CDPL to host the public launch of Racist Roots at Durham’s Carolina Theatre
For Immediate Release: November 10, 2022
For More Information Contact: Gretchen M. Engel, CDPL, firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 682-3983
DURHAM, NC — On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation will host the public launch of its powerful new film Racist Roots, which traces the modern North Carolina death penalty’s connections to slavery, lynching, and segregation.
“It’s unacceptable that, sixteen years after North Carolina’s last execution, we still have the nation’s fourth largest death row and are still trying people for their lives,” said CDPL Executive Director Gretchen M. Engel. “The death penalty grows out of a racist history, and it continues to skew the system toward extreme punishments that fall disproportionately on communities of color. This film will help people across North Carolina see the urgent need to eliminate the death penalty from our state’s criminal punishment system.”
The film is based on CDPL’s online project RacistRoots.org, which was released in 2020. It includes the stories and voices of people on North Carolina’s death row, as well as artists, historians, and advocates. CDPL worked with professional filmmakers who created original music and animation for the screen. (See a trailer here.)
CDPL, along with the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, has been screening Racist Roots for small private audiences since the spring. Now, the film will be publicly available as a resource for all who seek to understand the death penalty’s history and its continuing racial disparities.
The free screening is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. (Details & registration here.) The film runs 25 minutes and will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by nationally recognized advocate Henderson Hill, CDPL’s founder and currently a senior attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project.
“The death penalty’s history is inseparable from our history of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration,” Hill says in the film. “Even as the number of executions and death sentences declines, it remains a powerful symbol of white supremacy. When we open our eyes to the history of capital punishment, the conclusion becomes inescapable. The death penalty is just one more Confederate monument that we must tear down.”
- Exoneree Alfred Rivera, who spent two years on NC’s death row in the 1990s for a murder he did not commit. During Rivera’s time on death row, four people were executed. In 1999, his conviction was overturned and, at a second trial, a jury found him not guilty. Rivera now works as the Lived Experience Coordinator for the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty to uplift the voices of people directly affected by the death penalty.
- State Rep. Vernetta Alston, a former CDPL attorney who represented Henry McCollum, an innocent man who spent more than thirty years on NC’s death row before being exonerated in 2014. She is now a state legislator committed to shining a light on the injustice of the death penalty.
- Filmmaker Akili Brown, the director of Racist Roots. Brown is a designer, actor and director who has starred in several stage productions and now runs his own production company, The Universal Fresh. He will speak about the role of art in movements for social change.
“Racist Roots makes clear that the death penalty is a relic of North Carolina’s deeply racist past,” Engel said. “It’s time to move toward a future that focuses on justice and healing, and not perpetuating racism through state-sanctioned killing.”
Beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 16, find the full film at RacistRoots.org/film.