NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, March 14, 2016, 6:35 PM
Ken Burns says he and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. didn’t know what kind of response they would receive when they organized a four-city tour of town hall discussions on race, the first of which was held in Charleston, S.C. Dec. 9, only a short distance from the Emanuel AME Church, the site of last year’s shooting massacre.
“I’ve been dealing with these questions of race since the beginning of my professional career,” says Burns, the documentary filmmaker whose latest film, “Jackie Robinson,” on the iconic Brooklyn Dodger who broke baseball’s color line in 1947, will be released in April. “We’re trying to be as honest and conscientious as possible. We know that we don’t have the answers, and that a conversation requires as much listening as talking. That’s hugely important to us.”
Given the context of race and race relations within the last several years, and how the topic has impacted the presidential race in 2016, Burns says that he felt it was imperative to try to spark a dialogue on the issue, and that he and Gates tried to choose four diverse cities around the country to host their talk series — Charleston, Austin, Washington D.C. and finally, New York City. The NYC leg of “American Fault Line: Race and the American Ideal” will be held Wednesday evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
“It was 1,800 people in Charleston. It was a very diverse crowd. It was Skip Gates and I showing clips from my upcoming film (on Robinson) and from (Gates’) film on Martin Luther King. We then had a moderated conversation for quite a long time,” says Burns. “I don’t know what (the talk) did. I don’t know what all four of them will do. I just know it’s really important for us, particularly when we have a front-runner for the president (Donald Trump) who takes a while to categorically dismiss the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke and white supremacy. This is as old as America itself, unfortunately.”
Burns adds that there were “a lot of tears, applause and participation” from the audience during the Charleston talk, and that was after Burns and Gates had visited the church where the massacre of parishioners took place.
“The civic auditorium was just a block or two from Mother Emanuel. It was incredibly hard. It was almost too unbearable. This is something that should be unbearable for all Americans,” says Burns. “It’s been quite the fashion to denigrate the “Black Lives Matter” (movement) — what is that impulse? To say this is somehow some type of radical organization?
“As much as we are about our better angels – and certainly Jackie Robinson is about that — we are also about these demons that continually afflict us. I felt it was important to try and have a substantive conversation about race. I’m always frustrated that we have a little bit of soul-searching and then everybody goes back to what they do. It’s really important for Americans to try to figure out a way to talk about race.”
Wednesday’s talk will be held at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue at 8pm. The event will also be live-streamed.