This Split-Screen Film Shows How Little American Racism Has Changed in 50 Years

72andSunny creatives take a historical approach

Same as it ever was?

History's unheeded lessons return with a vengeance in this short Black Lives Matter film that shows footage from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s on one side of the screen and scenes of modern racial unrest on the other:

Black Lives Matter

This message appears near the end: "Don't let the next 60 years look like the last 60 years. Join the movement, not the moment."

Developed as a passion project by 72andSunny creatives Jon Krippahne and Justin Joo, with an assist from agency talent coordinator Alex Brueggeman, the two-minute video dropped this week on social.

It reveals just how far we haven't come since March 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during the "Bloody Sunday" demonstration that saw police brutally attack peaceful marchers. A clip of MLK on the bridge, doggedly trekking toward the state capitol in Montgomery, appears in the film, paired with footage of President Barack Obama honoring Dr. King's act of courage 50 years later.

Other stirring entries in the fast-moving montage, set to the funky pulse of Michael Kiwanuka's "Black Man in a White World," include shots of young people from the '60s doused by high-pressure firehoses matched with images of recent protesters choking on pepper spray. Presidents Nixon and Trump briefly share screen time, both seemingly indifferent to mass suffering and dismissive of the seismic social changes taking place around them.

Below, Krippahne, Joo and Brueggeman discuss the film with Muse.

Muse: How'd the project begin?

Jon Krippahne: The nugget of the idea came to me really late one night, so I basically pulled an all-nighter trying to put a rough cut together to show Justin the next day. From there, we brought the rough cut to our friend and co-worker Alex [a Black American of Haitian descent], who is super-knowledgeable on the subject matter. We had a pretty emotional conversation about it, and ultimately he blessed it and stayed close throughout the process. 

I showed it to some friends who are activists, and they immediately started pulling clips with me. A lot of people volunteered to help get this finished and out in the world. I gathered all the clips and did my pass at an edit before bringing it to our friend, badass editor Stephania Dulowski. Stephania shot this thing into the stratosphere, and that's what you see today. We got it done in two weeks—nights and weekends. Massive group effort.

Did you know from the start you wanted to do a split-screen?

Krippahne: We talked about intercutting instead of split-screening to blur the lines between the eras, but ultimately we wanted this to be super simple and leave nothing up to interpretation. The side-by-side allows you to see the eerie similarities between the two eras in the most efficient way. Matching each clip side-by-side added to the shock value.

Was sourcing the images from different decades an arduous process?

Krippahne: We worked hard on this film, but I expected it to take much more time. Turns out you don't have to dig very deep to find a plethora of police brutality from any era in American history.

Who's the target audience, and what's the goal of the film?

Krippahne: At first, the target was anybody not speaking out against racism. But as time passed, we started to notice a drop in people showing up to protests, and people slowly getting back to posting regular content on social media. We were even reading articles about corporations and influencers hopping on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon, while it was still "relevant." That's when we discussed finessing our end line to "Join the movement, not the moment"—to speak more directly to people taking their foot off the gas pedal. We really just want to light a fire under people to keep fighting.

Justin Joo: I want to talk to people out there who are silent, and people whose privilege protects them from having to confront this issue. It's time to wake up. Educate yourself and do something to make a change. I hope when they see the film they question their stubborn ways, confront their privilege and understand that white people need to start carrying this burden. I hope they go out and protest, or donate, vote, speak out—or all of the above.

How did your personal experiences inform the film and your views on racial justice?

Krippahne: I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in New Jersey, so I've heard some baffling things recently from people in my life trying to discredit this movement. I wanted to make something that would open their eyes, because I was sick of arguments not going anywhere.

Joo: I'm a first-generation Korean American, born in Queens and raised in Jersey. Coming from the Asian community, where people don't really speak up at all, the phrase "Silence Is Violence" really resonated with me. This isn't my first year protesting or rallying, but this is the first time I felt a real emphasis on allies—the importance of minorities and white people coming together to support the Black community. And I wanted to make sure I could represent the Asian community by showing up, speaking out and using my words for justice.

Do you think we'll see meaningful police reforms? Is this a tipping point in the war against racial violence and systemic racism?

Joo: That's really an awkward question for me to answer. I'll defer to Alex (see below). The optimist in me says change will come. The energy is powerful. But we all need to keep the momentum going. Activists like MLK didn't protest for one weekend, put it on Instagram, and call it a day. He had stamina; we need the same. A great first step would be defunding police, because what we have now is not working. I also want to encourage people to listen to Black people. Look to them to lead the movement.

Alex Brueggeman: For the first time in this country's history, and indeed the larger world, white people and people of privilege are confronting what it means to be white and privileged—whether they want to or not. They're having discussions among themselves about how to be allies, how to confront these systems, and how their privilege has directly or indirectly led to the deaths and disadvantagement of Black people. There's a lot of hope in that. They are taking responsibility, listening.

But the foundations of this country are based on a racial hierarchy that has seeped into every aspect of our society and culture. This is an inherently racist country, and it's going to take a lot more fighting, protests, pain and effort to make a dent in a centuries-old system. Black folks have been conditioned to take a lot of these gestures of change with a grain of salt. But as long as the people in power are held accountable and allies keep fighting alongside us, there's reason to be optimistic.


Creative Leads: Jon Krippahne & Justin Joo
Editor: Stephania Dulowski
Historical Consultant: Alex Brueggeman
Researchers: Chris Stadler & marie Ribieras
Music: Black Man In A White World by Michael Kwanuka

Disclaimer: The makers of the film do not claim to own the rights to any images, footage or music.

David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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