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American Denial Screening

March 11, 2015 @ 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Vermont Public Television and the Brattleboro Historical Society will present a screening of the VT-PBS film American Denial at the Brattleboro Historical Society’s History Center (next to the Baptist Church Homeless Shelter) on

Main Street in Brattleboro, Vermont.
11 March 2015
6:00 PM

The program will include parts of the film and a panel of local activists to respond and discuss the film with the audience.

Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth in Birmingham, Alabama (photo by Bill Holiday)

Panelists include:

Kelly Thomson (the film’s Producer – tentatively scheduled)

Dottie R. Morris – Chief Officer for Diversity and Multiculturalism at Keene State College

Guy Wood – member of United to End Racism and the NAACP

Mikaela Simms – Diversity Coordinator at Brattleboro Union HS

A synopsis of the film:

American Denial

What are the implications for individual responsibility and social justice in democracies like America’s?

Follow the story of foreign researcher and Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal whose study, An American Dilemma (1944), provided a provocative inquiry into the dissonance between stated beliefs as a society and what is perpetuated and allowed in the name of those beliefs. His inquiry into the United States’ racial psyche becomes a lens for modern inquiry into how denial, cognitive dissonance, and unrecognized, unconscious attitudes continue to dominate racial dynamics in American life.

The film’s unusual narrative sheds a unique light on the unconscious political and moral world of modern Americans. Archival footage, newsreels, nightly news reports, and rare southern home movies from the ’30s and ’40s thread through the story, as well as psychological testing into racial attitudes from research footage, websites, and YouTube films.

Hear from experts — historians, psychologists, sociologists and Myrdal’s daughters — all filmed directly to camera. Witnesses work to exhume unconscious feelings Americans have about themselves and others — fascinated by the Myrdal question, and by how much true thinking and feeling unfolds in social contexts in an unconscious mode. What are the implications for individual responsibility and social justice in democracies like America’s?

(San Francisco, CA) – In 1938, the Carnegie Corporation commissioned Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal to begin his landmark study of race and inequality in the United States. His question: How could a people who cherish freedom and fairness also create such a racially oppressive society? Published in 1944, “An American Dilemma” was cited in the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate America’s schools.

Seventy years later, Myrdal’s question continues to challenge America –- how do we explain the disconnect between what we believe and what we practice in what some have called a “post-racial” America? American Denial juxtaposes past and present, shifting from Myrdal’s investigation –- and his own personal struggle with denial — and current stories of racial injustice that are often overlooked in our national insistence on the preeminence of the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. Directed by Llewellyn Smith and produced by Christine
Herbes-Sommers, Smith, and Kelly Thomson.

An intellectual social visionary who later won a Nobel Prize in economics, Myrdal first visited the Jim Crow South at the invitation of Carnegie Corporation in 1938, where he was “shocked to the core by all the evils I saw.”

With a team of scholars that included black political scientist Ralph Bunche, Myrdal wrote a massive 1500-page investigation of race he called An American Dilemma. His study, now a considered a classic, challenged the veracity of the American Creed of equality, justice, and liberty for all by arguing that critically implicit in the Creed — which Myrdal called America’s “state religion” — was a nefarious conflict: the way for white Americans to explain to themselves why black Americans could not succeed in a nation offering equal opportunity was to view blacks as inferior. Myrdal argued that this view justified practices and policies that openly undermined and oppressed the lives of black citizens. But are we still a society living in this state of denial seventy years later, in an era marked by the election of the nation’s first black president?

American Denial sheds a unique light on the unconscious political and moral world of modern Americans. Archival footage, newsreels, nightly news reports, and rare southern home movies from the 30s and 40s thread through the story, as well as footage showing the surprising results of psychological tests of racial attitudes. Exploring “stop and frisk” practices, the incarceration crisis, and racially-patterned crime and poverty, the film features a wide array of historians, psychologists, and sociologists who offer expert insight and share their own personal, unsettling stories. The result is a unique and provocative film that challenges our assumptions about who we are and what we really believe.

Visit the American Denial companion website (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/american-denial) which features information about the film, including an interview with the filmmakers and resources pertaining to the film’s subject matter.

Kelly Thomson (Producer) served as producer and editor on Vital Pictures’ award-winning films, includingGaining Ground: Building Community on Dudley Street, The Raising of America, Herskovits at the Heart of Darkness, and Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? She is currently in production on an independent documentary that profiles female leaders in Islamic mysticism (w.t. Shaykha.) Her first feature independent documentary, Savage Memory, has screened at festivals, museums, and universities across the globe. She recently served as Artist-in-Residence at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative where she worked with teens to create short films. Thomson began working in film at the age of 19 and has worked on a number of independent films over the past fifteen years, including Wild Art, Hotels 4, All Falls Down, A Vote for Choice, and Funeral of the Last Gypsy King. She received her BA from New York University in Religious Studies.

Dottie R. Morris – Chief Officer for Diversity and Multiculturalism at Keene State College. Received her Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from Washington State University. Dottie has been Associate Dean of Student Learning at World Learning School for International Training, Core Faculty and Director of Student Affairs for the Counselor Education program at Antioch University New England, and Staff Counselor at the Colorado State University Counseling Center. She has lived in New England for over 15 years.

Guy Wood – Grew up in Nebraska and Illinois (near St. Louis) in the mid-60s and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and was in the third part of the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965. Guy is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He has an MSW with a 30-year career in Family Services for the State of Vermont. He belongs to two’s anti-racism organizations, United to End Racism and the NAACP.

Guy is a grandparent, a 37-year resident of Putney, retired, spends time each year working on a kibbutz in Israel and is Co-President of the Amherst, Massachusetts synagogue.


March 11, 2015
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm


Brattleboro History Center
Main Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301 United States
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