Brenda Williams Tackles the Fine Line Between Free Speech and Hate Speech in Her Film "Against Hate"
As America continues to undergo a rapid transformation in its social fabric, a complicated question arises, one that requires bringing the country’s foundation under cross-examination: when does Free Speech become Hate Speech? It is a question few wish to discuss but one that Brenda Williams’ documentary Against Hate felt inclined to answer.
By Greg Lepore / filmsforaction.org

Richmond, California resident Mark Wassberg takes the stand at a town hall meeting. His words echo throughout the room,

"I'm going to keep coming up here and telling you how gays have no morality. ... You're filth. You're dirt. Because I have the constitutional right to say it," he bellows.

“Mommy, can you really say these things out loud?” a young girl asks.

 Brenda Williams, producer of the documentary Against Hate, is thrown off by her daughter’s question. Her response is difficult to articulate, “Yes you can, but you have an obligation to be responsible.”

Questioning free speech in America is outright treason. But as America continues to undergo a rapid transformation in its social fabric, a complicated question arises, one that requires bringing the country’s footing under cross-examination: when does Free Speech become Hate Speech? It is a question few wish to discuss but one that Brenda Williams’ documentary Against Hate felt inclined to answer.

Against Hate follows the events that unfolded in Richmond, California, one of the most diverse cities in the America’s most progressive state, during the tenure of councilmember Jovanka Beckles.

Beckles, an African-American politician, harbors a youthful complexion and radiant smile that suggest a joyous, carefree life. Her calm, intelligent demeanor on the other hand gives off an air of wisdom usually reserved for women twice her age. Sitting tall and proud, her friendly expression never wavers, even as she receives copious doses of what can only be described as verbal cyanide.

Jovanka Beckles is a self-identifying lesbian. Due to her sexual orientation and position of power, she became the target of verbal assaults from a group of Richmond residents who showed up to town hall meetings throughout her tenure, intent on degrading her and her position as the face of Richmond’s progressive community, a role she never chose to occupy. The assaults targeted all facets of Beckles’ person: her appearance, her marriage, her background, her friends and family, her position in the government, and her personal beliefs.

Those who came to attack Beckles did not do so out of their own volition. A majority felt inclined to do so, grounding their attacks in two of the world’s most peaceful documents: the American Constitution and the Bible.

The son of a preacher, Brenda Williams was used to hearing the text of the Bible, but she was not used to hearing it used as a basis for verbal assault. She was astounded to find that Christians comprised a portion of those dishing out the most vicious assaults. The councilmember was told she was infected with a moral disease, an embarrassment to her creator, and a harmful influence on new generations. Some said she was undeserving of life.

Then there were those who came armed both with their First Amendment rights and a deep-seeded hatred for those they considered different - a deadly combination in the right hands. Basing their attacks on the centuries-old tradition of prosecuting homosexuals, some townspeople did not hold back. They told Jovanka she was a disgrace of a human being, a detriment to the entire community, and that her very being alive made others’ lives more difficult.

There was no limit to the verbal onslaught Jovanka endured during each town hall. But each time an attempt was made by spectators to silence the agitator at the podium, cries of “Freedom of speech!” erupted into the microphone.

Born into a minister’s household, filmmaker Brenda Williams was raised to believe in Freedom of Speech. A California native, she was used to hearing free speech pushed to the extreme on both sides of the social spectrum. There was nothing someone could say that she hadn’t heard before. This she believed wholeheartedly; that is, until she began filming the life of Jovanka Beckles.

Williams, still a proponent of free speech, now takes issue with the two texts she was raised to worship. The Bible, she says, provides a freedom that is a liberating freedom, not a freedom to suppress. However, in the wrong hands, that liberating freedom can be used as a means of suppressing another. She takes similar issue with the Constitution. She asserts that it’s a good document, a guiding document, and a necessary document. But like the Bible, she says the Constitution works differently for everyone in every situation. In Jovanka Beckles’ situation, the Constitution did not protect her. Instead, it protected her assaulters. Williams also points that the Constitution was written at a time when many of today’s marginalized peoples were still trying to get representation; neither homosexuals nor African-Americans were represented when the Constitution was written.

Brenda Williams admits that making Against Hate was not easy, neither practically nor emotionally. She was forced to confront the darkest recesses of the human psyche while calling into question two documents she previously believed to reign supreme. She confesses that the experience of editing the film was the most emotionally difficult aspect of the film’s production. She says that while editing, one is forced to watch the same clips over and over again. In the case of Against Hate, this meant Williams watching her neighbors relentlessly assault Jovanka Beckles.

Brenda Williams declares that in producing Against Hate she found that hate speech most certainly does exist. She contends that it must be characterized as domestic terrorism for it incites fear not just in the target of the attack but in the entire community. She says free speech becomes hate speech when it targets people based on their personal characteristics. The legality of hate speech, however, remains up for debate.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 34,234 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 16,620 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 14,576 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,249 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 12,151 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 7,902 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Forest Man
16 min · 7,815 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 6,503 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 4,590 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 3,821 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 3,686 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 3,416 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,356 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 3,275 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
American Cartel: How America's Two Major Parties Helped Destroy Democracy
Frank Castro · 3,170 views today · Cartel: An association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 2,564 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 2,209 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
A Woman Who Makes This Statement Today Needs Revolutionary Courage
Sabine Lichtenfels · 2,098 views today · I want to live in a community with men and women, with children, animals and plants so that I am not continually forced to hide my actual being from the others. Perception and...
“You Can Have Your Weak Nominee If You Wish” – the Sanders Endorsement Backfires on Hillary Clinton, Empowers Sanders in One Masterstroke
Saib Bilaval · 1,815 views today · Ultimately, what the Sanders endorsement has proved is what the candidate was arguing from the beginning – that it was not Sanders and his campaign that was holding Hillary...
Better, Not More
5 min · 1,517 views today · As we assess the current state of our world and consider together the elements that are essential to a ‘just transition’, and ultimately, a just economy, we are called to...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Brenda Williams Tackles the Fine Line Between Free Speech and Hate Speech in Her Film "Against Hate"