Young filmmakers explore America’s cultural identity

5/21/2008, 7:19 a.m.
The problem

But that spirit of togetherness didn’t necessarily empower the boys to stand up for their cultures.

“It was crazy how people would start making fun of their own culture or religion around some of the kids just to fit in,” remembers Ibidapo. “It was ridiculous.”

“Also, I didn’t understand a lot of things that people were saying that were subtly bad — I thought ‘BandB’ was like the Blues Brothers,” he adds. “I’m not blaming the kids.

“It’s just literally the culture of Stoneham. They were hearing these jokes from their parents.”

Garcia remembers becoming aware of the racist comments his peers would sling when he started working for his high school’s anti-defamation league in his junior and senior years. By the time the two went to college, both said they felt relieved at getting a break from that environment.

“I felt like I was dying slowly inside,” remembers Ibidapo.

Garcia headed north to Colby College in Maine, graduating in 2005 with a double major in Spanish history and Latin American literature and a minor in theater and dance. Ibidapo went to historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, also graduating in 2005 with a degree in English.

At Morehouse, Ibidapo learned black history that he’d never encountered in high school, an education that spurred pride in his culture. When he came back to Stoneham, he says, he felt different — and angry.

“There’s such a rich history that was censored to me and the rest of my classmates,” he says. “We’re in a society where people just don’t know about African American history, especially on how African Americans contributed to our society.”

The process

To make money after college, Ibidapo and Garcia started promoting and videotaping parties. Soon, they were filming music videos, designing Web sites and creating promotional material.

“People saw our videos and wanted to come to our parties,” remembers Ibidapo.

A 2006 TV contest calling for 5-minute documentaries on social concerns changed the course of their business. Garcia videotaped Ibidapo talking for two hours about his high school experiences with discrimination. They missed the deadline for the contest, but when they watched the edited cut of the talk, they said, they knew they had something.

They started interviewing Stoneham residents and experts in cultural and social issues related to race, like Leonard Steinhorn, associate professor at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C., and journalist Jeff Chang, author of the acclaimed book “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.”

The documentary took shape in 2007 after an interview with Steinhorn provided their project’s unifying theme: It would be an effort to define America.

“One of the defining elements of America is written on our dollar bill: ‘E Pluribus Unum’ — ‘Out of many, one,’” says Steinhorn in the documentary. “America is an ideal that for centuries is trying to say that we welcome people of all backgrounds, all colors, all ethnicities, all ideas and ideologies, and we bring them together as one, as Americans, as people who believe in the fundamental principles of equality and freedom, and inclusion and tolerance.”