Through the pairing of traditional documentary interviews with scenes of rural life, Margaret Brown’s “The Black Belt” shows — not tells — viewers what voter suppression in Alabama looks like.
As an Alabama native herself, Brown had a personal connection to the material that became her film, one of 12 finalists in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival.
She was enlisted by Field of Vision, an organization that pairs filmmakers with developing news stories, to explore the issue, she said she was given “carte blanche” to develop the story as she saw fit.
While the issue of voter suppression had already received widespread media coverage in 2015, Brown said she appreciated getting the chance to spend time in Selma, connect with the residents, and ultimately show how they were being affected by the state’s decision last year to shut down 31 part-time driver’s licenses offices located predominantly in the state’s so-called Black Belt.
Paired with the state’s voter photo ID law, which requires voters to have a valid photo ID to vote, voting rights activists have said that it has become harder for residents who live in the areas of the state that are heavilyAfrican-American.
“I would love to think that facts and figures influence people, but I really think that emotions and personal experience influence people,” Brown told TheWrap. “In this case, the facts, I thought, were pretty solid, that there was voter suppression going on, but I think getting to watch it and seeing the people’s faces and see what it’s like, I just think it’s a different thing.”
“Emotion is and feeling is what moves us as humans,” she added.
Brown, who also directed a documentary about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said the response to “The Black Belt” was especially exciting for her.
“There was a really lively discussion online about it,” she said. “That made me happy because I think unless you live in areas that are affected, it could be going on in your state and you just think, ‘Oh, it’s just a media thing,’ and I think for people to watch it, it’s a whole different thing.”
Though “The Black Belt” focuses just on Alabama, the issue should hit home with viewers from other states as well.
“I hope that they watch it and think, ‘How can I prevent this from happening in my state?’ and also just to have more compassion for people that they might think they’re different from or don’t understand,” she said.
Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 9-23.