The conversation surrounding affirmative action and the passage of Proposal 2 is far from over, according to School of Art and Design alum Russell Stewart.
Stewart is in the process of editing, directing and producing a documentary that he says will objectively present opposing views on affirmative action. The documentary focuses on the effects of Proposal 2 – a ballot initiative that banned affirmative action at public institutions in Michigan last fall – and California’s Proposition 209.
Proposal 2 was modeled after Proposition 209, which eliminated affirmative action programs in California when it passed in 1996. University of California Regent Ward Connerly spearheaded Proposition 209 and then directed his anti-affirmative action efforts toward Michigan.
Stewart said he hopes to generate discussion on the effects the ballot initiatives have on college campuses and the country in general.
“The premise is to get everything out on the table because we have an issue with (Proposal 2) on both sides, and on both sides we have a mission to educate,” Stewart said.
Stewart declined to give his personal stance on affirmative action, saying that he wants to let the documentary speak for itself.
The film, titled “Separate but Equal,” will feature interviews with high school and college students, lawyers, college administrators and activists on the subjects of education and admissions reform.
Stewart spent much of this summer shooting in Los Angeles. He said people there were enthusiastic to be interviewed because there has been a “dramatic and huge” effect on California after Proposition 209.
“The phone rang off the hook,” Stewart said.
Stewart said he hopes to screen the documentary at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts sometime in January, but a date has not been set.
Larry Baranski, the associate curator for the DIA’s Department of Film and Theatre, has yet to see the film, but said he believes a screening in the 1,100-seat theatre will allow for a large-scale discussion.
“Particularly after showing something controversial, after the lights come back on the audience erupts in conversation,” he said.
Rachael Tanner, a University alum who campaigned against Proposal 2 as a leader of Students Supporting Affirmative Action, supports Stewart’s goal.
“If he is able to produce the type of film he hopes, his success in creating a conversation around the topic of education, particularly disparities in education along racial and gender lines will depend upon his ability to reach a wide and varied audience,” Tanner said in an e-mail interview.
The Michigan State University chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, a right-wing group that vocally supported Proposal 2, declined to be interviewed by Stewart. Kyle Bristow, the group’s chairman, said the group refused the interview after finding out that some people working on the film had worked against Proposal 2.
Stewart said his film needs more commentary from people against affirmative action.
Stewart said the only anti-affirmative action rhetoric in his the film is video footage of Connerly debating David Strauss, the dean of students at Wayne State University.
Many of the people helping produce the documentary have ties to the University of Michigan.
The executive producer of the documentary, Stashu Kybartas, is a lecturer in the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University. Colleen Cox, a senior in the School of Art and Design, is co-producing the film.