Welcome to the 2016 Human Rights Film Series
"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
Plato had it right. We live in caves of our own making. What we see projected on the walls of our own realities is often illusionary-fragmented, flickering images of the ultimate truth.
As the Cuban-American novelist Anaïs Nin suggests, we prefer to interpret reality through our own myopic lenses. As a result, we all too often ignore the perspectives of others-particularly if they challenge our world views-and choose to silence the voices of those who threaten to "make noise" and disturb us in our comfortable bubbles.
We don't want to hear about the deplorable working conditions of women laboring in the sweat shops of Bangladesh to produce the clothes we wear. We look the other way when we encounter a homeless person begging for food on the street. We don't want to think about the migrant workers toiling in the Florida and California heat for a few dollars a day while we are enjoying a lunchtime salad. We prefer to carry around with us our own stereotypical image of what an illegal immigrant is (a certain candidate for President comes to mind), rather than meeting and getting to know an undocumented immigrant, and hearing his or her personal stories, fears, and dreams.
And those who lead our institutions-be they administrators of universities, clerics of the Catholic Church, or our elected officials-all too often choose to keep their constituencies in the dark, silencing victims of abuse so they do not blemish the sacred reputations of their organizations, preferring that those they serve not be made aware of what really happens behind closed doors.
After all, what you don't know, as the old adage goes, won't hurt you. The problem is that it is precisely our very lack of knowledge that can hurt others. Our insensitivity to what it really takes to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs makes us partially compliant with human rights abuses around the world. Our blindness to what happens behind the scenes between Corporate America and Big Government that can result in the abuse of power, which in turn can impact our health, welfare, the economy and the environment.
We prefer not to see what we prefer not to know. But that strikes at the very core of what an education is supposed to be all about. It also cuts to the essence of what it means to be human. The purpose of an education, as Lacan stated, is to negate our identities-to shatter our myopic lenses, and allow us to see the world as it is. And if we are to call ourselves citizens of the world, we cannot walk through life with our personal earplugs blocking out the voices of others, listening only to our own playlist.
And that is the purpose of this film series. To take the rest of the world off mute. To give voice to the silent. To shake all of us out of our bubbles of complacency.
The Hunting Ground shatters the conspiracy of silence about sexual abuse on college campuses. Merchants of Doubt exposes the corporate lobbyists and pay-to-play pundits who lurk in the shadows of the pillars of government. Food Chains lifts the veil on the working conditions of migrants in Immokalee, Florida (where the University has an active student mission), while Don't Tell Anyone tells the story of a brave young girl who "came out" as a proud but troubled undocumented student, giving hope to others. Place at the Table depicts the silent suffering of the millions of Americans who do not know where their next meal is coming from. The True Cost is a film that will make us think twice the next time we go to buy a new pair of jeans, a dress or a shirt.
They are films of oppression, but they are also films of hope, showing us how those afflicted and abused are fighting to break the silence and coming together in solidarity to right egregious wrongs and achieve dignity and justice.
After watching the films, as students and citizens, we need to ask ourselves only one question-will we retreat back into our personal caves and continue to see things "as we are," or will we help break the silence and join in solidarity with others to help create a society that is better for all of us, and not just a fortunate few?
Edith Krause, Ph. D., Chair, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Mark Frisch, Ph. D.
Mary Ann Hess, M.A.
Karl J. Skutski, M. A.
2016 Duquesne University Human Rights Film Series Committee