Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, July 18, 2018

SOC professors make documentary on mixed race

AU faculty traveled the country to discover what it means to be biracial

SOC professors make documentary on mixed race

SOC professors Caty Borum Chattoo and Leena Jayaswal made a documentary about the experience of being of mixed race in the U.S. titled "Mixed."

AU professors Caty Borum Chattoo and Leena Jayaswal set out across the country to create a documentary about the experience of being biracial in America to commemorate 50 years since the Supreme Court decision of Loving vs. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage. The documentary is called “Mixed.”

Neither Borum Chattoo or Jayaswal are biracial; but as parents of biracial children, their experience is unique. Jayaswal, who is of South Asian heritage and is married to a white man, said that biracial children may “fluctuate in their identity,” sometimes seeing themselves as part of one race and other times as coming from multiple races. Borum Chattoo, who is a white woman married to a black man, has her own unique word to reference her children’s biraciality.

Talking to her son Ellias whom she called “E,” Borum Chattoo said, “In our family we call you guys ‘swirls.'”

When the two started production on the film back in 2013, they did not plan on playing roles in the documentary. They planned on talking to experts, authors and filmmakers to learn what it is like to be mixed race, Jayaswal said.

“And every step of the way, when we talked to friends, to colleagues, to mentors, everybody asked us like, ‘well, why are you making this film?’” she said.

Jayaswal said she would commonly tell people she was making the film because her children are biracial, to which people would respond, “why weren’t you in it?” Though Borum Chattoo and Jayaswal didn’t initially consider the idea of being in the film, they recognized that as parents of biracial children, they too were part of the conversation.

While Borum Chattoo said that the film will not be entirely about race. she hopes that “Mixed” will serve as a “door opener” because people aren’t comfortable about the subject of race. The two said that part of the benefit of being on camera is that they can make mistakes and help people who aren’t biracial feel welcomed into the conversation.

“Our project is not about race full stop, but it is in the backdrop of a non-post-racial moment,” Borum Chattoo said.

During the creation of the documentary, the duo traveled from New York to Oregon, gathering stories from the first legally married interracial couple to 12-year-olds.

“Every time we turn around and we think we’re done, another fantastic story gets thrown into our lap,” Jayaswal said.

For Jayaswal, the best story they came across were the “Blasian Narratives,” stories of mixed race identity from young people who are both black and Asian.

“To see them on that level so ready to take on these issues, I just fell in love with them,” Jayaswal said about the “Blasian Narratives,” which have been made into a “Docu-Theatre.”

Borum Chattoo spoke about a time where she gave a talk at a college with Jayaswal about biracial identity, leading to a student writing a powerful reflection.

“A young man who’s an undergraduate wrote a beautiful reflection piece on watching us talk about what he said was his story,” Borum Chattoo said. “And he said he cried when he watched it because it was one of the first times someone was endeavoring to tell a story of his experience.”

When the film is finished, Jayaswal would like “Mixed” to be broadcast nationally and go on a screening tour with characters from the film.

“We want schools to want to screen it, like middle schools and high schools,” Borum Chattoo said.

She says that it is important for young biracial people to see themselves reflected in society, considering that the year 2000 marked the first census where people could list themselves as biracial.

“For young college students and beyond, we really hope that we get this right so that they’ll see themselves reflected,” Borum Chattoo said.

jbergman@theeagleonline.com


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