A DERRY filmmaker has released a new documentary which delves into the dark underworld of white supremacy in America.
The latest in a series of thought-provoking documentaries, Director Guy King’s, A Black and White Killing, has aired on BBC. It explores race relations in America by looking closely at a case that shocked the country.
In 2016, CCTV footage showed young black man, Larnell Bruce, being run over and killed by Russell Courtier, who was a member of a white supremacist gang. Journalist Mobeen Azhar travelled deep into the heart of America’s far right movement to find out more.
Guy shared his thoughts on the project: “I’ve just directed a two-part series called A Black and White Killing: The Case that Shook America, which follows a talented young Muslim journalist Mobeen Azhar to Portland as he enters a secret world of violent white supremacy.
“We follow the trial of Russell Courtier, a white supremacist facing murder and race hate charges, and his girlfriend Colleen Hunt, who is alleged to have egged him on by shouting ‘get him baby’ as he drove his Jeep into a young black man outside a convenience store.”
Speaking about the rise of right-wing groups, Guy said: “During the trial, we saw billboards that warned of 21 white supremacist groups in Oregon. And as we toured the state, we met men in gangs called Aryan Family and European Kindred (which derive from the original prison gang Aryan Brotherhood that started in the 1960s in California). Now there are gangs in Oregon called Aryan Knights, Aryan Soldiers, Aryan Crime Syndicate, Supreme White Aryan Knights and even a white supremacist gang called Irish Pride.
“Initially men join white supremacist gangs in prison for their own protection but as time goes on, they become conditioned with racist ideologies, which they carry back onto the streets. It was striking how many of them talked about the love they had for their brothers in their gang: these guys had often grown up in care or been kicked out of mainstream schools, and they admitted that they were looking for love, looking for a family. But the gangs demand violence in return for loyalty, and punish disloyalty with violence.”
In the course of making the film they found a prison with progressive polices that seeks to break this cycle of violence. Airway Heights in Washington State provides an environment where men who want to escape gangs live side-by-side with other races.
In a non-violent atmosphere with group therapy, the men begin to break down their racist thoughts. “This is perhaps typical of America: it faces some of the worst social issues, but also finds some of the most progressive solutions,” he added.
Guy has directed and produced numerous documentaries, half of which have been filmed in Northern Ireland. Two Derry brothers, Kieron and Gareth Simpson, were the focus of The Job Hunt and 102-year-old Strabane man Paddy Gillespie, who sadly passed away this week, featured in Border Country.
Guy grew up in Hatmore Park. He has lived in London for about 20 years but still calls Derry home. “I come back as much as I can as my best friends are here. When the schools break up, my ten-year-old daughter says we have to go straight to Ireland because we spent a year here when she was three and she likes seeing her old friends too. Over the years I’ve also been lucky to find films to make here: Love & Death in City Hall, I Love Larne, My Injured Brain, The Fishing Trip, The Job Hunt and Border Country.
“When I’m home I stay in the same bedroom I grew up in – it has bright yellow walls, a Nelson Mandela photograph and little wooden writing desk. Before Derry, we lived next to the post office in a small village called Glenarm, and I loved writing letters from that desk and sending them out into the big exciting world that existed somewhere past Ballymena: whether it was to a pen-pal or a stamp club, or something exciting like that. I think it was curiosity that took me into making documentaries eventually.“
An interest in filmmaking blossomed after watching an American documentary about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which had a hip-hop soundtrack by Mos Def. Guy thought it was a great way to highlight important issues. He Google searched ‘documentary-making’, up popped an advert for Sheffield Docfest and there he found a BBC work placement.
Around the same time, he made a ten-minute film about his friend’s Uncle Seamus, originally from Creggan but then living in Nottingham, who was taking his three sons to a music festival to let them run wild. He expanded: “We called it Elvis is in the Van: A Short Film About Freedom. That was a weekend to remember. I didn’t know how to use the video camera but it didn’t seem to matter because we were all just making a film together. It was exciting and I couldn’t believe that you could do this for a job.
“Another thing that helped get me started was the advice of a friend: I think I was bending his ear when he said I should stop talking about it and just do it. Some great films are now being made on video phones so it’s easy to give it a go. I once met a man at a pelican crossing in Scotland and asked if I could film him. He was carrying an orange bucket and I was curious. He replied ‘no bother mate’ which revealed that he was from Belfast. I filmed him walking down the street and into a friend’s house to do some grouting. It became a three-minute film about capitalism and companionship called Man With An Orange Bucket.”
Some of Guy’s best filming experiences have been in Derry with the Simpson brothers, Kathleen Gillespie and Anne Walker (Border Country). He said: “After Derry people suss you out and decide to trust you, they really speak from the heart. I also loved spending time with the 102-year-old Paddy Gillespie, Strabane’s favourite son, who sadly passed away this week.
“I’d like to make more films in Ireland: maybe something about Mobuoy dump, the Sperrins gold or the young people living on the outskirts of the city. If anyone is interested in getting started in film, I’d be happy to chat with them – Garrett can put you in touch ([email protected]).”
A Black and White Killing: The Case that Shook America is available on BBC iPlayer for the next month.
Photo: Derry man Guy King filming an interview between Journalist, Mobeen Azhar, and a prisoner in his latest documentary.
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email [email protected] or [email protected] at any time.