“Kumbaya” is not really in our vocabulary at Brave New Films. We are believers, not conciliators, not deal makers. There is justice and there is injustice, and we fight for one and abhor the other. We do not believe that sacred ground lies in the middle. So we are pretty much the last studio you would expect to embark on a project like “40 Strangers, 50 Questions.” But we love a challenge. So, when a friend dared us to try to find something positive in these terrifying times, we decided to give it a shot. We did not expect to be so deeply moved, even changed by the experience. You might be too. Take a look.
The piece is inspired by a Danish advertisement meant to address the very real issues of racism and fanaticism that country is experiencing. The premise is quite simple. We put an ad in Craigslist asking people to meet in a warehouse in Los Angeles, and promised them lunch and an interesting experience. When they came, we separated them, physically, into groups based on what they most obviously had in common—race. The groups stood in boxes delineated by masking tape on the floor. And then they moved.
They moved—physically actually moved—according to their answers to questions ranging from playful to deeply personal: “Did you have overprotective parents?” “Have you ever bullied anyone?” “Are you in love, right now? I mean, right now?” “Do you have a tattoo?” “Have you had sex in the past week?” “Were you ever teased for your race or the way you look?” “Do you distrust police officers?” Finally: “Do you feel we are stronger united than divided?”
For each answer, the yeses walked to one box, then stood together for a group photo; the nos to another, for their picture. That was it. No judgment. No dialogue. Just this slow, beautiful dance, this coming together, splitting apart, joining and rejoining.
Of course, we are documentary filmmakers, so that is not entirely true: There was dialogue afterward. We asked the participants how they felt about the experience, and we filmed it.
Later, we asked ourselves those same questions—about what we experienced. No one walked out of that room believing that the fact that Donald Trump loves his children, like we do, mitigates what he is doing to the children of the immigrants he is targeting for deportation. We did not come to an epiphany that love conquers all, that we should strive to understand those who espouse racist views or who oppress their neighbors because they can. We did not want to hug everyone we met when we left the building.
But we did feel like we had somehow caught hope on film, that empathy is not the end but rather a beginning, a place to move forward from. This will not stop our work trying to change hearts and minds, by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe it will make us better at it. Watch.