The Neutral Ground: Memory, Monuments, & The Confederacy with CJ Hunt
Updated: Mar 28
The Neutral Ground
It's been said that history mirrors the present. A question we must ask is, how often does the “history” that we have been taught misrepresent and deconstruct the past?
Where does our responsibility lie in determining what is fact and/or fiction? The implications in this age where misinformation, fake news, and access to news and current events abounds.
In this episode, comedian and filmmaker CJ Hunt joins us to talk about his film The Neutral Ground. CJ delves deep into memory, racial justice, history, propaganda, and rewriting history. Hunt defines what white supremacy is and why it is a dangerous ideology. CJ and David also talk about cynicism, the lies in history, and the importance of being honest out loud and in public.
This episode with CJ holds a crucial conversation that has implications for the past, present, and future.
If you’re interested to know more about the story behind The Neutral Ground, this episode is for you!
3 reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Get a sneak peek of the film, The Neutral Ground.
Learn how comedy and satire can serve as a wake-up call to historical injustices.
Discover why American history is sometimes one-sided, complicated, and layered and why uncovering the real story is essential for us all.
Get to know more about David’s podcasting, writing, and public speaking invitations on his website.
Grab a copy of David Peck’s book Real Change Is Incremental
Support Face2Face through Patreon
Find out more about The Neutral Ground here!
[05:14] Using Satire to Make People Understand Confederacy
CJ thinks comedy and satire are helpful in understanding the Confederacy.
He likens Confederacy to a breakup that happened a long time ago that you’re not fully over and honest about.
CJ wanted to make a movie that was fun, accessible, and digestible, despite its harrowing topic.
[08:06] The Birth of The Neutral Ground
The Neutral Ground production started in 2015. CJ Hunt used a big microphone because he knew nothing about filmmaking then.
CJ Hunt moved to New Orleans after graduation to become a middle school teacher. Eventually, CJ found himself working to become a comedian.
In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre in 2015, the then-mayor resolved to take down four Confederate monuments.
CJ made a 5-10 minute short about people who think moving a monument destroys history.
No one was brave enough to take down the monuments because of threats of vigilante violence.
[10:43] The Missing Crane & Racial Justice
Institutional racism manifested in the New Orleans situation.
The mayor had the power to pass the memo but not to acquire machinery to move the monuments.
The mayor’s missing crane was a more accurate sign of white supremacy in the film.
[12:19] Reenacting the Civil War
The idea of camping out for the weekend with everyone in costume and sharing food is amazing. That’s how people reenact the Civil War.
However, most people believe what they’re reenacting is not political at all.
[13:43] The Lost Cause
Christy Coleman was the CEO of the American Civil War Museum.
She says the Lost Cause is a beautiful story about a glorious American past and a perfect balance of relationships. However, this story is not true.
CJ: “It's a beautiful story; it's just not true. And I think that that could be the slogan for the Confederacy.” - Click Here to Tweet This
It presents a better narrative than the actual story of how the Confederacy protected slavery.
The Neutral Ground navigates what happens when you base your identity on a story that’s not true.
[15:20] Responding to a Person Who Believes the Old Myth
CJ has spent most of his life unprepared to respond when someone says the Confederacy wasn't about slavery.
The individual declarations of causes of the Confederacy’s forefathers were all about slavery.
It was only after the war that the South started rewriting the story. It continues until today.
[18:43] Comedy and the Confederacy
The Neutral Ground is not trying to dress the Confederacy up as comedic. The Neutral Ground is a documentary about the absurdities of the Confederacy.
People who defend the Confederacy say that it wasn’t about slavery and slavery wasn’t that bad.
The Neutral Ground is comedic because you can’t say these things out loud without being horrified or finding them absurd.
[20:43] Looking through Primary Sources
They showed many documents in the film to make people realize they could research these things at their local library.
Listen to the episode to hear about one of the film’s best finds about Robert E. Lee’s 60-feet New Orleans statue!
So much of what made the Confederacy a popular imagination was from the North.
[22:56] Telling the Real Story of the Civil War
The film is about the nation that chose to tell a different story about the Civil War that undermines slavery.
Moving the monuments of these “great men” is akin to acknowledging that they fought to keep slavery.
People invested in white supremacy put the statues of these “great men” up.
[26:44] Showing the Different Sides of the Divide
Thomas Taylor was the head of the Louisiana Sons of Confederate Veterans who viewed themselves as historians.
No Sons of Confederate Veterans member wanted to talk to the camera, so they reached out to Thomas.
Thomas and CJ both believed they could change each other’s mind.
People who uphold white supremacy have no genuine interest in seeing life from the perspective of the oppressed.
[32:22] Defining White Supremacy
White supremacy is a story about how black people haven’t gone through terrible experiences.
It’s also a belief that if they went through terrible things, it’s over now; bringing it up is just divisive.
The existence of enslavers’ monuments in cities with the highest concentrations of black people is evidence of white supremacy.
CJ: “White supremacy is also the thing that makes you not only look away from what happened to black people in the past, but [also] what is happening to black people now. You do not have to hate black people to be a white supremacist — you just have to consistently not believe them.” - Click Here to Tweet This
[34:38] The Neutral Ground
CJ believes it’s not the job of the oppressed to convince people on the other side of the narrative.
CJ: “You can absolutely change the world, but you will do so less quickly if you believe that your energy is best spent on people who don’t believe that racism is real. […] Our film will not work for Thomas Taylor. But it might work for his kids, for his grandkids.” - Click Here to Tweet This
The film is about talking to people in the middle who have yet to form a stand on these matters. It’s about helping them recognize propaganda and telling the truth out loud.
Our model of change should focus on what we can accomplish without worrying about changing the opinions of white supremacists.
CJ Hunt is a New York-based comedian and filmmaker. He is presently a field producer on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Previously, CJ worked as a staff writer for A&E's Black and White and as a field producer for BET's The Rundown with Robin Thede. Additionally, CJ Hunt is also a regular host of The Moth.
In 2020, CJ Hunt became a New America Fellow. He is an alumnus of the New Orleans Film Festival's Emerging Voices and Firelight Media's Doc Lab program. As a graduate of Brown University's Africana Studies, CJ integrates race and comedy to say what we can't out loud.
His 2021 feature-length documentary, The Neutral Ground centers on how to break up with the Confederacy. Particularly, The Neutral Ground tackles New Orleans' fight over Confederate monuments and the Lost Cause and America’s codependent relationship. The film is an official selection of the 2021 Tribeca Festival and the 2021 AFI Docs Film Festival.
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