We're all we got.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Khinmay Lwin van der Mee
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
In 2014, while at USC, I went to a screening of the documentary "ANITA, Speaking Truth to Power." During the Q&A, in the audience behind me, a law professor was introduced. He delivered a passionate commentary on Clarence Thomas which caused me to turn and be completely startled by a huge afro, an unmistakable statement. It was Professor Armour. I decided to contact him because I needed to conduct an interview as a homework assignment for a documentary class I was taking and believed he would be a compelling subject.
During our interview, he gave me insight on racism's entrenched and systemic hold on the United States that was so basic to him but was not on my radar. We also spoke about his hair and the Trayvon Martin case. He said there was no doubt what the verdict would have been if Trayvon Martin was white and George Zimmerman was black. I felt slapped in the face with all we spoke about and believed that if I wasn't aware of these basic things happening in my own community, others didn't either and it should be known.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
People should watch this film because the subject matter is a nuanced argument of which the general public should be aware, especially if the audience is American. In America, racism against African-Americans by everyone, including African-Americans themselves, is incredibly pervasive. Anything that can shed a speck of light on the issue is essential and necessary.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Professor Armour's experience with his father's incarceration when Professor Armour was 8 years old could have led to devastating consequenced. But his father was able to vindicate himself. Concurrently, Professor Armour was able to leave the poverty of Akron, OH through a high school program called A Better Chance (ABC), go on to earn his bachelor's degree from Harvard, then a law degree from UC Berkeley. Because Professor Armour's personal trajectory could have very easily been a negative statistic (he believes he could have easily been stuck in an impoverished situation turning to crime to survive because of the lack of opportunities for many black communities to do anything else), he has formed a deep and committed passion to fight against racialized social oppression.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The film evolved over the course of development through the editing process, as all documentaries do.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Some people who are African American have said they were "refreshed," "inspired." People have said they were appreciative that I took the time to delve into Professor Armour's work to make this. Some African American viewers have said they needed to rethink their critical views on how they feel about their own communities and rethinking respectability politics.
Some have said that this project necessarily encourages discussions on race and respectability politics despite the discomfort surrounding it. Positive feedback is always freely shared. I haven't been given negative feedback, but that doesn't mean there isn't any.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The positive feedback has helped me personally in believing in myself. I have severe self-doubt. Above all, having this completed project embraced by Professor Armour, a legal scholar whose views are not simple, has given me more confidence in myself going forward as a filmmaker.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
By having my project associated with "We Are Moving Stories" I am looking to achieve more visibility by anyone and everyone. I hope to have more of a general audience see the project. I hope to have educators see the project and want to show it to their students. I hope to have educational distributors see the project and want to acquire it to be able to offer in a catalog to schools, colleges, and universities worldwide!
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I am still searching out the possibilities for this short documentary as far as distribution or getting it available for streaming or purchase. I do not know what the best options are. There are still a few festivals that I am waiting to hear back from: Boston International Film Festival (Boston, MA), Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (Melbourne, Australia), Harlem International Film Festival (New York, NY), Chicago Underground Film Festival (Chicago, IL), The Lower East Side Film Festival (New York, NY), Rooftop Films Festival (New York, NY), and Downtown LA Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA).
Making this project aware to film festival directors would be a great opportunity to have them consider it for their festivals. Journalists would be great in getting press done about it. I think ultimately, to have a distributor that distributes to the educational market, high schools and colleges, would be very beneficial.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would like to encourage discussions on race in racially mixed audiences. I would like if the project gives awareness that may have not been known.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How does Respectability Politics affect the African American community and society as a whole?
Would you like to add anything else?
This was my Master's thesis project to earn my MFA from the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. It was an assignment. Although this was a film school, as with many of the film schools. They did not give much information concerning distribution. I appreciate that Dr. Carmela Baranowska made the effort to get in touch with me.
I appreciate any insight into promoting this project that Dr. Baranowska and "We Are Moving Stories" platform can provide.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I will continue working with Professor Armour. He is still working on a book. He now has a new publisher, University of California Press. I am looking to create a series of episodes dealing with Professor Armour's work addressing racialized mass incarceration and solutions to decrease America's prison population that mainly consists of violent criminals. A problem that needs a shift in a general public's moral outlook, a very difficult proposition.
He contrasts his message with that of Michelle Alexander and "The New Jim Crow." The series will also look at other predominant African Americans in various positions, including rap music artists who lived and experienced racialized social oppression and were able to escape it, juxtaposing their music lyrics with Professor Armour's scholarship.
Interview: February 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
A CIVIL WAR: For the Soul of Black America
We're all we got.
Director: Khinmay Lwin van der Mee
Producer: Khinmay Lwin van der Mee
Writer: Khinmay Lwin van der Mee
About the writer, director and producer:
KHINMAY LWIN VAN DER MEE was born in Myanmar (Burma) and grew up in the USA. She attended the University of Pittsburgh and the American Film Institute. In 2000, she produced the feature documentary Uphill All the Way (narrated by Susan Sarandon). In 2016, she received her MFA from USC. Her Master's thesis, A CIVIL WAR: For the Soul of Black America, is her continued commitment to bring awareness to controversial issues.
Key cast: Jody David Armour
Looking for: distributors, buyers, sales agents, journalists, film festival directors
Made in association with: Completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the MFA Degree at The University of Southern California