Carnegie Mellon University
November 20, 2020

New Films Explore Racial Inequality in America

As racial inequality makes headlines across the US this year, two filmmakers share stories of challenges and misconceptions about race in America.

By Jolanta Lion

Stacy Kish
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival is set to showcase two films in December that raise awareness on the injustices suffered by African Americans in the U.S. Director Idrissou Mora-Kpai tells about racial injustice in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Set to be the next film in the “Faces of Home” series, “America Street’ continues the conversation on racism in the historic city. Told through the eyes of an African American store owner, the film puts the spotlight on challenges the Black community faces in a city with a disappearing Black population. Set in 2015 after the killing of Walter Scott by a police officer, the film remains relevant in the current political climate that has involved so many communities across the country. Through meaningful discussion and a plea to see life through the eyes of another, the film offers hope for how cities like Charleston can resist the forces of gentrification.

“Through the character of Joe, my film examines how African Americans feel marginalized in a once predominantly Black city like Charleston and how white supremacy is becoming more pervasive and insidious in America,” Idrissou Mora-Kpai said in a statement.

Having taught film production at the University of Pittsburgh for several years, Mora-Kpai is now an assistant professor specializing in fiction and documentary production at Ithaca College in Upstate New York. He is an award-winning West African filmmaker whose work has been screened worldwide at multiple film festivals. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Dutch Prince Claus Award for his dedication to promoting social change in the Global South. Many of his films narrate post-colonial societies, African migrations and diasporas.

“Garbage’ will also be shown in December. It is a short film about misconceptions our society perpetuates and their negative consequences. The story is told from the perspective of a Black male and a white woman living in the same city, but metaphorically in two separate worlds. From their characters’ actions, the story interrogates stereotypes and biases we place on others who are different from us.

The film is directed by Jose Muniain and written by Brian Broome, both with roots in Pittsburgh. Muniain has spent much of his life working in film and media production, specializing in documentaries designed to be used as social tools. Broome is a K. Leroy Irvis Fellow and instructor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

“America Street” and “Garbage” both grapple with racial injustice and the struggle to build and maintain a strong community in the face of racial inequality, gentrification, police brutality and class conflict. These films help facilitate an interracial discussion of the various issues raised in the two narratives.

Registration for “America Street” starts Nov. 30 and viewing will be from Nov. 30 – Dec. 6. The first 150 people to register with a promo code CMUIFF will be able to watch for free. Tickets afterwards will be $1, but donations to the festival are welcome. 

The CMU IFF invites you to a live discussion with Idrissou Mora-Kpai on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. The discussion will be moderated by Waverly Duck, urban sociologist and associate professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and is free and open to the public.  Advance registration is required and spots are limited.

Listen to our Spotify playlist inspired by the film "America Street."

Listen to our Podcast to go behind the scenes with the film's creators. 

This event is organized in conjunction with Row House Cinema. The “America Street” screening and event are supported by Cause, Humanities Scholars Program, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at CMU, the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and The Documentary Salon.