The relationships between Blacks and Whites during segregation is often studied, but a new documentary shows race relations as another group of people affected as well.
The film “Blurring the Color Line: Chinese in the Segregated South” highlights race relations between the Whites, Blacks and Chinese Americans in Augusta, Ga., during a pivotal time in American history.
The documentary follows the filmmaker Crystal Kwok on her journey to learn more about her grandmother Pearl’s family living in the Deep South. It begins by posing questions like, “If the Blacks had to sit in the back [of the bus] and whites in the front, where did the Chinese sit?”
The film chronicles Kwok’s journey of finding out more about her Grandmother’s family in Augusta and the racial climate of the city in the 20th Century.
[The film] disrupts the Black and white narrative that we always see – and continue to see,” Kwok said.
When the Augusta Canal was built in 1845, people from many countries, including China immigrated to the town to help with the construction.
Kwok’s family immigrated with a merchant class of Chinese families shortly before World World I and opened grocery stores in the predominantly Black community.
“When they came in [the Black community] needed commissaries. They needed grocery mercantile supplies when they didn’t have access to many of the other larger grocery stores,” Kwok said.
During her research, Kwok found out that some secrets that were kept hidden until recently.
She knew that her grandmother ran away from Augusta when she was a teen.
She also found out another secret regarding her Great-Aunt Barbara. After her decision to marry a Black man, they ran away to Biloxi, Miss to start their family. Kwok looked into her aunt’s life and met her daughter, also Kwok’s cousin, for the first time.
“I grew up thinking I did my family tree information and nobody mentioned that I had a cousin who was half Black and half Chinese because our family pushed that under the rug,” Kwok said. “Nobody ever mentioned my Aunt Barbara just because she married a Black man was something that was more troubling and more revealing.”
When Kwok began filming, she asked Daniel Wu, a famous actor in Hong Kong, to be the Executive Producer. When he accepted, he asked his friends, journalist Lisa Ling and comedian W. Kamau Bell if they wanted to join the project. Both of them discuss race relations in the U.S. in their work and knew that the film would be a great way to continue that conversation.
Kwok knows that this film disrupts the American history that we were taught in school and brings attention to the fact that this is not a “Black and White” world.
She encourages viewers to look within the cultures like bi-racial marriages and that her Aunt Barbara marrying an African American man is the reason for her exile from the family.
“It’s not trying to make things more ambiguous but to look into the in-between spaces that actually reveal a deeper history or knowledge of things that slipped through the cracks of history,” Kwok said.
She is excited for the film to premiere on Public Broadcasting Stations across the country and hopes viewers will appreciate her storytelling.
“Hopefully people will appreciate that we need to tell these types of stories, to disrupt those older narratives and to make us open up a deeper way of understanding or relearning our histories,” Kwok said.
“Blurring the Color Line: Chinese in the Segregated South” will broadcast on PBS on May 25 and will be available on the PBS app then until June 24.
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