“Southern Rites” highlights the entrenched racial divides and vestiges of racism that stubbornly persist in Montgomery County, Ga. The film follows filmmaker Gillian Laub as she returns to Mount Vernon, where she once photographed the town’s segregated proms. When her pictures were published in 2009, they garnered national attention, bringing the area unwanted notoriety. Although the proms are now integrated — the film visits the town one year after their merger — the community continues to grapple with issues of race, as amply evidenced by the repercussions that occur when a white town resident is charged with the murder of a young black man. The case sharply divides locals, and the ensuing plea bargain and sentencing uncover difficult truths and produce emotional revelations. As the divisive case unfolds, Laub also chronicles the campaign of Police Chief Calvin Burns to become Montgomery County’s first black sheriff. “Southern Rites” features revealing interviews with people involved in the two stories, who offer complex reflections on how well-worn racial lines may have informed the outcome of both events. “Southern Rites” is the directorial debut of Laub, a celebrated visual artist whose photographs have appeared in Time and the New Yorker.
Film CategoryLeon & Mary Strauss Documentary Spotlight Mean Streets: Viewing the Divided City Through the Lens of Film and Television Race in America: The Black Experience Women in Film Spotlight
Mean Streets is a program of The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative. With the support of the Mellon Foundation, Washington U.’s Center for the Humanities, in partnership with the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design, is engaged in a four-year initiative called The Divided City, which addresses one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies: segregation.