“Texas is a Mirror That Reflects Back What America Has Been” | Alexandria Stapleton, God Save Texas: The Price of Oil
Films are made of and from places: the locations they are filmed in, the settings they are meant to evoke, the geographies where they are imagined and worked on. What place tells its own story about your film, whether a particularly challenging location that required production ingenuity or a map reference that inspired you personally, politically or creatively?
Texas is many things – a place, an identity, and an idea. It is a state, a state of being, and a state of mind. It holds itself apart and is held apart. It polarizes. And that makes for a good story. My film, God Save Texas: The Price of Oil, explores Texas and my hometown, Houston. I left it over 20 years ago because I felt unseen and misunderstood. I ran away. Coming back to make this film allowed me to ask myself, “why?”
The filmmaking process was transformational. I was able to spend time with my family to understand our deep history and connection to the state. I shifted my curiosity of the past onto my own lineage rooted in the tough earth of a complex place. For two decades as a filmmaker, I have mined other people’s lives, accomplishments, histories and legacies for good stories and some truth. Now I was mining my own.
The film was unexpected. I never thought that I might have a story to tell in Texas, but now, in the aftermath, it seems obvious. My family has been in Texas for seven generations, and it did not come willingly. Our labor was owned at first, and we contributed much to the story of Texas. My great-grandfather, on his Pullman Porter salary, was able to buy a home for his family in one of the first master planned communities for African Americans in the country. He did this despite the fact that he was only one generation removed from slavery, buying his home less than 80 years and 50 miles from where his grandfather was enslaved.
Facts like this captivated me. I realized that I wanted to use my craft and my voice to help protect these essential spaces within the place of Texas. For me and thousands of other Black families that have been here and still come here, our homes are our monuments. Our homes are sacred treasures. They are spaces for us to gather, eat, dance, talk, celebrate and mourn. They are a place of living community. In the film, I invite you to peer inside our homes, and in doing so I believe you will not only see my family, but also likely yours.
Larry Wright, a fellow Texan, the author of the book God Save Texas and a producer of the film, understands that Texas is a mirror that reflects back what America has been, and what it is becoming. I have looked into the mirror that is Texas and can see myself better, and maybe a little truth. I have looked into the mirror and concluded, like Larry, that it is our collective commitment to community—mine, yours and ours—that will save not only Texas, but our democracy, our country and perhaps the world.
The Texas state motto may come as a surprise to many. It is simply “Friendship.” Yes, the biggest, baddest, most polarizing place in America has “friendship” as its one-word motto. It may also come as a surprise—it certainly did to me—that I believe that this place that holds itself apart and is held apart may also come to best embody another motto— “E Pluribus Unum”— “out of many, one.” Let us all hope so—and pray—and most definitely try.
See all responses to our annual Sundance Question here.