Filmmaker Katrina Browne talked with Sojourners associate editor Molly Marsh about the impetus behind Traces of the Trade.
How have you experienced this work as a “calling?”
I was in seminary when my grandmother sent all of us grandkids the booklet summarizing our family history, and I had the time and space to really take it in. There was a Day of the Dead ritual being created at my school, the Pacific School of Religion, and we were invited to create altars for ancestors and to put them up in conjunction with the service. I thought, “How would I build an altar to my ancestors now that I’ve relearned this history?” I took this on as an invitation to really delve in—that was the beginning of peeling away the layers within my own heart, mind, and spirit. I would call it a “calling” in the sense that once I made the decision to make the film, I got so much confirmation from the universe. I experienced a much larger force at work than my own will and my own self. I kept getting signs from God ... that this was the right path for me and that this could be a vehicle for some healing and reconciliation work. Every time I wanted to quit, it was certainly faith and being part of faith communities that kept me going.
Describe one of your best moments.
At one screening the extremely openhearted conversation among a mixed group of white and African-American Episcopalians was exactly what I was hoping the film could create. A white woman asked the room of 150 people, “How would the African-American folks in this room today define reparations?” An African-American woman in her 80s said, “Thank you for asking. There are as many definitions of reparations as there are African Americans in this country, and for me, what we’re doing right here, right now, is reparations. Everybody needs something different, but this is what I needed.” One African-American woman said, “You’re already forgiven, so there is nothing to be scared of, or ashamed of, or guilty about, but you need to show up and do the work with us that needs to be done.”
What are some concrete ways people of faith can engage with these issues?
Faith communities can really be containers for this work. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has been proposing HR 40 since 1989 to create a commission to study the history and legacy of slavery and its aftermath, as well as possible remedies. It’s basically the closest thing to a national reconciliation process that’s been proposed in Congress. There are also some apology bills in Congress right now. These are things faith communities have a particular kind of wisdom and understanding about, and therefore an ability to advocate for. Concepts of apology, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the process of atonement are part of these traditions.