The Film

Bending the Arc toward Justice explores the struggle against racism in Alabama through previously untold stories of both African Americans and a small group of little-known white allies who fought for racial justice during the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama in the 1960s. The film is a project of the Film Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, producer/director Pam Powell and producer/videographer David Brower.

The narrative trajectory of the film includes seven parts:

(1) Race as seen through the eyes of children—stories from early childhood, told by black and white interviewees who grew up in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s.

(2) Loss of innocence—stories of becoming aware of racial inequality and the brutal effects of segregation, told by the same black and white interviewees.

(3) Resistance—the rising tide of resistance to racial injustice (the Civil Rights Movement), focusing on events in Birmingham and the Selma marches, including
the Birmingham campaign (the selective buying campaign of spring 1963 and the Children’s Crusade); the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church (fall 1963); and the four Selma marches in 1965—the Concerned White Citizens march (3/6/65, Bloody Sunday (3/7/65), Turnaround Tuesday (3/9/65) and Rev. James Reeb’s death, and the final, successful march from Selma to Montgomery (3/21/65-3/25/65), including Viola Liuzzo’s death.

(4) Allies of the Movement—the Unitarians, the Jewish community, and other white allies (expanding the stories of Liuzzo and Reeb, plus more stories of the Unitarians, Jewish people, and other local white allies who fought for racial equality during the Movement).

(5) Continuing challenges—the many forms of racism, both subtle and overt, that remain today, creating challenges to equality and justice in Alabama, including continuing obstacles to voting rights; economic injustice/income inequality; segregation in education and housing; challenges in law enforcement and the judicial system; and, perhaps most important and pernicious, the persistence of (often unconscious) white privilege.

(6) Pathways to empathy—strategies for cultivating and nurturing empathy and dissolving fear of “the other.” An exploration of how racism develops and how it can be avoided or overcome; the positive effects of exposure to other races and cultures to enhance understanding and enlightenment that we are really all one race; and the critical importance of allies at a time of great polarization in our society. This section will explore how some people are able to reach across racial and other boundaries and ally themselves with people unlike themselves (connecting with and fighting for the rights of people who are not their own “kind”), as well as ideas/strategies for training people to become more empathetic—e.g., classes at all levels, workshops in listening, insights through the arts (books, film, music) and science (e.g., seeing our genetic similarities and even using virtual reality to walk in each other’s shoes).

(7) Hope—ending with the two choirs (the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham Choir and the predominantly African-American Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir) illustrating the unifying power of music as they sing “Amen,” intercut with photos from the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma marches (shot in Selma in March 2015).