I had the privilege of watching Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism at the Texas Black Film Festival Feb 5-7. The film from EthicsDaily.com was nominated for Best Documentary and shown with more than 40 films at the Studio Movie Grill in Dallas.

This was at least my 30th viewing of Beneath the Skin since its release in August. I’ve watched the film with black friends, Latino friends and white friends. Most of those friends I have known for many years, and amazingly I have noticed that something special happens during and after each viewing.

For this viewing I attended the Texas Black Film Festival with two new friends — Jacque and Annie. I was excited and a bit anxious about their reaction. I was excited because this was my first opportunity to see the film with non-Baptists, and anxious because I am my own worst critic. Watching my brown face flash across the big movie screen as an expert in front of independent filmmakers was a bit nerve wracking.

Several years ago an Anglo friend commented that I appear very poised every time I speak about my experience as a U.S.-born Latina in the United States. And, yet each time I see Beneath the Skin, the poise seems to fall away. When I watch the film I enter a portal to a former life. I recall flying into Atlanta the night before the filming and the scratchiness of my voice when I answered certain questions.

I sat in the movie theater at the festival in complete darkness trying to watch the faces of those that sat around me. Maybe it was because I was the only Latina in the room, but the gasps seemed extremely loud when Dr. Javier Elizondo recalled the signs No dogs or Mexicans allowed that could easily be found in a pre-civil rights Texas.

And I was amazed when people starting asking each other for pens so they could write down the five ways forward presented at the film’s end. Afterward, one woman asked what the first step was. Be Honest, I answered. I’ve watched the film so many times I have them all memorized.

As one of the film’s interviewees, I have been thankful for the opportunity to dialogue at screenings with people who are different from me. Some come as if approaching a confessional, recalling how they have treated others or truthfully admitting fear at getting to know someone that is different. Some have approached and shared their own stories of discrimination. Some have even encouraged me to continue to share my Latina voice.

And that’s the miracle of watching Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism. No matter where you are on the journey of race and reconciliation, the film offers a place for people to deepen their relationships with other people.

Jacque, Annie and I have spent the past few days sharing our stories with one another. In celebrating our differences we realized that we have much more in common than we did before. Beneath the Skin has given us a place to begin a dialogue that I hope will continue as our friendship grows.

Will you join the conversation?

Laura A. Cadena is a fifth-generation Tejana, a graduate of Baylor University and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. She is a member of Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta.

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