With Evanston’s groundbreaking move in becoming the first U.S. city to begin distributing reparations to its Black residents this year, the film’s debut under a national spotlight is fitting. The program in Evanston could help shape the framework for a federal program, according to Dow. He noted that local and state governments have to lead the charge if there is to be real movement on the issue of reparations.
“Let’s be honest, the federal government follows, it doesn’t lead. It codifies things that are already in place,” he told Cheddar. “There’s a big local reparations movement, and what that allows is, it allows individual communities to actually come to terms with the concept in their own way. That is going to make it possible to imagine what it looks like on a national level.”
What’s clear from the film is how both women persevere through obstacles as they inch closer toward the ultimate goal of achieving a path toward reparations.
Who Gets What and How Much?
However, the concept of reparations, especially on the federal level, can be vast and complex. Since former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich., 13th District) first introduced H.R. 40 in 1989, one of the issues that has muddied up the process is figuring out which Black Americans would be eligible for payment. Quantifying an amount owed to descendants of slaves has also been a thorn in the side of reparations progress. Alexander and Dow explore the topic in their film.
“This idea of who gets it is the big question. Is this for descendants of African slaves because, I think everyone agrees, a multi-generational descendant of African slaves has a different experience in America than someone who has immigrated from Africa in 1990. There’s more immigrants from Africa since 1990 to now than came over in the entire slave trade. So how do you navigate that,” Dow said.
For Alexander, who admittedly is no expert on reparations, it was important to not only showcase two Black women in positions of power but also a look at how the government can be held accountable for its part in the slave-trade. She told Cheddar that in learning more for the film about reparations and the policies blatantly targeting Black Americans over the years, she was surprised how extensive and long-reaching slavery’s impact was and continues to be today.
“What I am is a witness to watching other people do it. We’re inside of a movement so what we’re doing is documenting that movement,” she told Cheddar. “We’re asking the U.S. government to redress it and so that stands not in proxy, it is the thing that oppressed. It is this systemic thing.”
“It’s not a question of accusing someone and saying this is your responsibility, but I think that we all have this desire to be part of a community, an equitable community, and if you believe that, I think you should look at your fellow Americans and recognize that your success — our success — as white people is absolutely connected to systems of discrimination of the past. And it’s not an attack on you, it’s actually something that I think will free you to feel better about living in the world,” Dow said.
The co-directing duo looks to continue the conversation on reparations at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on Juneteenth, Sunday, June 19, 2022, with a free viewing of The Big Payback. Alexander said that the fight for reparations is a never-ending battle and by bringing this film to the public, she’s doing her part in running the race.
“There is no end to this. You just have to keep going. This is your leg of the race. It’s a relay race. Harriet Tubman tossed it to other people, John Brown tossed it,” she said. “We take our mandate, you run as far as you can and do the best you can.”