Silences is the true story of the filmmaker and his family's denial that he is bi-racial.
A documentary about race, family and identity 36-year-old filmmaker Octavio Warnock-Graham's Silences is a thought-provoking and often humorous examination of the reluctance on the part of the director's family to acknowledge that he is biracial. In Washington, D.C., circa 1969, young activist Harriet Warnock became pregnant with Tav (Octavio) and made the decision to keep the father's identity a secret (hoping to avoid a battle with her parents). Interweaving small-town Americana shots of the family's stomping grounds in Maumee, OH with interview clips of Tav talking to his grandmother ("You are not Black!, siblings, and other family members, Silences is not your standard finger-pointing Jerry Springer family feud. Tav is simply too good-natured in his curiosity about his roots and he's clearly loved by his relatives, who sound almost bemused as they recall being told various stories about Tav'ss father being a Native American or a Puerto Rican dancer (one uncle simply says "It didn't matter."). Ultimately, Tav mildly confronts his mother and eventually meets his biological father in a heartwarming scene. Silences raises serious questions about race, child raising, and family secrets, but does so without histrionics or acrimony. Recommended.
Set in Maumee, Ohio, an idyllic Midwestern suburb with manicured lawns and historic homes, 'Silences' follows the filmmaker's journey to understand his mother, Harriet Warnock, and her refusal to discuss the circumstances of his birth. What happens when an interracial person's identity is completely ignored by his white family and friends? Capturing one family's inner demons -- one mention of Graham's half-black parentage nearly gives his white grandmother a heart attack, 'Silences' embodies the denial found in multicultural families across the country, and reminds us that the ideal of racial purity persists in America.
"Black? She never said you're black. Because you're not!" says director Warnock-Graham's grandmother, cutting to the crux of the issue in Silences. This short film examines the love and pain Warnock-Graham felt growing up in a family that refused to acknowledge his biracial heritage. Silences manages to pack a lot into 22 minutes, as Warnock-Graham asks his mother about his past, gently confronts his extended family, and finally meets the black father who never knew his white lover of more than three decades past had had a child. Silences is both heartwarming and provocative, one of those rare films that makes you feel simultaneously supportive and angry and keeps you thinking long after the credits roll. A little gem, Silences is essential for academic and high school collections and is strongly recommended for public libraries.
The film raises questions about individual constructions of race and identity within the context of competing identity constructs and social codes, and in which family roles and parenting further shape these experiences. In other words, how do parents equip their children for the particular challenges they are likely to face? When and how much do they tell their child about their earlier lives? How do parents shape their children's life skills and commitments as well as their sense of social agency? How do they prepare them for negotiating the cultural norms between family, communities, professional life, and personal identity? The film extends our understanding of multiracial or biracial identity and its challenges to individuals and families of mixed descent, moving between personal narrative and family perspectives. It is a caring and respectful film, but it is also brief (under 30 minutes) and personal...
Alternatively, various audiences have connected well with the film and praised its poignancy. Educators in diverse fields, from teacher preparation to family studies to nursing to urban anthropology, may find that the film serves both to introduce students to issues of race and family dynamics, and to increase their awareness of the subtleties of culture in different contexts.