A Reckoning in Boston
In prosperous and progressive Boston, what keeps the gap between rich and poor, white and Black, so glaringly wide?
Directed by James Rutenbeck
Produced by Carl Chandler, Kafi Dixon, James Rutenbeck
Executive Producers: Llewellyn Smith, Anne Marie Stein
Editor: James Rutenbeck
Directors of Photography: Allie Humenuk, P.H. O'Brien
Written by: James Rutenbeck
Music: Nate May
Executive Producer for Independent Lens: Lois Vossen
Kafi Dixon dreams of starting a land cooperative for women of color who have experienced trauma and disenfranchisement in the city of Boston. By day she drives a city bus. At night she is enrolled in the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a tuition-free college-level program for those who have experienced homelessness, transitioned out of incarceration, or faced barriers to a college education. Her classmate Carl Chandler, a community elder, is the class's intellectual leader.
"A must-see for anyone that wants to understand how white privilege and racism work." Randy Albelda, Prof. Emeritus, Economics, UMass-Boston
White suburban filmmaker James Rutenbeck documents the students' engagement with the humanities. As he looks for transformations in their lives, he's awakened to the violence, racism and gentrification that threaten their very place in the city. Troubled by his failure to bring the film together, he enlists Kafi and Carl as collaborators. Five years later the students arrive at a new place, and with their support, James does too.
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2022
Copyright Date: 2020
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-74-7
"A superb examination of our city's inbred racial inequities that tackles the subject on both the systemic/structural level and the deeply personal...An absolute must see, especially for white audiences who think they know their hometown."
Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
"This is more than a documentary. Through a masterful combination of personal stories and observations of institutional gatekeeping, the film shows the profound effects of racism, class divides and unbridled urban capitalism. Anyone who seeks to understand how opportunity and power are controlled in urban America, should see this film. Anyone who sees it, will witness human resilience that defies simple explanations and inspires faith in the possible."
Dr. Margaret Wilder, Executive Director, Urban Affairs Association
"A Reckoning in Boston is a powerful film that lays bare the transformative force of the humanities in our lives in these turbulent and troubling times."
Cornel West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary
"A Reckoning in Boston is a powerful story about a community coming to terms with social justice and equality in an age of rapid globalization and development. Drawing on a meaningful collaboration, the producers eloquently document the struggle to overcome racial injustices and create inclusive economic opportunities for all. Teachers, students, and residents alike will benefit from the film's engagement with the many challenges - and opportunities - that cities face in the twenty-first century."
Dr. Thomas Vicino, Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University, Author, Cities and Suburbs: New Metropolitan Realities in the US
"A Reckoning in Boston shows eloquently the daily struggles of ordinary Black and Brown folk in the face of racism, gentrification, displacement/evictions, and economic distress. The film shows how they have voice, agency, a sense of self-determination, and a deep and growing understanding that individual struggles for survival are not so individual but, in fact, are systemic issues. Viewers are left with an empowering message: People who are not part of the wealth and power structures must continue to demand and organize on behalf of their safe spaces in the face of tremendous odds."
James Jennings, Professor Emeritus of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University
"It is extraordinary. We were in tears. The depth and gentle insight on the part of the filmmaker and the protagonists takes us into their world in a revelatory way."
Sarah Buie, Professor Emerita of Visual and Performing Arts, Clark University
"Both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, A Reckoning in Boston documents the complex, interlocking systems of inequality that constrain the life chances of low-income people of color. By zeroing in on the lives of just a few compelling people, the film provides a vivid and moving complement to more abstract studies of systemic racism and its impacts on everyday lives."
Melissa Checker, Associate Professor of Urban Studies, Queens College CUNY, Author, The Sustainability Myth: Environmental Gentrification and the Politics of Justice
"This is a blistering portrait of race and the urban environment. A Reckoning in Boston dramatizes the many levels that white supremacy plays out both in individual lives and in the systems of a city, such as transit, housing, politics and place. By providing an important window into Boston's legacy of racial division and today's racial wealth divide, Reckoning also reveals the power of education, enduring ideas, facing our own privilege, and fearless community organizing to reshape communities."
Chuck Collins, Director, Program on Inequality and the Common Good, Institute for Policy Studies
"I am kind of blown away by it. I'm teaching a course on democracy and liberal education next semester...I almost certainly would like to include this film in the class."
Bob Taylor, Professor of Political Science, University of Vermont
"A Reckoning in Boston takes on major issues of class, gender and race in the city of Boston through the lens of two Black people in Dorchester. Issues of racism and gentrification, but also redemption, are given a uniquely personal form in this evocative, elegiac but ultimately hopeful depiction of two people making their way in the contemporary American city. A deeply personal account."
John Rennie Short, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Author, Geopolitics: Making Sense of a Changing World
"An extraordinary collaboration...A compelling film about hope, doubt, learning to trust, and learning community... It's a powerful documentary, one that those who create community and those who want to participate in that creation, should watch."
Rebecca Romani, Vanguard Culture
"Inspirational and challenging."
Jeremy Jones, The Riot Act
"A Reckoning in Boston is something that makes the young people of today want to wake up and fight for what is right...This type of issue is something that is not just happening in Boston but across the nation. Especially in urban underdeveloped neighborhoods. This documentary is heartbreaking but eye-opening. It was brilliant and gave the viewers a sense of hope and encouragement to find a way to help their neighbors out."
Imani Hill, The Suffolk Journal
"The story told in the film is one of 'understanding,' of an outsider learning about the true reality of life for many Bostonians."
Daniel Sheenan, Dorchester Reporter
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Awards and Festivals
Nationwide Broadcast on PBS's Independent Lens
Best Feature, Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Hamptons Doc Fest
Independent Film Festival of Boston
Woods Hole Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
Roxbury International Film Festival
BronzeLens Film Festival of Atlanta, Georgia
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... more Reviews
"I've been awakened, I've been set straight, by James Rutenbeck's new documentary, A Reckoning in Boston."
Gerald Peary, The Arts Fuse
"The film hit me harder the second time; once I knew the basic storyline, I could then listen more carefully, feel more deeply, and see things that I hadn't noticed in the first viewing. There are so many levels at which to experience the film."
Jane Feinberg, Full Frame Communications
"Go see A Reckoning in Boston. The film highlights why we need to think seriously about this mayoral candidate and city councilors and their stance on housing displacement and who has the right to space."
Saher Selod, Society for the Solution of Societal Problems
"This is an in-depth look at justice in the city of Boston and justice as it resides in the hearts of individuals facing poverty and systemic racism. Women, in particular, bear the brunt of insecurity in the areas of housing, food, education, and the trauma of losing loved ones to police brutality. The film examines how lives can be transformed through community engagement and self-discovery."
Michele Wakin, Professor of Sociology, Director of Center for Urban Poverty, Bridgewater State University, Author, Hobo Jungle: A Homeless Community in Paradise
"Through their life's journeys, the film's producers expose the mechanisms of the wide racial divide and its cumulative effects over time. A Reckoning in Boston hits home hard and is a must-see for anyone that wants to understand how white privilege and racism work."
Randy Albelda, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts Boston, Co-author, Unlevel Playing Fields: Understanding Wage Inequality and Wage Discrimination