Last week I was in Branson, MO for a much, MUCH needed restful vacation with the family. I brought along my gear just in case I felt inspired to shoot something. I originally thought that since Branson was in Missouri, it would be considered part of the Midwest. Aside from the slightly Fargo-ish accent of the woman at the front desk of the place where we stayed, Branson is actually very southern. (It think it’s due to its proximity to AR.) As you drive down the main strip along Highway 76, all the signs for country singers and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede restaurant pretty much seal the deal. But what caught my attention the most was the Dixie Outfitters store. Their display window had wall-to-wall Confederate flags and related memorabilia. All I could think was “What the…?!” I didn’t actually THINK the f-bomb, but I got pretty darn close.
As an African-American, I must admit that the sight of a Confederate flag makes me uneasy. I know there are some who say there’s a lot more history and tradition behind it than just the slave trade, but it nonetheless creeps me out when I even get close to one. (Did I ever tell you about the time I was a real estate appraiser in San Jose, CA shooting pictures of comps in the Santa Cruz mountains and stumbled upon a home out in the middle of nowhere flying a huge Confederate flag over head. It’s one thing to see one in the south. But, when you see one flying high and proud in one of the most liberal areas of California, you gotta wonder. Anyway, I digress).
I don’t know why, but the filmmaker in me was calling me to go into the store and ask the owner to do a short film documentary. I wanted to interview him and get a perspective on this provocative flag that I may never have had. Do I really need to be as freaked out about it has I always have in the past? Besides, how interesting and provocative it would have been for an African-America filmmaker to do a doc about a Confederate flag-waving memorabilia store?
Alas, I chickened out. I drove by the store again and took a look inside at the guy behind the counter. He kinda looked like someone you’d see on the back of a Harley. I just couldn’t get the guts to go in and ask.
Part of me was saying, “Come on Ron. What do you think is going to happen? It’s the middle of the day for crying out loud!” But then I kept thinking of that scene in “Pulp Fiction.” You know the one. Where Marsalis Wallace and Butch are duking it out and fall into the lobby of Zed’s store. You remember what happened next don’t you? Well, THAT was in the middle of the day too.
Steven Pressfield writes in The War of Art, “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” I don’t know if going in and interviewing the owner of this store can be considered a “calling,” but I do know that the filmmaker in me was speaking loud. I do know that issues of race relations greatly interest me. As far as we’ve come, I think there’s still a lot of healing needed in this country. So, chances are the fear I had to go into that store was one I should have faced.
So, what do you do when you give in to your fear? I asked my wife if I will go through life now regretting not taking the opportunity to do something daring in my filmmaking. Did Spike Lee let threats from the Nation of Islam stop him from making “Malcolm X”? Did Scorsese let negative feedback from the Catholic church stop him from making “Last Temptation of Christ”? I can’t say this little documentary would have been as “important” as these. But then again, who knows. Anyway, what she told me was “No. Let this just be a lesson for the next time you’re faced with a similar situation.”
After reading Dixie Outfitter’s Mission Statement, I was even more disappointed I didn’t go in. I may have been less afraid had I read it then. I can’t say their statement changes my feelings about the flag. Regardless of whether the “War of Southern Independence” (aka the Civil War) was over taxes or not, the flag still represents a country that wanted to keep its way of life, one of those being the enslavement of African Americans. And for 100+ years AFTER that war, African Americans in the south still had to deal with Jim Crow and segregation. Organizations like the KKK embraced that flag. So, maybe it’s “guilt by association,” but you can’t just explain all that away with statements about pride and heritage.
Think about it. Technically, the history behind the swastika pre-dates Nazi Germany to Pakistan, Buddhist and even native American cultures. But I don’t see any of them posting that ominous cross all over their temples and buildings. I think that’s in part because for whatever it used to mean, in the western world, it has a much different meaning now.
Maybe one day I’ll go back and face that fear and make that documentary. Maybe I’ll incorporate it into the race documentary I’m working on now. We shall see.
Have you ever gone up against a fear only to have it beat you? How did YOU over come it? What lessons did you learn?