Anti-Racism Film Sparks Discussion On Allyship, White Saviorism & America’s Original Sin

If there was one thing that became crystal clear in the summer of 2020 after the horrific murder of George Floyd, it was that there is no way we as a country can be neutral or silent about the roots of racism any longer. Everyone from individual activists, to celebrities and major brands were speaking out about the fight for racial justice, recognizing the way racism has been allowed to take hold in almost every system in the United States since its founding.

Many in the African-American community were expressing exhaustion at being constantly ignored or dismissed when talking about systemic racism and police brutality. It was a moment for allies to step up and join the movement, and amplify the work of those in leadership. It was also a moment where many white people around the country recognized the role they can play within their own communities, families and networks, rather than standing on the sidelines.

Two of those people were Mary and Tom Gegax, who live in a fairly affluent and predominantly white area of Southern California. They were shocked by the murder of George Floyd and joined marches and protests in their neighborhood. They began to realize they had an opportunity to start a conversation with their peers about the need to get off the sidelines of this issue, which is often referred to as “America’s Original Sin”.

Mary and Tom took photos, shot videos, and started making a short video for family. One thing led to another and news clips and historical context were added. The deeper they went, the more inspired they became. Soon, like-minded, “quaranteaming” neighbors joined them to make their first documentary. They began working with freelance filmmaker and associate producer Julie Manriquez on this project, which eventually became ‘Spark: A Systemic Racism Story‘.

The title came from Julie who said, “The George Floyd protests are sparking not just fires but a nationwide moral awakening.” The film is available to watch in its entirely online (shared below) and the producers hope it will become a resource and tool for people who are interested in educating themselves about the proverbial elephant in the room – namely, systemic racism that impacts so many across the U.S every day, but which has also been ignored or dismissed by those who aren’t directly affected. It is time for change, and as Julie outlines in the interview below, ‘Spark’ is hoping to spur exactly that.

How did you first get involved with SPARK? 

I became involved with SPARK very organically early on in the pandemic. I’ve always been an activist and social justice seeker, so I attended a handful of Black Lives Matter marches in June after the murder of George Floyd. Most of these were in urban areas, but there was one located in my neighborhood in La Jolla — a conservative, predominantly white suburb of San Diego — on June 12th. Although our little slice of suburbia is more liberal than it was 20 years ago, I didn’t have high expectations. 

Our community turnout was surprising! The event was very well organized by students and activists outside of La Jolla and I think some of the speakers may have even changed some antiquated views in our older, white demographic. It was there that I ran into neighbors Tom and Mary Gegax. They invited me to a (socially distant) gathering at their house to view photos from the march with some other activists and creatives from our community. Tom threw out the idea of pulling together a team to tackle creating a documentary film as a quarantine project. I was instantly on board. 

As a writer, I was thrilled to have a meaningful project to work on during a very dark time. The idea of offering a resource that could possibly be used to educate others on becoming allies during a time of racial reckoning was energizing.

What do you want the viewers to get out of this film?

I want viewers to recognize it’s not enough to simply say you’re not a racist.

Check yourself. Do more. Live an antiracist life as a committed ally. There is a huge difference between using the words “I am not a racist” and “I am an antiracist.” It involves unpacking unconscious bias, addressing our inner selves and our inner workings. We have to scrutinize how and why we’ve been taught the “history” that we have learned. From there we can begin the unlearning process. 

I personally learned so much more than I thought I would. I had a lot of work to do, and I still have a lot of work to do. I’m grateful for the opportunity to delve deeper. 

‘Spark’ Associate Producer Julie Manriquez

What is something that surprised you as a result of working on SPARK?

When your eyes are open, possibilities are endless. As a result of this project, I’ve met so many wonderful people. The National Conflict Resolution Center’s A Path Forward Task Force reached out to me to join their team. Through SPARK, I’ve met local activists while volunteering and we’ve helped cross-promote our non-profit projects including San Diego’s Breakfast Block Mutual Aid (@breakfastblock_mutualaid) and Ride For Breonna (@rideforbreonna) to raise awareness of systemic racism’s role in societal failures and policing.

It’s clear to me that people have an appetite for this kind of content and thus, the gifts that come from that interest in action steps toward change are endless. 

What do you see as the future for SPARK?  

In six months, I would love to see us back to “real life” and hosting a live, official premier of SPARK.  It would be so exciting to share this work in-person and establish deeper connections and engagement within communities.

In a year, I would like to continue to see the appetite to learn about antiracism and the ability to easily share our message of allyship. 

In ten years, I hope that SPARK is considered a historical film about a problem that “was” and “is no longer.” My wish is that the idea of systemic racism will someday be considered an historical relic. 

Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?

In terms of social justice, I look up to Stacy Abrams. I think both sides of the aisle will admit she is a force to be reckoned with! I also look up to people who emulate Ms. Abrams who are regular people in my neighborhood. They are doing the tough work of challenging a broken system. I deeply appreciate Catherine Cox, who, with a team of badasses, manages our local Ride For Breonna: a relentless grassroots movement that hosts events every weekend and educates the public on what action steps to take to bring justice for Breonna Taylor’s murder. 

How did you reach your level of success, given the sector’s gender gap and racism especially among women leadership?

With this project, I credit executive producers Tom and Mary Gegax. They treated everyone on the project equally and all of our voices were heard. Each person was given the respect and space they deserved throughout the creative process.

Mary and Tom Gegax at a Black Lives Matter protest, June 2020, California.

Are you working on any new events or upcoming projects?

I am currently pitching my original screenplay, March, which addresses how an administration that set out to stifle progress actually led to the birth of today’s reimagined women’s movement. In addition, I am working with the National Conflict Resolution Center to promote their upcoming free virtual event on May 15th, featuring this year’s Peacemaker Award recipient, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Peacemaker-awards past featured speakers have been bestselling authors, Ibram X. Kendi (‘How to be an Antiracist’), Robin DiAngelo (‘White Fragility’), and Arthur C. Brooks (‘Love Your Enemies’). Click on the link to register to join live or view at your convenience. There is sure to be thought-provoking discussion and follow-up resources available. 

What advice would you give someone like you that’s just starting and wants to make an impact?

Be open and be curious. Opportunities arise when you trust yourself to be present, mindful and accepting of every moment. 

You can learn more about ‘Spark’ by visiting the website, and follow Julie on Instagram.

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