Documentary Events Encourage Discourse at OHS Splash!


Storrie Kulynych-Irvin

Maddy Manning-Bi leads a discussion on how to increase diversity and representation in our government, as attendees share their thoughts on DFRL readings and the political establishment.

“13th,” Black Student Union

This year’s OHS Splash Homecoming day was full of engaging and informative talks and events, headlined by two documentary-focused meetings held by OHS clubs. In the first, the Black Student Union (BSU) discussed 13th (2020), an exploration of racial inequality and mass incarceration in the U.S. directed by Ava DuVernay. The film features archival footage and interviews with former prisoners to create a detailed picture of how, in the century and a half after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the United States came to have 25% of the world’s prison population. “The rights taken away [in prisons] make it virtually impossible for people to re-enter back into normal society,” observed BSU leader Kelsey Barnes. “And I think that idea that people are dehumanized within the prison systems is also apparent when people learn that a lot of these products that they’re buying benefit these companies for-profit prison contractors.” 

In addition to the prison industrial complex and lack of rehabilitative focus in the criminal justice system, the meeting also included discussion of the “war on drugs” in the ’80s and ’90s and its negative consequences for many communities. Attendees also considered the politicization of these issues in the context of the 1994 “Crime Bill.” Towards the end of the discussion, club sponsor Dr. Elyse Banks asked attendees to offer potential solutions to the consequences of mass incarceration, as well as their opinions on the purpose of prisons – and whether America’s current criminal justice system and policing practices are aligned with those goals. 

“Knock Down the House,” Girl Up Club/Culture, History, and Civics Club

The Girl Up Club and Culture, History, and Civics Club (CHC) co-hosted the second documentary-focused meeting of the day. The attendees watched Knock Down the House (dir. Rachel Lears, 2019), which followed the stories of four women running in the 2018 midterm elections. All of the underdog candidates’ campaigns were supported by the Brand New Congress organization, which tasks itself with “electing regular Americans to Congress who are not beholden to political parties and corporations.” After watching the documentary, Girl Up President Isabella Zeitlin and CHC leader Maddy Manning-Bi led a discussion of the candidates’ moving stories and minority, female, and local empowerment in politics. 

The film had several emotional moments, from Amy Vilela’s fight for better healthcare after her daughter’s tragic death, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dramatic win over an established and “complacent” candidate in an unexpected primary defeat. Several participants in the discussion were inspired by these stories and shared their own firsthand experiences taking action in their communities as grassroots campaign workers. Others made connections to concepts such as the basis of political connections and wealth introduced in DFRL and other courses. Many attendees look forward to the potential for more “everyday American,” change-focused candidates in future elections. 

Overall, both documentaries fostered important debate about current issues. Thanks to OHS students, we can definitely look forward to more thought-provoking club events in the future.