Emmy-winning NKU professor producing documentary on hate crime

News from NKU…

For immediate release…
Monday – Oct. 1, 2012

Emmy-Winning NKU Professor Producing
Documentary on Hate Speech

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Rachel Lyon, a professor and the first artist-in-residence in the Northern Kentucky University College of Informatics, has begun production of Tulsa: Hate Crime Capital?, a documentary that will explore a dramatic relationship between current violent hate crimes in today’s media and a long-term cover-up of hate crimes that happened 90 years ago.

In 1921, the largest riot in American history took place in Tulsa, Okla. The race riot burned down the “Negro Wall Street” district of Greenwood and spread destruction across 35 city blocks, leaving 300 dead and more than 10,000 homeless. Despite the outrage and destruction, the event was never recorded in history books. On Good Friday of this year, two white males allegedly shot five people in an African-American Tulsa neighborhood, killing three of them. Two suspects are on trial for three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill.

Lyon’s film will trace 90 years of violence, dating from the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 to the shooting on April 6, exploring the role of the media in provoking a social response to racially motivated crimes in radically different cultural and technological times. The film will focus on three survivors, two from the recent hate crimes, Deon Tucker and David Hall, as well as Wes Young (now 95), a survivor of the Tulsa Riot in 1921.

Lyon and her film crew from NKU traveled to Tulsa in July, shooting preliminary footage and interviewing city leaders, police officials and community members. The crew includes NKU informatics faculty Bavand Karim, who is cinematographer/co-writer for the project, and NKU student Taylor Harris, who is serving as production coordinator for the film.

Tulsa: Hate Crime Capital? is allowing me a glimpse into the hidden past of race relations in America,” said Harris, a junior communication major. “I appreciate Professor Lyon’s willingness to give me the opportunity to work on this project, which is also greatly increasing my understanding of filmmaking.”

Kevin Kirby, dean of the NKU College of Informatics, said the college is excited to have Lyon as its first artist-in-residence. “The issues of race and media addressed in the Tulsa project are profound,” he said. “Rachel brings great talent and expertise to the subject. The project is providing an extremely enriching experience for the students on her team.”

In her career, Lyon has produced dozens of social justice documentaries, including Race to Execution, Juror Number Six, Shadow Over Tibet, The Glory and the Power and the Emmy Award-winning FRONTLINE program, "Men Who Molest."

“As a woman who has spent a lifetime telling stories of human rights, media, race and justice, this is the perfect story for me to tell – and the perfect moment to produce the film,” she said. “Informing the public about the long, stinging tail of unresolved racial violence – just as a new multiple murder hate crime has national attention focused on Tulsa – is crucial. It is our responsibility as ethical journalists and filmmakers to facilitate a discourse on how such persistent, unresolved racial tensions translate to a continuing cycle of violence, based in large part on media interpretation of the events.

“The Tulsa project will show how we use a racialized context for interpreting facts especially in the news – we continue to value white lives more than black lives,” she said. “Even in the current ‘Good Friday Murders’ case – which has increased importance by its designation as a hate crime – journalists, police and the district attorney did not immediately construe the case as important. It wasn’t until the race of the shooters was shown to be white that the police began to put the case on a fast track, known as a ‘heater case’ in journalism.”

Lyon said the history of racial violence in Tulsa warrants a discussion of “Why Tulsa?” and how these individual cases of allegedly racially motivated crime inform and become a window of understanding of current racial relations and media portrayals in America.

Lyon said she hopes to have the film completed by summer 2013. In addition to a feature-length documentary designed for major broadcast on PBS or cable, and a festival and limited theatrical release, a web site will host a social media campaign and feature clips from the full project as well as an Internet short. A 10-minute trailer for the film is available at http://vimeo.com/47122092.

Plans also include distributing a specific university-oriented 30-minute version of the film for use in classrooms across America. The education outreach includes embedding of the film, website and clips into partner websites, which include Harvard Law School, DePaul College of Law, UCLA’s Center for Community and Communication, and the NKU Chase College of Law. Outreach at universities, public libraries, churches and social events is also being planned, including a symposium on Hate Crime and Law and Informatics at NKU on Feb. 15, 2013.

Additional funding in support of Tulsa: Hate Crime Capital? is being sought. On Nov. 28, NKU will host a presentation called “Hate Crime, Social Media and Justice” in the Griffin Hall George and Ellen Rieveschl Digitorium. The event will include a screening and panel discussion, and those interested in supporting the film will have the chance to contribute. Contributions to the project can be made at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lionessmedia/tulsa-hate-crime-capital.

“I am passionate about making films that shine the light on racial bias and injustice in our country,” Lyon said. “Nothing is more important to me than reconciling our conduct with our goals of racial harmony.”

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