Background on “The Color of Fear”

Roberto Almanzan

In the documentary film “The Color of Fear,” a group of men at a weekend retreat engage in an open and candid dialogue on race and ethnicity.  The filmmaker, Lee Mun Wah, a Chinese American community therapist, gathered a group of eight men, myself among them, who were willing to spend a weekend in an honest and unconstrained discussion about our experiences, beliefs and values related to race, color, ethnicity and culture.  We met at a house belonging to a friend of the filmmaker.  The house was about ten miles outside of Ukiah, a small rural town in Northern California.  Two of the men were African American, two were Latino American, two were Asian American and two were European American or white.  Lee Mun Wah functioned as the facilitator for the weekend.

Often, those who see the film wonder how the participants were chosen for this project.  Mun Wah, as a community therapist, had been working with various men’s groups and consequently had a wide circle of connections.  From this pool, he picked men he thought could be honest, open and expressive on race and ethnicity issues while being filmed.  With a few exceptions, the men did not know each other before attending the retreat.  To show that all Asians, Blacks or Whites do not think alike and are diverse, two men from each ethnic/racial group were included.  The number of participants was kept small to increase group safety and intimacy and to give each person an opportunity to express himself fully.

The dialogue during the weekend was spontaneous and intense.  I did not know that Mun Wah as the facilitator had prepared a list of about twenty questions to stimulate our dialogue.  It did not matter because once he asked his first question about how we identified ethnically or racially, we never stopped talking.  Fear, tears, rage, frustration and confusion filled the room as each of us revealed how we had been impacted by racism and our coping strategies.  Slowly, hesitatingly, we also talked about the prejudice we’ve experienced and seen directed at our own ethnic group by other people of color.  We saw that through no fault of our own, all of us have internalized messages that devalue people of color and that portray White people as more intelligent, able, moral and credible.  Becoming aware of this can often precipitate anxiety and personal discomfort in people but it is fundamentally a healing experience that opens new vistas and possibilities.  By the end of the weekend, by talking openly, listening intently and reflecting on each other’s experiences, we all came to a deep understanding of, connection to and epathy with each other.

Most people who view this film are deeply moved.  Long after it is over, they continue to talk with each other about the feelings, thoughts and memories the video stirred in them.  The dialogue in the video -- —real, arousing and eventually hopeful -- —is an example of the national dialogue we all need to have on race and ethnicity.

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