Racism and commonality themes of Southeast Texan’s new short film

Photos courtesy of G Sharp Productions

Philosopher George Santayana said those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But with his new short film “The Example,” Southeast Texas film producer Gordon Williams works to remind us of our past, as uncomfortable as that might be, thereby ensuring that we escape the terrible fate Santayana envisioned.

Set during the Beaumont riot of 1943, “The Example” explores fatherhood, masculinity, power and the longing to leave a strong legacy, all while exposing fears, issues and themes that echo today, even in an era some say is “post-racial.”

Williams, an award winning writer, producer and director who was served as television studio operations manager for Lamar University’s LUTV Channel 7 for more than 16 years, has been working on the project for almost three years and said he is excited to see his work — as well as that of fellow producers Kenneth Dupuis and Wyatt Cagle — come to fruition. The film is set to premiere Monday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Katy and is the fourth collaboration between Williams’ creative outlet, G Sharp Productions, and CGL Studios.

Not only will the film introduce an event many Southeast Texans have probably never even heard of, but Williams, a native of Cleveland, Texas, said he also hopes it will show viewers that all races have commonalities.

“The Example,” which was filmed in Beaumont and Orange, is an intimate look at two fathers — black business owner Carver Jefferson and white police officer Miller Harvey — who must make difficult decisions to protect their families, decisions that force them to question their morals, loyalty and manhood.

“It’s all about choice and how you choose to handle things,” Williams said. “Hopefully, the audience will connect with both fathers and understand the turmoil in the decisions that they have to make.”

Although the story is fictional, the backdrop of the film is all too real.

The Beaumont riot had its roots in the tensions of World War II, according to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). The city became a war boomtown when people moved there in 1941 to take jobs at the shipyard and nearby war plants. Whites and blacks clashed after workers at the Pennsylvania shipyard in Beaumont learned that a white woman had accused a black man of raping her. A crowd of workers and interested bystanders reached 4,000 and marched toward City Hall, the TSHA website states.

“Even though the woman could not identify the suspect among the blacks held in the city jail, the workers dispersed into small bands and began breaking into stores in the black section of downtown Beaumont. With guns, axes and hammers, they proceeded to terrorize black neighborhoods in central and north Beaumont. Many blacks were assaulted, several restaurants and stores were pillaged, a number of buildings were burned, and more than 100 homes were ransacked.

“More than 200 people were arrested, 50 were injured, and two — one black and one white — were killed. Another black man died several months later of injuries received during the riot,” according to TSHA.

Mayor George Gary mobilized the 18th Battalion of the Texas State Guard late that night, and acting Texas Gov. A.M. Aikin Jr. declared Beaumont under martial law.

Williams said he hopes that the public won’t generalize the film as a work solely about the riot, however.

“I think it is more of an intimate story,” he said. “You don’t see any rioting. You don’t see any buildings burning. That was not our goal. (The riot) is the backdrop. This is a human story. … It’s about this group of people and how this larger event has affected their lives.”

In “The Example,” Carver Jefferson attempts to flee Beaumont with his wife and son after angry rioters burn down his business. He is unable to leave town however, due to a police roadblock put up after a curfew is placed on the city. Tensions explode between Jefferson, Harvey and another police officer.

“The majority of the film happens at a roadblock,” Williams said.

The physical roadblock Williams depicts in the film perhaps also symbolizes the barrier some minorities continue to face even today, specifically in the workforce.

“When you don’t see people that look like you in certain positions, there is a thought that maybe you’re not allowed to be in certain positions,” said Williams, who served as vice president in the Southeast Texas Association of Black Journalists. “If you don’t see anybody that looks like you achieving certain goals, then you may not be in your mindset. We have to show students, ‘Hey, there are people like you — that have a similar ethnic background — achieving and having success in this profession.”

As operations manager for LUTV Channel 7, Williams serves as a mentor for broadcast journalism students — men and women of all ages and colors — and admits he learns as much from them as they do from him.

“For me it’s another part of me getting to share my creativity — sharing what I know,” he said. 

Part of it is giving back to a university that helped guide Williams, himself, to a successful career path.

“He is fantastic,” said Williams’ former teacher and longtime friend, chair of the Lamar University Department of Communication O’Brien Stanley. “He is just a wonderful partner, loves students, works with students, inspires students. Gordon is absolutely inspirational, a mentor to the students in our department.”

Williams came to Beaumont to attend Lamar University in 1994 on scholarship through the university’s Minority Scholars Institute.

“That program was the reason I came to Beaumont, and had it not been around, I don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “It was the beginning for me.”

A communications major, Williams excelled in his chosen field of television production and kept busy in his off-hours studying and working for free at LUTV.

After grieving the loss of his mother, Williams became even more focused on his career goals. His dedication and creativity shined through with his production of “G Sharp TV,” a television show, similar to BET’s “106 & Park,” a countdown music video show that featured popular hip-hop, contemporary R&B, reggae and dancehall music videos. G Sharp TV aired on LUTV Channel 7 and garnered attention.

Williams was offered a position as an intern for a BET production in Washington, D.C.

“That was definitely … different,” he said, “and … interesting. But it was a very good learning experience for me. Until then I had been in a small market, and working as an intern for BET really showed me I had a lot to learn.”

Taking his newfound network production experience with him back to college, Williams expanded his repertoire from predominately television production to creating films. After graduation, he worked as a production assistant at KBMT Channel 12 before accepting a job at Lamar as TV operations manager, the job he holds to this day.

Williams also produces Lamar Cardinal football games, which can be seen on ESPN3, endorsements for the city of Beaumont, as well as video for the city of Port Arthur and Jefferson County Commissioners Court.

Expressing his creativity through filmmaking continues to be Williams’ passion.

Williams has won awards for several films including “Surviving Rita: Looking Forward,” a documentary chronicling the aftermath of the Southeast Texas hurricane and focusing on its long-lasting effects on the region, and “Do You,” a short film about a southern white family surprised to meet their daughter’s boyfriend, who is black.

“It’s definitely more comedic in its delivery (than ‘The Example’), but it’s again about finding commonality and removing that whole fear element that may exist between people that don’t have similar backgrounds,” he said.

Even though “The Example” touches on the dark subject of racism in Beaumont, the film also brought together a diverse cast and crew that found commonality and produced something to be proud of, Williams said. “People of different ages and ethnicities came together to make a project in the same city where a lot of this stuff happened. It’s powerful,” Williams said. “With this project Wyatt, Kenneth and I, and the cast and crew — we’ve taken something and have made a positive out of it. Made something beautiful.”

A Beaumont showing of “The Example” is planned, but details are not finalized, Williams said. For more information about “The Example,” visit www.examplemovie.com. Look for ticket information and more details soon on “The Example” Facebook page.