A short film by a University of Rhode Island professor made its local television debut late last month.
“The Good Radical,” directed by associate professor of journalism Kendall Moore, aired on Rhode Island PBS on Sept. 28. The film focuses on Cynthia Hamilton, a renowned environmental justice scholar and the former chair of URI’s Africana Studies department.
Around the time Hamilton was hired by URI in 1992, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Following her diagnosis, Hamilton’s mother Evelyn left California to care for her daughter. Cynthia Hamilton began her career as an environmental justice activist and writer in southern California. Moore said that Dr. Hamilton wrote about urban politics and policies that would negatively affect African-American communities.
“She was regarded as one of the most notable African-American intellectuals of the ’90s, especially on the issue of environmental justice,” Moore said.
After being hired by URI to chair at what is now the Africana Studies program, Hamilton had an immediate and significant impact on many of her students. Among her former students interviewed for “The Good Radical” are two URI faculty members, Associate Dean Earl Smith and Talent Development Coordinator Marc Hardge.
“They came to a predominantly white institution to meet an African-American who was an internationally recognized scholar,” Moore said. “There’s a message to that for people of color who are looking for role models and she served that for them.”
Moore said that she met and befriended Dr. Hamilton at a symposium about Haiti at URI in 2003. They found that they shared similar interests in foreign policy regarding the black developing world.
Production on “The Good Radical” began four years after Moore’s initial encounter with Dr. Hamilton.
“It took me several years to build up the confidence to ask her to be a subject in my film, because it’s a lot to give somebody access to your life like that,” Moore said. “I felt that her story, if it was never told, would be forgotten. I felt like her contributions were significant in general but very specific in terms of contributions from an African-American scholar.”
The film explores the relationship between Evelyn and Cynthia Hamilton and the conditions that both women have found themselves in, regarding Cynthia’s multiple sclerosis and Evelyn’s advanced aging.
During the production of the documentary, Cynthia left her post at URI after her mother began to show signs of dementia.
Evelyn Hamilton, who died this March, is shown in the film forgetting the color of a pantsuit she is wearing, misidentifying activities in photographs and ultimately not recognizing Moore, who had been filming the pair for over two years at that point.
The documentary was shot in chronological order, with the opening scenes shot at Evelyn’s 90th birthday party in 2007. The production lasted until 2009.
Moore said that since the production of the film, Dr. Hamilton has written three books, all of them typed with one finger. She is also considering returning to URI next fall to teach an urban politics course.
“I think Dr. Hamilton is really proud of the film. She thinks it’s a very honest portrayal of her experience,” Moore said. “Now that her mother has passed away, she sees it as an important reminder of who her mother was”
Moore said that shortly after the documentary’s production had wrapped, Evelyn Hamilton stopped talking “as a result of the aging process.”
“That film essentially documents the last time her mother talked, and that’s how she wants to remember her mother,” she said.
“The Good Radical” is among the more recent entries in Moore’s filmography. Her other films include “Charm City,” a documentary about the significance of hair in the African-American community of Baltimore, Maryland. Another film, the 2006 short “Sovereign Nation/Sovereign Neighbor,” focuses on the sovereign land rights of the Narragansett tribe and centers on the 2003 state police raid of a tribe-run smoke shop.
“The Good Radical” has been screened at several film festivals, including the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival and the Women of African Descent Film Festival, at which it won an award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking.
Moore said that she pitched the film to Rhode Island PBS, who have been running the film intermittently since its television premiere on Sept. 28.
“They were looking for films to go in their series that looks at homegrown stories,” she said. “PBS is very committed to showcasing the work of local filmmakers”
Those interested in future television airings of “The Good Radical” can check local television listings and the website for Rhode Island PBS.