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'The Blackness Project' promotes understanding, dialogue

What do black people think about being black?

Buffalo filmmaker Korey Green and producer Pete Johnson asked lots of people that question, most of them in Buffalo.

The result is "The Blackness Project," an hourlong documentary in which African-Americans talk candidly about being black. The film will debut during Black History Month at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at Burchfield Penney Art Center (1300 Elmwood Ave.).

"Normally my films are focused on dynamic acting, beautiful shots and great sound and color," Green said. "This film is focused on the message. These are real stories from real people.

"I really want people to focus on what's being said, and to put themselves in somebody else's shoes," he said.

Green, 36, said these are troubling times in which the racial divide is going in the wrong direction.

"I hope someone from the East Side of Buffalo can make a difference," he said.

Green's first film was in 2006 and about Buffalo, "The Forgotten City." He made a documentary shot in Ghana called "The Experience," and a feature called "The Romans," in which he partnered with Buffalo School Board member and former Sabres executive Larry Quinn.

Green started Black Rose Production House which is producing the film with Johnson's Xavier Films. He also has made short films, music videos and commercials.

His inspiration for the film was the 2014 documentary series "The Whiteness Project," which debuted on PBS' "POV" and looked at how white people identified with their ethnicity. The first installment of the provocative series by documentary filmmaker Whitney Dow consisted of 21 interviews filmed in Buffalo.

"There's one interview in it that really made me want to do this film," Green said. "It's with a woman who said she's afraid when approached by black men. I'm watching this interview, wondering how the few encounters she had made her feel that way for an entire group of black men. If I go in a Chinese restaurant and have a bad experience, I don't get upset at the entire Chinese race."

Primary interviews for "The Blackness Project" were done in Buffalo with others in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Provo, Utah.

Actor Stephen McKinley Henderson is among the people interviewed in "The Blackness Project."

Green said he was most surprised by the "accountability" of the people on camera.

"For the most part, the majority of people accepted responsibility for what we need to do as a people, rather than focusing on the things that happened to us," Green said.

"A lot of people talked about taking action. I think people see that it will take a lot more than complaining, pointing fingers and putting something out on social media, and thinking that is going to change the world."

The film seeks to encourage conversations that lead to community-wide solutions, rather than fostering division, Green said.

Among those interviewed are Mayor Byron Brown and actors Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lorna Hill and Willie Judson.

An interactive panel afterward is intended to provoke discussion. The topic is, "Why Talk about Race?"

"The main purpose of the film is to spark dialogue and encourage people to talk about things they may be uncomfortable with," Green said. "Hopefully it will be therapeutic."

Panelists include Quinn; University at Buffalo professor Henry Louis Taylor, Carl Paladino, a developer, former Buffalo School Board member and Republican gubernatorial candidate; Jamil Crews, president of Buffalo Urban League Young Professionals; and Peggy Bertram, CEO of Jehudi Educational Services in Buffalo.

"I'm pretty excited to see people's reactions to the film," Green said. "I thought I had to do something to continue where 'The Whiteness Project' left off. I felt this film could facilitate a healing, and enlighten, too."

"The Blackness Project"

Screening is at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at Burchfield Penney Art Center and followed by an interactive panel, "Why talk about race?" Tickets are $10. theblacknessproject.org.

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