For those not familiar with American politics on a state level, Bakari Sellers might be most well-known as a CNN panelist. In her new documentary While I Breathe, I Hope director Emily Harrold shows that Sellers’ ability to speak truth to power runs much deeper than any television soundbite. Following Sellers’ as he ran as the 2014 Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, Harrold’s film presents Sellers as a man whose sense of public service was in his blood long before he was born.
The son of a Civil Rights activist, Sellers knows the perpetual struggle and injustice that people of colour endure in South Carolina. It is this inequality, which created poverty and poorer schools in predominantly black communities, that fueled the fire within Sellers to run for the South Carolina House of Representative in 2006. His shocking win made him the youngest person, he was 22 at the time, to serve in the American Legislature.
Throughout the film the daily struggles of the campaign trail, which include a drunk driving scandal and being followed by trackers hired by his Republican opposition, begin to take a toll on Sellers. While the unforgiving rigours of elections are to be expected, Harrold does a great job of capturing just how deep the racial divide is in South Carolina. A perfect microcosm for the issues plaguing America as a whole, the majority of the economic wealth and power in the state remains in white hands. Harrold’s shots of the confederate flag hanging outside the legislature feel like an added exclamation point.
The references to the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by Dylann Roof towards the end of the film only further solidify that America still has a long road to travel before honest conversations about racial equality can be had. While I Breathe, I Hope effectively shows why Sellers is an important voice for this generation and the next. He is an inspiring reminder that the pillars of power can be challenged and changed, even if it means removing one brick at a time.
Friday, February 15, 7 PM, Jackman Hall