De Anza students unveil film about Watts Riot: Documentary inspires dialogue about continuing inequality3 min read

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Courtesy of DOROTHY HOLFORD

Her Story

Joyce Ann Gaines shares her side of the story in the documentary “The Joyce Ann Gaines Story: More Than a Roit.”

Roma Parhad, Freelancer

Personal stories of unequal treatment and discrimination brought tears and emotion to the April 18 sneak peak and panel discussion at De Anza College for a documentary film,“The Joyce Ann Gaines Story: More Than a Riot.”

The film’s producers, Dorothy Holford and Kristine Lowe, are De Anza College students who put their hearts and their wallets into creating a documentary about  a young woman who was the catalyst for the racially charged 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles.

“This is too important of a story to not be told” or to be told incorrectly, Holford, a 55-year-old journalism major said. Joyce Anne Gaines’ story has never been told before and Holford said she is determined to bring the story to life in a full-length documentary with her production company, KoolWorldMedia.

“It is high time we, as a black community, be allowed to tell our own stories. And be able to do it with dignity and integrity…I believe that is why [Joyce] trusts me to do it,” Holford said.

Gaines was a 20-year-old barber in Los Angeles in 1965. The neighboring community of Watts was an unincorporated part of Los Angeles which suffered from extreme inequality and racial segregation. Watts became the destination for blacks who moved west, looking for work and better living situations. They found neither.

With no public transportation through Watts, and no jobs or homes for blacks anywhere else, Watts became an isolated and frustrated neighborhood.

The riots in Watts began with the arrest of a young black man in Compton, but it was the arrest of Gaines shortly after that inflamed the crowd when her barber’s smock was mistaken as a sign of pregnancy. “The Joyce Ann Gaines Story” tells the rest of the story.

The film screening was an effort to publicize the project and gain support, financial or otherwise, to help complete the last quarter of the film.

A panel including Holford, Lowe, Gaines, her brother Eddie Gaines, and anti-racism educator Enid Lee discussed hand picked scenes from the film.

“I almost couldn’t breathe when I thought, ‘I caused all of this?’” Gaines said. “I wanted my life to be more than just a riot…I want to help other people not be mad and angry and upset.”

The combination of Gaines’ strength and kindness with Holford’s contagious determination and dedication inspired something much more than just a publicity event.

Eddie Gaines spoke about his experience as a 12-year-old in the riots, Lee spoke about confronting structural racism. Then audience members chimed in with their own painful experiences with discrimination and inequality.

From a young black girl who experienced discrimination in school to an elderly white woman who experienced discrimination for her interracial marriage, people told stories that brought tears to their eyes and to those of audience members.

Lee, who teaches about equitable education, offered encouragement to the audience.

“If you wake up every day conscious that change has to be maintained then you won’t be distressed that you have to work at it. Remember, rules are made by people and need to be changed by people,” she said.

The film is scheduled to be released in 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots.

“I think she [Holford] is going to change so many lives with this, I think she is doing it already,” said Veronica Neal, director of the Office of Equity, Social Justice and Multicultural Education at De Anza.

Holford, with tears in her eyes, told the audience, “It’s never been about me. This story has always been about my community.”

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