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November 1998 (USA)  »

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A thoughtful look at the causes of racism
2 October 2000 | by (Indianapolis) – See all my reviews

One thing that bothers me about the modern civil rights movement is that the tendency is to blame problems on racism and then leave it at that. As the recent out-break of race-related crime seems to show us, that's not good enough. "Forgotten Fires" is the first film I've seen which really deals with *why* people turn to racism. It is a documentary about the burnings of two African-American churches in Manning, South Carolina, but the center of the film is an interview with Timothy Welch, one of the Klansen who helped with the burnings. Through his interview and other interviews with those involved (including a Klan leader), we begin to understand how economic situations and personal desperation can drive men to hate. Welches interview is enormously compelling; he has moved beyond his racism, (he may never have been racist in the first place), but doesn't yet feel redeemed for what he has done, and although he mentions the reasons he thinks he turned to hate, he still takes full responsibility for his actions. His motivations were so complex, that he in fact burned the church of his black godmother, whom he describes how much he loved. The film also examines how the African-American community coped with the loss of their churches, and includes one involving part where a black leader reflects on how drugs ruined the civil rights movement. This film has an undercurrent of hope, hope that the community can recover from the loss, and hope that those who did it can move beyond their hate.

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