‘Unchecking the Box’ seminar prompts

A roaring applause welcomed three smiling Michigan State students/graduates to seats at the head of the lecture room. MIPA students had just viewed the documentary on racial identity made by Caitlyn Woudstra, Director, Dakota Johnson, Primary Editor, and Lindsay Benson, Co-Producer. Smiling, they introduced themselves and explained their parts in the making of their documentary, Unchecking the Box. Immediately, students flocked to the staircase to ask questions about the making of the documentary itself, and other inquiries about racial profiling.

In relation to the process of filming the video, the students said they interviewed approximately 15-20 people, and acquired close to 30-35 hours of footage in total. The documentary ended up being only students, despite the filmmaker’s best efforts to engage professors and faculty members.

Most of the student’s questions, though, were in relation to the content of the documentary. Speaking to an all-white panel made it difficult to get true answers to their questions. But there seemed to be one particular question that several students asked: since they were white, did they ever feel that they were over stepping their boundaries?

“They said to be careful how we present it,” Johnson said.

Benson also added that they never wanted to exclude feelings or make anyone upset over anything that they videoed.

“We were always asking everyone’s opinions,” Benson said.

Another topic that came up were the boxes that the documentary were based off of. According to the video, the boxes originally came around as early as 1790, and at that time they were only used to see who was a slave, and who owned land/could vote. This posed yet another question: why keep the boxes around today?

“We need the data to show us where we need help [healthcare, education, etc.],” Benson said.

The question and answer session took yet another surprising turn when the way the United States approaches the topic of race compared to the ways other countries do.

“In the United States,” Woudstra said, “the topics are coming to light.”

Johnson added his opinion.

“We can learn from any other country,” Johnson said. “It’s another perspective.”

In the end, no matter what people take from their documentary, all that the filmmakers want is for it to have people think.

“I wanted people to examine their own biases that they didn’t think existed,” Woudstra said.



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