Interminable news stories in the last year have shown that racism is alive and well, and keeping up with all of its subcategories is tough. You may not have considered (or yet heard of) environmental racism, but that's the subject of a new local film.
Harp and Sol is a new short film by filmmaker and musician Jess Garland and looks at the issue through the eyes of residents of Joppa and its surrounding Dallas neighborhoods. The southeast Dallas community has long been plagued by illegal dumping and air pollution and the filmmaker wanted to raise awareness of an issue that she believes stems from racism.
Joppa is a stark example of modern environmental racism in how little it’s changed since its establishment as a town in the late 1860s.
Joppa, which has a mostly Black population, sits along the Trinity River not far from where the colossal trash dump known as Shingle Mountain once reigned, situated in an industrial zone.
For the film, Garland worked with Aurora Dallas, a public arts organization connecting art, technology and community. This isn't her first collaboration with the organization; two years ago, Garland performed a harp piece called “Resurrecting Gaia” for an Aurora event. This time, Garland's taking a different route that begs for an overdue community conversation. Harp and Sol will debut on dallasaurora.com on May 29 and will be available for viewing through May 29, 2022.
Garland says she witnessed the food deserts and environmental health effects when she started filming in Joppa and had family who grew up in similar neighborhoods in South Dallas.
“My family is from South Dallas and Oak Cliff, and I grew up over in Lakewood, but when I went to go visit my grandmother, there was maybe like one grocery store down the street from her,” Garland says. “But she would rather drive to Highland Park because she felt like the food was better and safer over there, or sometimes she would go over to where I live in Lakewood and we'd bring the food back to her at home because she felt like it was access to cleaner and safer food.”
The film also speaks on Black feminism; Garland says she specifically focused on female perspectives in her film because Black women — despite heading organizations and nonprofit groups — are often disregarded when calling attention to serious issues.
“It's super important because I believe in a lot of the movements that we're seeing, we are not highlighting that the organizations or movements are often led by Black women,” Garland says. “I don't think it's a coincidence that [activist] Marsha Jackson — as a Black woman who has been doing the things that go to the City Council throughout the past year saying that she's experiencing health issues and her doctors saying she needs to move or die — was being disregarded.”
Southern Sector Rising, an activist nonprofit started by Jackson to combat racist zoning practices, environmental injustice and Shingle Mountain specifically, got Garland's creative gears turning. The organization was the inspiration for the film. Having worked closely in Southern Sector Rising with Jackson, who lived in a house in front of Shingle Mountain, Garland wanted to spread the word.
"That's how this project got started," Garland says. "I wanted to do something for Marsha prior to the mountain being removed. ... Essentially, it was an illegal dump of shingles in her backyard. It was there for three years, and it just started emitting toxins into the neighborhood."
In the film, Jackson tells the story of Shingle Mountain and says that more has happened in her community in the past three years than in the 25 years she's lived on her property.
Dust from the shingles affected Jackson and her neighbors' health since 2018, including issues like airborne fiberglass irritating their skin and vocal cords, respiratory issues and headaches. It took over three years of protests and demands for the shingles to be removed.
"The business was closed, but the pollutants were not being moved," Jackson says. "The pollutants continue to cause health problems and the smell of the pollution was horrible. After the move of Shingle Mountain, the air quality is not what it should be but not as bad, either. Even though Shingle Mountain was moved, there is still environmental remediation on the property."
Iv Amenti, a Dallas-based dancer, is also involved with the film, where she's featured doing dance sequences. Serving as a symbol of happiness, prosperity, fertility, wisdom and the reclaiming of land, Amenti wears a yellow jumpsuit and dances through the Joppa preserve.
"I just wanted to kind of take it back to motherhood, to be honest," Garland says. "And just breathe some new life into the movement, and just really uplift the voices of women that I know that have made a change within their communities."
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