Connecticut/ Massachusetts-based artist and filmmaker Rod Webber is at it again with “My America,” his controversial take on modern-day racism. But, Webber is no stranger to controversy, and doesn’t shy away from making political statements through his films and art, even as the accusations fly that, “he should be arrested for hate-crimes,” and confrontations with the police which seem to be the norm.
Prior to his most recent film, Webber teamed up with “No Strings Attached” and “Lola Versus” film star Greta Gerwig for “Northern Comfort, ” in which Gerwig plays a dying woman accompanied by Webber to Canada to be treated for lack of health care coverage in the U.S.
Previous to that, Webber went out on the campaign trail for his 2008 documentary, “A Man Among Giants” to film former midget wrestler and outsider Republican candidate Doug ‘Tiny The Terrible’ Tunstall. Tunstall’s troubling 2006 campaign to unseat the democratic Mayor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island itself was an exposé, which out-right satirized the mechanics of running for political office. The film, though filled with laughs, revealed some of the more outrageous ideas espoused from right-leaning candidates currently aspiring to make life-altering decisions for American citizens in these trying times.
This past summer, Webber could be found roaming the streets of Boston, Hartford and New York City with his public art installation, “Exploding Romney,” igniting a backlash on the web suggesting Webber was inciting violence and that he, “should do himself a favor and leave the country.” Webber’s response? Solicit business owners to help him out, and put “Exploding Romney” kiosks on display in their stores.
He’s got takers.
Prior to that, Webber found himself the object of yet another internet firestorm, when he verbally confronted a pair of Lyndon LaRouche supporters at his local post office who were harassing patrons with an Obama-as-Hitler poster. The interaction, which Webber filmed, lead to a trip to the police station, not to mention an inbox full of video-links to Obama as Hitler. The police ultimately sided with Webber, and told the Obama-as-Hitler guys to hit the road.
The video of the incident was not the end however, as the hate-mail kept coming his way. Webber is now the recipient of frequent racially charged emails, including more than a few references to publications like Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” and Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s “Communist Manifesto.” The remarks often suggest Obama’s participation in a supposed genocide, as well as his belief in socialist principles.
The insinuation made toward Webber himself by his new legion of defamers, is that Webber is part of a shadowy network secretly working for the ‘nefarious’ Obama re-election campaign.
To the contrary, Webber, has been outspoken against many of the Obama administration’s policies, going so far as to create artwork featuring Obama surrounded by barbed wire. This was as the president prepared to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, which enables the US government to indefinitely detain American citizens suspected of terrorism.
Needless to say, Webber’s criticisms reach out to both sides of the aisle. In his words, “injustice, in whichever form it takes, should be spoken out against forcefully and fairly, and we should be willing to listen to the concerns of others if we’re ever to hope to change the world for the better.”
So, with his feet firmly set in the muck of the uglier side of today’s political landscape, Webber is ready to get down and dirty again. The film is “My America,” and though it was released in March of 2011, and based on events that took place in 2010, the film is still making waves with its screening at The Pawtucket Film Festival, Friday September 28th.
With the help of Producer, co-writer and co-star, Joseph James Bellamy, the duo make a pretty convincing case for the need to educate, speak rationally, and not get upset by “the other side of the argument.”
Sociology and criminology professor Laura Agnich, PHD of Georgia Southern University , (who plans to make the film a part of her curriculum), seems to think the film might help, stating, “‘My America’ provides an important sociological analysis of the current state of race relations in the U.S. and could be a valuable resource to those who teach about race in higher education.”
“My America” follows the life of Maynard Brayboy (Bellamy), a struggling and justifiably angry African American school teacher who was recently fired from his job at a predominantly white public school. To add insult to injury, Brayboy is working through the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, the result of a brutal and racist hate-crime.
As Webber, (who is white), explains it, “Joe Bellamy and I are long-time collaborators. The issues of race, class and social injustice have been regular topics of conversations more often than not, going back to the days when we first new each other in high school. When I read the news story about Tea Partiers allegedly calling Congressmen Lewis and Cleaver the n-word in March of 2010, the idea for the film came to me. I got on the phone to Joe, who said he liked the idea. I hashed out the plot, and Joe hashed out the characters, concepts and tone. We went from there. It didn’t take much more than a couple hours of talking on the phone before we were shooting in a week. We felt as though the issues were so present in our culture, and right in our face that we didn’t need a whole lot of prep. We just went for it, and I feel like it’s one of the best films we’ve made.”
Bellamy, (who is African American), when asked about the genesis of the project commented, “when Obama was elected, it was pretty clear that the country was on the verge of a new paradigm. It was something that not everyone was happy about, and they’re still not happy about. The problem with this, is that if everybody is unhappy with an idea, practice, or incident which never gets discussed, our understanding of it, and ourselves never changes or grows. So, there are uncomfortable possibilities which need to be recognized and explored before they become inexcusable realities.”
These hypothetical explorations come screaming to life in the film, when Bellamy’s character meets up with Webber who plays a Tea Partier who allegedly hurled the racial epithets at the real-life Congressmen Lewis and Cleaver. The interaction in the film explores a truly inexcusable reality which is far more violent than Webber’s real-life confrontations with the anti-Obama contingent. It is a reality, which every African American has lived with in one form or another since the formation of our country. Yet, with the election of Barack Obama, the issue has come simmering to the surface, while remaining mostly unspoken and unexplored.
Bellamy and Webber’s discourse regarding race is in-depth, and ripe with the animosity simmering around the national conversation. The film concludes with graphic and racially charged violence, and is not for the weak of heart.
In the words of Bellamy, “recent history has shown the paradigm is still shifting, and with the election near at hand, it is still the right time to consider, or reconsider the meaning of ‘My America.'”
“My America” is executive produced by Ali Bell and Ramona Shah, co-starring Luke Bellamy, Robert P. Young III, Andrea Brayboy and Isabella Sarah.
The film screens at The Pawtucket Film Festival, September 28th and can be viewed in its entirety for free at Rod Webber’s website , blog or YouTube channel .