Rich Witch: The Lore We Tell Ourselves
Date of Submission
Film and Electronic Arts; Human Rights
Project Advisor 1
Project Advisor 2
The Lore We Tell Ourselves
Rich Witch is an experimental documentary that investigates white supremacy through my colonial family history.
My guiding question:
How do white people resist white supremacy by reexamining their family history, legacy, and legends?
A British Family’s legacy, legends, and lore are reframed to expose a colonial history.
What can retelling white history through a decolonial lens offer to new generations of anti-racists? Can retelling this history offer an alternative/antidote to white supremacy?
In the summer of 2021 my family gathered in the dining barn at my Grandparents house in England. My Grandparents had spent the past two years of the pandemic organizing photo slides from their time in Yemen during the 1960s. This was the first time my family openly spoke about our involvement in colonialism. My grandfather worked as a colonial officer and was stationed in Aden when he was 23. He eventually left the colonial office during the decolonization process and started working for the World Bank. When I returned to college I dedicated my inherited wealth to study colonialism. This initial interest in what to do with material wealth mirrored a large theme in my film where I focused on the objects I saw in my Grandparents home, my childhood home, and in my own apartment.
However, as the project expanded and my knowledge of colonialism grew I realized something was missing from my class curriculum and my area of focus: whiteness. Whiteness was central to my project and to colonialism but I found this topic was not something I fully grasped or was comfortable speaking about.
In high school I made a capstone film on masculinity. At that point I was asking myself why are there no men in the feminist collective? This interest has grown over time to thinking about how power is wielded and held onto. While at the time of making Boys Like Us, I did not know I was trans. I now look back and see my own fears about connecting to masculinity in my film. This time around, I decided to take it head on. I knew I felt uncomfortable and unsure talking about wealth, race, and colonialism so in order to understand this part of myself I needed time to process through my artistic medium.
In many of my colonization courses I learned helpful critiques of racism which I implement throughout the film. In one of Kwame Holmes’s courses we read Saidiya Hartman’s Venus In Two Acts which delves into the complications and violence in the archive. This essay was fundamental to me thinking about what constitutes history. It was also part of the reason I chose to use the terms legacy, legends, and lore to reveal that the history white people repeat to themselves is not fixed nor objective and can be reframed to expose the values and ideology in the stories we tell ourselves.
Stories and writing became a large theme as I realized how little my family felt comfortable talking about colonization and especially on camera. Both my Grandfather and Mom were interested in supporting me but wanted to do written pieces. Instead of leaving them out of the spoken narrative I choose to include this as a central theme. In particular my mom became a text to speech reader. This both allowed me to think about white supremacy’s “worship of the written word” and also gave me a space to think through how colonialism affects my life. At first I feared that my whiteness would overtake a narrative about colonial violence but I was reminded throughout the filmmaking process of the 1970’s Queensland Aboriginal Activist Group that said “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together”.
As I neared the end of this project I realized I both needed to speak on how this white supremacist culture was not only passed on to me but also how it affects me in my daily actions, perspectives, and the ways I understand myself. I was reminded of a workbook on Dismantling Racism (2016) made by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. I found this workbook incredibly useful because it broke white supremacist culture down into 20 points. Nearing the end of production, I rewatched my film to see if I found these aspects of white supremacist culture. Each point I could connect to a section in my film. I choose to include these points throughout my film since I am also a human rights major and part of my filmmaking ethics is to not make a film purely for entertainment but to provoke thought that will continue after viewing. My hope is this film creates space for my predominantly white audience to continue reflecting on the ways their family culture is shaped by white supremacy. I believe this workbook is a helpful tool to continue anti-racist work that I can suggest to viewers who want actionable next steps. In addition, it is impossible to make anti-racist work without basing it on the knowledge of BIPOC people. This resource both makes it clear where my critique comes from (not from individualism but from a long history of anti-racist and decolonial thought which fought its way into predominantly white spaces and institutions where I preside) and where people can turn to learn more.
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Shread, Sylver Venus, "Rich Witch: The Lore We Tell Ourselves" (2023). Senior Projects Spring 2023. 355.
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