About the Documentaries

Part 1: The Categories Black and White  

frontpage picture1.png

     Part 1, the Categories Black and White, is a 58-minute documentary that explores how racial categories were created and then sustained over 400+ years. An examination of this history reveals that the idea of race was invented with the support of laws put in place mandating biological, family, romantic, and other bonds be severed to forge a categorical vision of humanity.  The film follows sociologist Joan Ferrante's efforts to find ways of mourning how categories like Black, White and Native American were created.  She issued a call to students majoring in the creative and performing arts at Northern Kentucky University to become part of a creative team dedicated to exposing this largely unacknowledged and unexplored national tragedy.  The documentary, narrated by the students, gives special attention to the laws enacted between 17th century Virginia and the Jim Crow era that made the racial categories matter. It features student choreography, music, sculpture, visual art, dramatic reenactments, poetry and spoken word pieces- all created with the aim of moving audiences to take notice and find ways to mourn.

PART 2: Let Our Loss be Heard

        Let Our Loss Be Heard, explores the lives of Margaret and Robert Garner, an enslaved couple who in 1856 ran from Kentucky toward freedom into Ohio with their four children all under six years of age. The children appeared, according to newspaper reports, as “negro,” “mulatto,” “almost- /nearly- white,” and “light enough to show a red tinge in the cheeks.” Their mother Margaret was described as having “1/4 to 1/3 white blood.”  Robert was described as dark complexioned. There was also a baby on the way.  When the Garner family found themselves surrounded by deputy marshals, Margaret tried to kill her four children (at least two of whom were very likely fathered by her master Archibald Gaines; it is also possible that he fathered a third and the baby on the way). Margaret’s motive was to save them from a life of enslavement. Margaret managed to kill one child—two-and-a-half-year-old Mary— by slitting her throat. Archibald Gaines reportedly picked up little Mary’s lifeless body and could not surrender it. The Garner documentary highlights the children’s complexion and ancestry because acknowledging this allows audiences to grapple with a key idea: The 400+ year-long process of separating biologically related peoples into racial categories “is at the heart of an unresolved American identity crisis, a dilemma that perpetuates ethnic and racial disunion and makes the resolution of the general race problem virtually impossible” (Carlos Fernández). Audiences witness (vicariously) one of the millions of stories of how family/biological relationships were severed and rearranged to comply with the concept of race.

PART 3: What We Did To The Children Matters

      Part 3 of the documentary series will take the story beyond the categories Black and White and give special attention to other categories the U.S. legally recognizes today: Asian, Hispanic, American Indian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, White and a category slated to be officially recognized in 2020 –Middle Eastern -North African (MENA). Like the categories White and Black, these categories were created out of relationship-severing traumas that involved loss, separation and abandonment.


With these traumas as the backdrop, the focus of part 3 is on babies and children –it warns how we teach them about race and about their place in a racialized order matters.   These lessons get passed on to babies and children in subtle to dramatic ways including through

  • the things mothers worry about—and say—to babies in their wombs;

  • the ways parents touch (or fail to touch) their newborns and children; and

  • how others look at, talk and otherwise respond to babies/children as they grow (including how others respond to their parents).

We have not considered how parents and significant others unwittingly pass on their experiences of loss, separation and abandonment and the accompanying pain and sorrow to their children.

PART 4: The Art of Mourning   


     The Art of Mourning  will showcase the results of a planned nation-wide call to creative, performing and visual artists to collaborate with a different race classified colleague and make a submission that will move audiences to mourn and transform thinking about race. That documentary includes interviews with finalists and showcases artistic collaborations. The inspiration for Part 4 can be traced to the range of student and faculty collaborative art created for and showcased in Parts 1 and 2.  Imagine giving a national platform for art that inspires people to change their assumption about race and inspires our nation to mourn the creation of racial categories and the legacy of those categories.  We are already gauging interest from potential partners in Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area (universities, art galleries, museum centers) that have facilities that can showcase artistic contributions.

There is the artwork that you physically make but there’s also the journey that happens on the inside.
— Leonardo Drew