this body: confronting medical mistrust in black America | Guardian Movies

Our recent Guardian Documentary outing is This Body, a movie about a young woman called Sydney Hall who has decided to go against the skeptics and participate in a Covid vaccine trial. As a veterinary student, her confidence in science and the medical industry is not shared with most of her community, especially in echoes of Tuskegee’s experience with syphilis alongside contemporary medical inequalities that continue. towards black America to this day.

The director, Zac Manuel, is a New Orleans-based filmmaker who hopes that telling stories about the Southern black experience and black legacy through his work will encourage change in society. We asked him a few questions about his latest film.

Documentary on this body – Sydney Hall again Photograph: Zac Manuel / The Guardian

What was the genesis of this project?

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, news in New Orleans repeatedly told us that the black community was disproportionately affected. This disturbing post set me on the path to making a series of short documentaries to explore the reasons – was it lack of access to healthcare, poor living conditions, unsafe working conditions , skepticism? When the vaccine trials were announced, I could see many reasons the black community here was skeptical of their participation, including the historic abuse we have suffered in the past, such as Tuskegee’s experience on the syphilis, for example. I wanted to make a film that honored those who wanted to participate in vaccine trials like Sydney, but also those who didn’t think they could. I had the opportunity to present this idea to the Hindsight committee, and they quickly responded by supporting the project.

Sydney is participating in the coronavirus vaccine trial.
Sydney is participating in the coronavirus vaccine trial. Composer: Zac Manuel / Le Gardien

Why is it important to understand in more detail the relationship between black America and the medical industry?

Our truth, our history is often hidden from others in order to protect those in power from responsibility for their actions and the injustices that the black community faces. When you start to unbox this story, you begin to understand the reasons for the widespread distrust of our government and the medical industry as a whole, and even the medical community. Questions are being raised as to who is there to protect us and our community. Seeing someone willing to challenge those fears and instincts to participate in a vaccine trial gave me the opportunity to unravel the truth behind the trial itself and explore ideas like their safety.

Sydney, a participant in a New Orleans vaccine trial.
Sydney, a participant in a New Orleans vaccine trial. Composer: Zac Manuel / Le Gardien

Are there particular themes or stories that you typically engage with, or want to continue to explore in your work?

I am interested in countering traditional narratives by showing multiple truths in my work. In This Body, for example, you cannot generalize and present the idea that all black people are brave and ready to be vaccinated, or that all black people are suspicious of the government, or that we have all had bad experiences. with the medical industry. I want to reinforce the idea that there is a specter of truth in the community and that we are not one thing …

I’m currently in post-production on a feature-length documentary called Bloodthicker, which I’ve been working on since 2016. The project explores the legacy of three young rappers whose fathers were famous New Orleans artists. Each character has their own journey, which I explore with the intention of reinforcing this idea that each person is nuanced, has their own personal experiences and stories, and their own unique perspectives on life.

What do you think will be the impact of this film?

While this body addresses some of the historical medical injustices that have had a dramatic impact on black communities in the United States in the past, it also highlights the fact that this problem is not just something that exists looking back, there is also looking forward. Most people who are hesitant to get the coronavirus vaccine have had direct personal or family experiences that inform their worry and hesitation. I want those in power to understand that until the mistakes of the past and the present are recognized and excused, and taken into consideration when approaching topics like immunization, then fear and skepticism will continue.

Syndey and Barbara on the beach.
SYDNEY and BARBARA – Documentary on this body Photograph: Zac Manuel / The Guardian

Who did you collaborate with to make this film?

This film is part of HINDSIGHT, a collection of films from and various communities in the Southern United States and Puerto Rico, supported by Firelight Media, Reel South, CAAM and the WORLD channel. This Body was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of six projects supported by wonderful producers from these places, and on top of that I was paired with Lyric Cabral who provided me with invaluable advice in the early stages of my production. Without the resources and guidance of Hindsight and Lyric, this film would not have seen the light of day.

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