The Rachel Divide

Country: United Kingdom (2018)

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Director: Laura Brownson


If you follow current affairs closely, it is very likely that you will have heard of Rachel Dolezal, an American political activist who was exposed in 2015 for not being entirely honest about her race.

Before the scandal broke, Dolezal had been the head of her local branch of the NAACP and was a teacher in Africana studies at a community college in Washington state. For all intents and purposes she presented herself as African-American.

However, in 2015 her parents told a local news station that she was masquerading as a black woman and was in fact white. She was confronted live on air by a journalist who asked her if she had been dishonest about her ethnicity. The interview went viral all over the world and Dolezal was widely ridiculed. She tried to defend herself by arguing that race is a social construct, but few people were sympathetic. Most interviews she conducted after the scandal broke portrayed her as deluded and opportunistic. Any attempts she made to justify her actions were usually met with animosity and scorn.

In The Rachel Divide (2018), director Laura Brownson has tried to go beyond the political controversy and examine Dolezal as a human being. Brownson was granted extraordinary access to Dolezal’s private life. Her two sons are featured prominently in the documentary, both of whom have been severely affected by the scandal.

Rachel herself is a complex figure. She is clearly intelligent and creative, but very troubled too. The title of the film is apt because one can quite easily become frustrated with Dolezal, but also feel sorry for her and even admire her talents. Brownson treats her and her family kindly, but also steps back, assesses the situation objectively and even occasionally challenges Dolezal too. Brownson also does a good job of presenting both sides of the story, without appearing partisan or biased in any way.

Whatever opinion you form of Dolezal, sensitive and in depth films like this, which go beyond explosive headlines are important.

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