Filmmaker Kevin Williams' documentary explores the relationship between African-Americans and the GOP.
(Photo: Shamrock Stine Productions)
Fear of a Black Republican is the brainchild of Kevin Williams, a white Republican who has spent his life in Trenton, New Jersey. It was precipitated by an encounter with a county party chairman who scoffed at the idea that trying to get African-American votes in the majority-Black city would yield any success. The response made him wonder whether the Republican Party truly wanted to expand the base.
Williams and his wife financed the film, which explores the party's history with African-Americans. Williams interviewed Republican leaders, including former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, 2012 GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and former U.S. Sen. Ed Brooke, who is African-American. He also spoke with liberals like Tavis Smiley, Cornel West and other political observers and participants around the nation about how serious the party is about attracting African-American and other minority voters.
Here Williams talks to BET.com about responses to the film and whether he thinks the GOP is all talk and no action.
BET.com: Are people surprised to learn that you're not African-American?
Williams: As far as the audience and people online and on social media, no. But when we've done screenings around the country, some of the Black newspapers we contacted would be very interested in the film and then maybe a week before the screening the interest would cool. So, I don't know if we're any less interesting because we're not Black, but that's been the only reaction.
BET.com: Why did you want to make this documentary?
Williams: We live in a Northeastern city that is predominantly African-American [who make up the] Democratic majority. The Republican Party is barely a factor. And we wanted to find out if there's a connection between a city such as ours and why it seems to get in worse shape in terms of living conditions, unemployment, crime etc. You have to have a viable, two-party system. To me, that's the only way to have a great, functioning republic or democracy in cities and urban areas and we all deserve to have that.
BET.com: What did you hope to accomplish with the film?
Williams: The first thing is to make a good film. Once we were nearer to achieving that goal, we hoped the film would help introduce a conversation or get a conversation started between two people — Republican, Democrat, Black, white, Latino.
BET.com: Who would you say your target audience is?
Williams: I would say probably an urban audience, folks who are probably independent or maybe steering right or left but aren't hard-core partisan on either side. The response has [mostly] played out that way. But we do get folks who — on the hard right — who complain that the film is negative and doesn't present hard-core solutions. On the left, people complain that we bash Democrats.
BET.com: What responses surprise you when you pose the question of whether the Republican Party generally wants Black members?
Williams: What surprised me most at screenings is how many Republicans after seeing a poster or the name of the film automatically assume, "Well why wouldn't you think that we'd want Black people in our party?" We were really surprised at the depth of how they don't understand that a lot of people in the Black community actually do feel that way. I think our film is an awakening.
BET.com: What's your opinion?
Williams: Many Republicans, particularly ones who are older, have never been asked to really consider that. They may say at a convention, "We're for everybody. We want every vote to count." They may say, "We want African-Americans and minorities in our party." But the party's never really taken the financial or logistical steps to make that happen.
BET.com: Since you started this project, the Republican Party has been very public about wanting to expand the base.
Williams: Until we really start seeing them in urban America, I don't see much changing. It may not be easy the first couple of questions or the first 25 or 20 minutes. Are they willing to stick it out, stay for a few hours, hear what people have to say before they respond and tell them why we haven't been there in the past? Are they going to come back two and three times and make sure that the local candidates come and will the state and county parties spend money and resources to actually knock on these folks' doors, talk to them and explain their positions?
That’s where a lot of African-American and Latino conservatives who live in urban areas are very concerned that the rubber won't meet the road on that. I hope I'm wrong because if there's any point in American history where we need the GOP to start coming into urban areas, whether the people vote for them or not, it's now.
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