Talk of Black citizens finally receiving reparations is only growing louder across the United States, and soon will be the focus of conversation on the big screen.
The documentary The Big Payback is highlighting those exact efforts taking place in Evanston, Illinois. The city with a population of more than 70,000 residents — roughly 16 percent are Black — became the first U.S. city to implement a program to issue reparations to its Black residents last March.
The local City Council established a fund to issue payments in the amount of $25,000 to eligible households with the stipulation that money be used to make home repairs or a property down payment. The issuance of payments began this year.
The documentary is co-directed by Whitney Dow and “Living Single” actress Erika Alexander. It premiered during the second week of the Tribeca Film Festival, and again was screened on Juneteenth at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.
“There’s a big local reparations movement, and what that allows is, it allows individual communities to actually come to terms with the concept in their own way,” said Dow. The film runs 88-minutes and heavily highlights former politician Rue Simmons journey to get legislation supporting reparations passed. Simmons is also the founder of non-profit FirstRepair which helps other municipalities advance reparation efforts across the country.
Also highlighted in the documentary is Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas, 18th District) who for more than three decades has lead a charge to have reparations research federally funded in order to create a national program.
Alexander said it is no coincidence that the documentary focuses on two Black women in the push for reparations.
“What I am is a witness to watching other people do it,” Alexander said of researching the reparations movement. In the U.S., Native Americans and Japanese Americans subjected to interment camps during World War II have been granted funds; so in theory, it would not be an impossible feat to issue reparations at a federal level to eligible Black citizens. “We’re asking the U.S. government to redress it and so that stands not in proxy, it is the thing that oppressed. It is this systemic thing.”
The actress continued, “There is no end to this. You just have to keep going. This is your leg of the race. It’s a relay race. Harriet Tubman tossed it to other people, John Brown tossed it. We take our mandate, you run as far as you can and do the best you can.”
Last year California also made history when it announced a nine member task force had been created in an effort to seek resolutions to systemic racism, and attempt to quantify a compensation amount for reparations.