“What happened is that the world changed in the last 18 months,” said Abby Ginzberg, the co-director and co-producer of the new documentary, “Agent of Change,” in a recent phone interview. “Between Black Lives Matter and college campuses really reacting and having their own demonstrations, it became another activist moment. It connected the story we were telling to the present, and it totally transformed the film.”

The documentary “Agents of Change” looks at the untold story of the struggle for a more meaningful education for Black students on college campuses nationwide in the late 1960s. Ginzberg and her co-director and co-producer, Frank Dawson, were on the campus of Cornell University during a pivotal moment in the movement to expose racism in higher education — a 1969 takeover of a campus building by Black students in protest of recent discriminatory events. They joined forces to create a film documenting the experiences they had and witnessed during the demonstrations.

“The film’s characters were caught at the crossroads of the civil rights, Black power and anti-Vietnam war movements at a pivotal time in America’s history,” Ginzberg said. “Today, over 45 years later, many of the same demands are surfacing in campus protests across the country, revealing how much work remains to be done.”

Ginzberg asserted that the experiences of the characters in the film were not unique to Cornell or San Francisco State University — demonstrations and demands for more Black students and professors took place at colleges across the country. She and Dawson felt the need to tell the story through the film because of its lack of representation in the media and in history as a whole.

“I don’t know why the story hadn’t been told before,” Ginzberg said. “Each generation finds something in the generation that preceded it that needs to be told, and it hasn’t been told as well as it should have. There are blackouts throughout incredible parts of American history. I think this is just one example of it.”

The film aims to inspire its collegiate audiences to look at the representation of their own schools and consider the racial dynamics of the classrooms and the dearth of spaces for people of color. Ginzberg said she thinks the film especially has the potential to create open dialogue because of the partnership of herself and Dawson, as a white woman and a Black man.

“We reflect different aspects of what the struggle was like, at this case in Cornell. The reason San Francisco State and Cornell were successful was that, over time, they were supported by a majority of white students,” Ginzberg said. “Down the road, there was an alliance between the majority of the white students and the demands of the Black students. That story is told visually in the film, and I think that’s an important aspect to this.”

The film’s ability to start a conversation after it’s over is also contingent on the group of people. Ginzberg emphasized the necessity to have both Black and white students, faculty and administrators committed to the issue to have a productive dialogue and facilitate change on a larger scale.

“We want all people who care about issues of race on campus. It’s been important that we have representations from across the campus present at every screening because the film evokes a dialogue,” Ginzberg said. “We’re hopeful that the film begins a dialogue that can continue long after the film screening is over. The film is designed to link up with the struggles that are taking place today, even though on each campus, it’s a different story.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.