Film Review: The Color of Fear (1994)

The cover, in black and white, for the film. Four shirtless men are standing closely together. In the foregrounded left is an Asian man facing the Black man on the right, who is looking straight back. Behind them, both looking at the viewer, are a white man (left) and a Latino man (right). Bottom left text: a film by Lee Mun Wah. Bottom right text: The Color of Fear 1.

Over the last year I’ve been trying to double down on myself, making an effort to unlearn racist practices, to become a true anti-racist. How could I not? How could anyone not? I’ll leave it at those two questions (for now). With all the resources and information we have out there, particularly reading materials—this is a literary modcast/blog, after all—there’s really no excuse to be ignorant.

A brief list of the resources I have recently taken advantage of: Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Andrés Reséndez’s The Other Slavery, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, decolonization theories (I particularly recommend “Decolonization is not a metaphor” by E. Tuck and K.W. Yang), and an intensive online course (Whiteness, Race, and Social Justice) by The School of Inclusion + Activism.

And now we come to my latest acquisition of knowledge: The Color of Fear.

This documentary by Lee Mun Wah, running at about 90 minutes, gathers eight men for a weekend to hold an intense and candid dialog concerning race relations in the United States. This group is comprised of two Asian men (David L. and Yutaka), two Black men (Loren and Victor), two Latino men (Hugh and Roberto), and two white men (David C. and Gordon).

I want to focus particularly on David C.

Over the course of the documentary, I kept getting frustrated, even angry, with his refusal to actually listen to the experiences. He would interrupt the other men as they were speaking, and continually demean and deny their anecdotes and observations. David C. used words like “unfounded,” especially when the other men confessed their fears. He would say “you people,” “your people,” in the same breath he used to claim that he saw everyone, every race, as equal. I wanted to rip my own face off every time he opened his mouth.

But I find myself forced to reflect on my feelings about David C.

I used to be David C.

I remember the times when I asked the same questions he asked, when I made sure my Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color (BIPOC) friends knew that I considered us to “stand on level ground together,” completely oblivious to anyone’s feelings but my own. Very cringe, eh?

But I do appreciate that David C. comes around in the end, with white tears aplenty—he was having a breakthrough, an emotional reckoning and reconciliation of his own past and complicity. Admitting you have a problem is only the first step, and I sincerely hope that he continued on his antiracist journey.

Quick aside: At about 13 mins in, pay attention to David C.’s leg. You just might catch a glimpse of an insect crawling upwards–a cousin of Pence’s fly, perhaps?

For those of you interested in this documentary, I strongly encourage you to rent/purchase from StirFry here. If money is an issue—things are definitely tight for many people, no worries—the film is auto-craptioned on YouTube here. (If more hearing people will leave comments asking for/demanding accurate captions, deaf people will be able to benefit from this free resource as well, hint hint.)

-Leigh Ann


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We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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