By Patricia Minichiello
Controversy over a new documentary has prompted a local filmmaker to move the screening of his latest film outside of Rutland City to West Rutland.
Filmmaker Duane Carleton, also known as a local musician, said he had trouble finding a venue in Rutland City to screen his second film, “Divided by Diversity.”
The film focuses on five black basketball players from New York City who came to Vermont in 2010 to attend Mount St. Joseph Academy and to play for the Mounties.
“When I went to talk to Bruce (Bouchard) at the Paramount … it reached the point in the conversation where I knew I would be forcing him to make a decision,” Carleton said. “And so I’m the one who said this is a bad idea to have it at the Paramount.”
Carleton said it was not Bouchard, executive director of the Paramount Theatre, who might have had an issue with the film, but others connected to the theater.
Bouchard did not return a call for comment Monday.
“It was my decision not to screen it there,” Carleton said.
Carleton also approached leaders at Grace Congregational Church about hosting a screening, but said there were too many contingencies with that venue.
He said church leaders wanted to screen the film with leaders of the MSJ community before approving of the event and that did not sit well with him.
The Rev. John Weatherhogg of Grace Congregational Church said he felt it was important to screen the movie because they were sensitive to the local issue.
“We wanted to support our faith community. We felt it was important for our leaders to screen the movie.”
Weatherhogg said he was saddened that they didn’t get to host a dialogue about racism in the community, but he said, “we did not want to risk the dialogue becoming what happened in this one particular school.”
“I think this is a nationwide issue, it’s not just an MSJ issue. When those boys played basketball they played at all different schools and experienced this kind of discrimination. That’s not just about MSJ it’s about all of us,” he said.
In the end, although Carleton would have liked to find a venue in the city, he said he found one in West Rutland. The screening will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday at the West Rutland Town Hall Theater.
The film focuses the story of Robert Cassell, John Dewey, Jahnathan Mitchell, Jaskin Melendez and Shannon Murray — five students from the Bronx, N.Y., who spent two years at the Catholic high school in Rutland playing the sport they love, but feeling shunned by the local community.
“What happened was these five kids (was that) people felt they didn’t belong here,” Carleton said. “Kind of like what’s going on with the Syrian refugees.”
A New York Times article a few years back on the players reported: “Parents are livid about their presence on the team, saying it deprives local players of court time and is an underhanded tactic by Mount St. Joseph to improve its team.”
Carleton said he found this to be true.
“The pressure from parents to reduce the number of kids, get rid of the kids, it became a daily barrage.”
In the film, Mark Benetatos, head basketball coach at MSJ at the time, said he received disturbing emails from parents.
“We feel very strongly that we need to take care of the local roots and not overlook the fact that we need local kids to keep the school open,” an unidentified MSJ player’s mother wrote to Benetatos.
During games, the film explores the many ways that the players were harassed both on and off the court.
“You heard it every game, ‘You don’t belong here, go play with your own kind,’” recalled Brandon Sowers, the MSJ Boys Junior Varsity Basketball Coach in the film.
There’s also a point in the film where you can hear the crowd chanting during a game, “KFC.”
“At one school … we would hear, we don’t know why you (n-words) are here. This is a white man’s place. We heard a lot of stuff at games,” said Mitchell, one of the players.
“You learn about it in school, read about it,” said another player, Cassell. “But when you really experience it, it’s eye-opening.”
Carleton said he spent three years making the film because, as he put it, “I don’t like racism.”
At the film screening Saturday, members of the NAACP will be in attendance, along with some of the players and others in the film to answer questions after the screening.