and everything. Yet, for some reason, they wrote that in there. So, Sandra Holland, she is the first black female elected official in the State of Utah. Right now, she’s the only black elected official in the state of Utah.

GT:  We’ve got Burgess Owens, technically.

Loki:  But, he’s not a state official.

GT:  Okay. He’s a federal official.

Loki:  He’s a federal official. Okay, so. This was brought to her by a reporter who said, “Hey, did you know this was still in here?” Colorado had already passed this. Utah is not the only state that had this in their state constitution, but they took it out in Colorado. So, they’re like, “Wow, we need to do this here in Utah.” So, a couple of years back, I think I want to say it was 2019 or so, 2018, 2019, the bill was passed in the House, which is where she is, and then it went to the Senate the next year. Then, it was on the ballot for the State of Utah to vote whether to take it out or not. The interesting thing I thought when I was making the film, was that in the State Capitol, I wanted to get a shot of Sandra, standing in front of the Constitution, we’d rack focus from her to the Constitution, like chiseled on the wall. I don’t know why I thought would be chiseled on the wall or something. But, there was no copy of the Constitution anywhere in the Capitol Building. I’m like, “Well, no wonder why no one knew that was there.”

Oregon is the next state to try to take slavery out of their constitution (and there are other states with this issue too.)  Were you aware of slavery was technically legal? Check out our conversation….

Slavery was technically legal in Utah until Utah voters amended the state constution to outlaw the practice. Loki Mulholland tells more in his new film “The End of Slavery.”

Don’t miss our other conversations on Black Mormon History.