Arts

'A Phone Call From My Best Friend' explores systemic, subtle racism

Filmmaker Alex Christenson says growing up in Palo Alto helped influence his work

Madison (Celeste Arias) confronts her own racial bias in "A Phone Call From My Best Friend." Courtesy Alex Christenson.

The concept of Alex Christenson's short film, "A Phone Call From My Best Friend," is simple: A woman shopping for a dress chats with her offscreen friend via a phone conversation. But the issues explored are anything but simple, as the two white friends — Chrissy and Madison — grapple with unconscious bias when one friend ponders if she is racist for not feeling fully comfortable dating a Black man.

For Christenson, who grew up in Palo Alto and graduated from Palo Alto High School in 2003, it was important to examine how white people who consider themselves generally progressive and enlightened may in fact be more complicit in systemic racism than they've ever realized.

"Like much of America, Palo Alto's racial makeup is a direct result of residential segregation policies," Christenson said, referring to a recent article on thesixfifty.com. "Yet, as children growing up in Palo Alto are not taught this, they assume that places like Palo Alto just happen. And if they just happen, they must be normal. So now the child grows up with a working definition of normal that is, in fact, quite distorted. Many white people find it mysterious how characters like Chrissy and Madison can, in moments, unconsciously express racist attitudes, but with some historical context we begin to understand why they do."

Filmmaker Alex Christenson, who grew up in Palo Alto, explores systemic racism in "A Phone Call From My Best Friend." Courtesy Alex Christenson.

Christenson hopes that the film, which has been named a staff pick on Vimeo, will challenge viewers to look within and at their own communities, rather than provide easy answers.

"We are all part of the system, so we all share the responsibility for addressing systemic racism," he said.

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'A Phone Call From My Best Friend' explores systemic, subtle racism

Filmmaker Alex Christenson says growing up in Palo Alto helped influence his work

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 11:48 am

The concept of Alex Christenson's short film, "A Phone Call From My Best Friend," is simple: A woman shopping for a dress chats with her offscreen friend via a phone conversation. But the issues explored are anything but simple, as the two white friends — Chrissy and Madison — grapple with unconscious bias when one friend ponders if she is racist for not feeling fully comfortable dating a Black man.

For Christenson, who grew up in Palo Alto and graduated from Palo Alto High School in 2003, it was important to examine how white people who consider themselves generally progressive and enlightened may in fact be more complicit in systemic racism than they've ever realized.

"Like much of America, Palo Alto's racial makeup is a direct result of residential segregation policies," Christenson said, referring to a recent article on thesixfifty.com. "Yet, as children growing up in Palo Alto are not taught this, they assume that places like Palo Alto just happen. And if they just happen, they must be normal. So now the child grows up with a working definition of normal that is, in fact, quite distorted. Many white people find it mysterious how characters like Chrissy and Madison can, in moments, unconsciously express racist attitudes, but with some historical context we begin to understand why they do."

Christenson hopes that the film, which has been named a staff pick on Vimeo, will challenge viewers to look within and at their own communities, rather than provide easy answers.

"We are all part of the system, so we all share the responsibility for addressing systemic racism," he said.

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