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What image comes to your mind when you think of a black man? Do you think of your favorite athlete? A friend or neighbor? A husband, an artist or a student? Or do you think of someone else?
Filmmaker and Oregon native Jordan Thierry wants to add "strong father" to that potential list of characterizations. In his first documentary, The Black Fatherhood Project, he explores the subject of the African-American father, using his own family history as a backdrop. Though the feature-length documentary draws strongly from his family history, it also contains interviews from many different fathers, capturing their stories and sharing their experiences.
Thierry's documentary posits that since slavery, the image of the black man has struggled under the weight of other people's fears, expectations and political agendas. Though the documentary started out as a way to counter the negative stereotypes that grew from those perceptions, the film evolved into so much more. Instead of looking into his family history alone, Thierry was compelled to investigate further.
"When I started out making the film, I wanted to find out why there were so many negative stereotypes about black men, but as I started putting it together, I didn't really feel like I was addressing the real issue," says Thierry.
He compared the process of making the film to that of a "rabbit-hole" of information that led him to interview family members, friends and scholars, each of whom helped him to interpret the wealth of information, statistics, historical data and testimony provided by those he contacted.
One particular fact that stood out to Thierry was that 67 percent of African-American children are born into single-parent households. And while the percentage of all children being born to single-parent households is rising, the rate among African-American families is nearly twice the national average.
"I wasn't surprised that a statistic like this existed," notes Thierry, "but I was surprised by the staggeringly large gap."
In contrast with that statistic, Thierry's own family legacy consists of a solid presence of black men dating back several generations. The opening of his film features a montage of images of his family combined with images of African-American families dating back to the mid 18th century.
"Growing up as a young, black male in Portland was a unique experience," says Thierry. "In one respect we're a very small population here, and we're marginalized and disconnected from what's happening on a larger scale when it comes to the black community in the United States. And that impacted my identity development and created a sense of yearning for me growing up. I think that's what eventually led me to go study at Howard."
Thierry was inspired to develop his documentary while at Howard University, where conversations about policy and issues of race, culture and politics are ongoing.
"The documentary addresses a number of different issues, including some of the policies that were put into place which discriminated against African-American families and African-American men, especially when it came to jobs and employment."
Thierry's entire film is available to watch online at the Black Fatherhood Project website. The site will soon be updated with the dates and times of various screenings and events taking place around the country. The film has already been screened at the Tillamook Juvenile Correctional Facility with Portland screenings planned for a number of local schools in the near future.