A pair of local filmmakers revisit Boston's busing crisis during the 1970s for their new film, "The Walk."
Premiering earlier this month, the film follows the fictionalized story of two Boston families affected by the court-mandated school desegregation that took place in 1974.
Aside from being based on a true story, the filmmakers Dan Adams and George Powell are both from Boston and personally experienced some of the impact of desegregation. They also began collaborating on films in an unlikely place: they met while they were both incarcerated in a Massachusetts prison.
They joined host Deborah Becker on WBUR's Morning Edition to talk about this.
Below are highlights from their conversation, which have been lightly edited.
On whether present-day Massachusetts is any better than Confederate Alabama
Powell: "I think we've come a long way, but to a certain extent, yes. The economic value in the two communities are so far apart. Alabama, the poverty level is just as low as it is in Massachusetts. So, yes, it's still the same. As far as family and as far as the communities of racial tension, that has definitely grown better, that has definitely improved."
Adams: "There's still, to me, a great deal of racism and bigotry in Massachusetts that I've just experienced ... empirically. I think we have certainly come a long way. Part of the evidence is the new mayor who probably wouldn't have been able to be elected back in the 1970s."
On how Dan and George met while incarcerated
Adams: "The Old Colony [Correctional Center] is where we met. When I got there, everybody knew ... I had done a bunch of Hollywood movies already, and I was sort of 'The Hollywood Guy.' What's interesting is a lot of the [guys] — especially the Mafia guys — they all decided that their life stories were worth a movie. I was walking the yard getting pitched. It got so bad that I didn't have any peace. So I was like, 'Look, I tell you what: every Sunday I'm going to show up in the library. I can't write all these stories. So if you guys think you have a story, write it yourself. I'm going to be in the library every Sunday and I'll teach you guys how to write a screenplay.'
George found out about this, and he was the only guy who who didn't want to write about himself. But he said, 'I have all these stories in my head, and I just want to get them out.' His writing was extraordinary. It was brilliant. And so we just kept meeting every Sunday."
On what inspired Powell to write
Powell: "I went to 'the hole,' in prison — solitary confinement — and all they give you is a pen and paper. And I was just laying down, and it might sound weird, but I started hearing voices. And I just started writing down what all of the voices were saying, it came out to a story. I didn't finish writing it and when it was time for me to leave, I told the guard, 'Listen, give me a few more weeks. Let me finish the story.' Usually they don't do that. They gave me the two more weeks and I finished the story. I came out like a new person after that story. That's the first thing I wrote and from that point on, when I write, it's like people — I just hear it and I just write it. Dan gave me an understanding of structure and tempo and pace."
On how being incarcerated affected their perspectives and their work
Powell: "When you're incarcerated, you're among everybody — from different financial levels to different race, religion, culture, everything. You see almost everybody is going through the same thing you're going through. It's a human thing. Believe it or not, you really see the human side of people and you see the animalistic side of people — you see both things. So you get a perspective of the world in a smaller community.
And the thing about when you're free, when you're locked up and you come home, you appreciate your freedom and you really know what freedom is. People use that word loosely — 'Oh, fight for freedom' — but do you really know what freedom is? Unless you've been in prison and freed, or you've been a slave and freed, you really don't know the energy of freedom."
Adams: "Just historically, art and creativity have always been spurred on by oppression. It's the same with prison. I mean, you're there and you're confined. The purpose of art is to shed light on the human condition. And in that environment, you're so confined and you're so oppressed in a way that it makes you want to really reflect. That's why a lot of guys, when they go to prison, they get religion. My version and George's version is to be creative, to create art, to say something important about what's going on."
On why the Boston busing story is an important one to tell
Powell: "It's not only a story that happened in history — it still affects us today because a lot of people are traumatized over that and I'm hoping through the movie and this conversation, that maybe we could reach back as a city to the kids that's been affected. Look at the urban community now — you see the violence, you see this, you see that. But a lot of it stems from the past. Until you acknowledge what went wrong, how could you make the present right?"
Adams: "To me, the busing situation in Boston in 1974 was a perfect microcosm to illustrate the mentality of what's going on today. For some reason, all this racism and bigotry that we thought we were making progress, but it seems like it was just lurking under the surface."
This segment aired on June 27, 2022.