Filmmakers Reveal History of Local Lynchings in "An Outrage"

BY: ALEXIS ARNOLD

An Outrage” is a short documentary film about the long history of lynchings in the United States—a history that is not restricted to the South, but hits close to home for Black people across the country. After the film’s screening at the School of Communication, co-director Hanna Ayers read aloud the names of seven Black people who were lynched within a 25-mile radius of American University’s campus.

“We know these names because of the Free Black Press, because of Ida B. Wells and because of sociologist Monroe Work,” said Ayers. The film aims to elevate the work of the Free Black Press and educate others about a part of American history that is often misrepresented or left out.

“An Outrage” puts a spotlight on the descendants of several lynching victims and activists who fought against the atrocities. It also includes commentary from historians and scholars about the lynchings that occurred during the Reconstruction Era. They discuss racial violence as a form of social control and how it continues to impact African American communities today.

  Professor Leena Jayaswal introduces the documentary “An Outrage” to the audience. Photo by Alexis Arnold.

Professor Leena Jayaswal introduces the documentary “An Outrage” to the audience. Photo by Alexis Arnold.

AU is just one stop on the filmmaker’s national teaching tour. Lance Warren, the film’s co-director, said they are making so many appearances because the work of a social documentary is never finished. “You don’t put [it] to bed... You put [it] to work,” he said.

“I’m inspired by the storytellers here,” said SOC Dean Jeff Rutenbeck. “[The film] is powerful and compact. And, as [the filmmakers] said, they’re following it up with discussions in dozens and dozens of places.” Rutenbeck stressed how important it is work in close proximity with the issues one wants to change. He said he believes that AU is finally grasping this concept, but knows that long-term changes to campus climate requires a sustained commitment from both students and faculty.

The film had a profound effect on the audience, as well. Many attendees were educators who wanted to know how to improve the way they teach students about lynchings or the best way to include the film in their curriculum.

The filmmakers have partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union to bring a revised history of lynchings and the Reconstruction period to K-12 schools. America’s history of racial violence is rarely studied in grade school, or is only studied briefly, said Warren. One of the filmmakers’’ main goals in creating the documentary was to “contribute something that could be watched and remembered.”

The film is also available to those in higher education through Kanopy Streaming. AU students and faculty can watch it here. To find out more about “An Outrage,” go to www.an-outrage.com.