Saturday, June 15, 2024

Liz Whittemore on BLACK TABLE (2024) Tribeca 2024

This piece originally ran at Liz's regular home REEL NEWS DAILY

Yale’s Class of 97′ boasted the largest admission of black students in the university’s history. Filmmakers John Antonio James and Bill Mack bring Tribeca 2024 BLACK TABLE, a documentary that delves into the complexities of learning, thriving, and simply existing within a predominantly white Ivy environment and beyond.

The documentary interviews an array of graduates from the 90s. Each comes from a different background, but in almost every admission story, parental involvement plays a vital role in communicating with guidance counselors.

As the spouse of a Yale School of Management ’13 grad and president of The SOM Partners Club during our time in New Haven, hearing The Whiffenpoofs sing is a nostalgic sensory memory. To no one’s surprise, we are both white. The reality for the featured alum evokes vastly different experiences, particularly their introduction to the environment. One thing they all had in common is that each individual had their validity and accomplishments relentlessly challenged.

Commons is the university’s overwhelmingly beautiful dining hall. Everyone who sees it likens it to something straight out of Harry Potter. Our alums describe making room for other black students, thus creating a safe space for their community, sometimes pushing tables together to grow the joy and share their daily knowledge and experiences. It is described as black excellence training for their time on Yale’s campus.

BLACK_TABLE-Clean-02 Tribeca 2024There is no escaping the discussion of Affirmation Action, and filmmakers fully understand it. We delve into the racist talking points that thrive today in diminishing accomplishments and a sense of belonging. An explosive incident at Naples forced Yale and its student body to confront the reality of being black on campus. Rodney King changed the name of the game from a student action standpoint. Then O.J. Simpson’s trial reignited cultural tension.

A fascinating conversation surrounds reasons not to sit at the black table. Alums discuss that perhaps the table hindered their growth, their fear of branching out, and the ensuing judgment from their black peers. It is a complicated conversation that continues with their children.

The photos from the alums are storytelling gold. When friends get together in 2022, they break down their college experiences, childhoods, and ancestral wisdom. One statement from the film succinctly tackles the overall message: “Even if it were affirmative action that got you here, affirmative action is not keeping you here.” BLACK TABLE is a history lesson and a celebrated tour through years of black excellence.

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