There is no point in trying to downplay it; America has a deep racial divide. But what is the cause of that divide? The Long Shadow is a documentary that tries to pinpoint how this chasm started and why it exists. During its research, the filmmakers begin to realize that maybe the racial divisions are not based on any differences but on the advantages some people have been given.
The Long Shadow does an excellent job of providing evidence that white privilege does exist in America. The documentary does this by sticking to facts. Slavery was a large part of America’s early history and The Long Shadow gives a history of its importance to the entire country. As the country becomes older and laws change, the film documents the changes on American society.
What director Frances Causey does well is how she introduces her theory of what the cause of America’s racial strife is. At first, there is nothing that differentiates The Long Shadow from any other educational film about slavery. There is talk of cotton, the Founding Fathers, and how Canada offered opportunities to black men and women. The information is interesting and factual, but everything has also been said before.
Causey builds to her eventual statement that white privilege is the what has cause so much division in the country. This is done is such a way that the audience will in probably make the connection before Causey even posits the idea. Causey does this by chronicling the changes in the laws of the United States and how the southern states fought every change. Whenever new legislation was introduced with the idea of leveling the playing field, southern politicians would make sure to include something that would keep the status quo, even if it was at a reduced level.
The point that Causey attempts to make in her film is that the decisions of the southern states were driven as much by fear of change as they were by outright racism. Over the decades, Dixie had created a certain image for itself. Monuments were erected and lessons were taught in school that not only promoted pride for the south, but also ingrained white privilege into everyone from a young age. Causey is trying to explain that the racist actions of many were based on and manipulated common fears.
This is not to say that Causey is defending the actions of racists or made a “woe is me” documentary about good ol’ days of Dixie. On the contrary, The Long Shadow condemns white privilege and actively asks, how much better would the country be today if long ago people did not believe they had some sort of privilege based on the color of their skin. Quotes from the Reconstruction era politicians are juxtaposed with more recent comments from politicians show how little the country’s attitude has changed since slavery was abolished.
Though the south is the main focus of The Long Shadow, the northern states do not get a free pass. Causey mentions that while the southern part of the country may have made Jim Crow laws legal, states up north also followed them. Causey never implies that racism is a southern problem, but an issue the whole country must confront.
The Long Shadow is an interesting documentary that takes a different viewpoint on race in America. Written and directed by a white woman who was born and raised in the south, the film is a first hand look at the racial divide in our country. In a day and age when everyone seems so reactionary, it is refreshing to see someone make a point strictly with facts.
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