The Changing Same, a 2018 short film directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, documents the annual thirteen-mile run that the poet Lamar Wilson takes in Marianna, Florida. The run commemorates a young man named Claude Neal, who, in 1934, suffered one of the most brutal instances of lynching ever recorded.
Together with director Jacqueline Olive’s Always in Season, The Changing Same was one of two films in this year’s Full Frame Documentary Festival that explored the silences that have traditionally surrounded lynching. These films address lynching as both a historical phenomenon and a present-day issue on the rise. At the festival, poet, journalist, and scholar Lamar Wilson spoke with the INDY about what made him start doing this run every year and his hopes for the film.
INDY: How did you come up with the idea for your yearly run?
LAMAR WILSON: The news had just come out that the case to establish who Neal’s murderers were was closed. For twenty-five years, Orlando Williams, his great-nephew, had been fighting to reopen the case. He finally succeeded, but, since nobody would go on record and speak about it, it was closed. My poem about Neal, “Resurrection Sunday,” had gained some notoriety, and I wanted to use that acclaim to bring attention to the appalling fact that the case had been closed. I had to do something. Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, a personal idol of mine, was a proponent of nonviolent action and civil disobedience, and he urged people to use their bodies to oppose injustice. I’ve always been a runner, so Rustin’s ideas inspired me to do this run around October 26, which is the anniversary of his death. As long as I can move my legs, I will be going back and running every year.
What effect are you hoping for the film to have on its audience?
We want the film to be a call to action. When I did the first run, I wore a T-shirt with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” We cannot be silent anymore. We must abandon the moral amnesia that makes us give a pass to people who say and do things deeply rooted in racism. At some point, we have to start using our positions, our money, our minds, and our bodies to initiate the process of atonement. Not only when I do my run, but every single day, I ask myself, “What am I doing to get in the way of white-supremacist violence?” I hope the film inspires others to do the same.
What is the significance of the title, The Changing Same?
It is named after an essay by Amiri Baraka about the blues tradition in America and its legacy. The essay expresses how poetry and blues songs are ways to transform the experience of the racialized violence used against African Americans in order to silence them. The title also speaks to the fact that we can’t keep on pretending that we’ve overcome this kind of violence. We have not let the past touch us, and we cannot let the past go until we let it touch us. Until we reach that moment, we are condemned to only repeat the same horrors—or look away as others enact them—year after year. Racism is a mental illness, and the violences it produces are a scourge undoing us, and all we say we hold true as Americans, from the inside out.
The Changing Same will be shown by PBS on July 22 as part of the new season of POV Shorts.
Correction: This post originally misspelled the surname of Claude Neal.
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