NKU professor and students film documentary on hate crime

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and Northern Kentucky University professor Rachel Lyon has been working on a documentary about hate crime events in Tulsa, Okla. with the assistance of NKU students and other faculty.

“Tulsa: Hate Crime Capital?” will showcase two incidences of hate crimes in Tulsa and their similarities and differences. There will be footage from survivors, news reporters, police officers and others from the community in Tulsa.

“The documentary covers the story of a current hate crime that happened just this year in Tulsa where two white young men went into a black neighborhood, shot five people, killed three. And this story is set against the backdrop of Tulsa’s very dark history,” Lyon said.

Tulsa’s dark history began in 1921, when a race riot burned down the Black Wall Street district of Greenwood in Tulsa and destroyed 35 city blocks, killing 300 people and leaving more than 10,000 homeless. Although this was an attack on African Americans by white people, the event was never called a hate crime.

About 90 years later, there was another event that was an echo of the race riot. On April 6, 2012, two white men walked down the street of a predominantly African American neighborhood and shot randomly. The men are on trial for three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill. This was defined as a hate crime by the media.

“When I saw a hate crime had happened, currently, my mind immediately realized that there could be a great story syncing the two stories and making us all look differently at what would surely be a hate crime today. It would be ethnic cleansing today. It is so severe,” Lyon said.

According to Lyon, there was very little footage of the Black Wall Street riot. However, social media helped shape the April 6 riot by pointing out that one of the shooters had posted racial remarks on his Facebook page. The shooter posted racial slurs and many explicates on the day of the shooting. Also, the community used social media to track down one of the shooters.

“In 1921, a few guys in a room could squelch the media on it and make it very small. That can’t happen now,” Lyon said.

In July, for the documentary, Lyon and a group of NKU students and faculty went to Tulsa to film and interview. Junior Taylor Harris, electronic media and broadcasting major, was one of the students that was there.

“I believe that NKU students and even faculty members should see this film because everyone needs to be educated about the horrifying history and current struggles that residents of Tulsa, Okla. face. Not many people know that the United States has such a dark and hidden history — this film is very informative and by simply becoming educated about the issues in Tulsa one may help the residents rebuild and move forward,” Harris said.

Lyon said they interviewed a survivor from the 1921 riot who watched white men burn her doll’s clothes. The woman’s story moved her.

“You can imagine being 4 or 5 years old, what would matter to you? Her grandmother had just made her beautiful doll’s clothes and they were hanging out on the line. And that was when she realized people hated her because she was black. She never thought that was possible before,” Lyon said.

Lyon has experience with documentaries and education. She has produced many documentaries, such as “Race to Execution,” “Juror Number Six,” “Shadow Over Tibet,” “The Glory and the Power” and the Emmy Award-winning Frontline program, “Men Who Molest.”

“I learned several important things while working for Professor Lyon; not only did I learn about the tragic history of Tulsa and their current struggles, I also learned how to start and manage a production — I basically had a crash course lesson about how to produce a movie. This experience has been wonderful and even life changing,” Harris said.

At NKU, Lyon is the artist in residence. Lyon’s role is to share her knowledge and skills to the college. Lyon said that she always includes as much as the NKU family as possible.

“The thing that has been great about this project for NKU is that we had NKU students and faculty working on the project. Research students have worked on it. On production, students and faculty have worked. So getting this incredible location and getting real professional level experience on a $1.98 budget has been fantastic for the students that have done it,” Lyon said.

“This is an experience that I will never forget, it has opened my world and for that I am grateful,” Harris said.

On Nov. 28, NKU will host a presentation called “Hate Crime, Social Media and Justice” in the Griffin Hall’s Digitorium to preview the documentary. There will be a screening and discussion.