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Beyond Black and White for One Night

<b>Review</b>: A new film provides a rare look into more subtle forms of racism and proposes a way to change that one school at a time.
Gerica McCrary made history in 2002 when she organized the first racially integrated prom at her Taylor County High School in Butler, Ga. Even though her school officially integrated in 1971, the prom remained segregated in reality. Parents of students feared interracial dating and fundraised for separate proms for decades.

Enduring pressure, intimidation and harassment from her community, McCrary united her classmates and broke racial barriers with an integrated prom. Her bold activism brought public attention to many racial barriers -- such as segregated proms and cemeteries -- that continue to exist in America today.

The fight to integrate Taylor High School's prom inspired a new, touching drama, "For One Night," based on the experiences of McCrary and her classmates. The film also brings to light how support from an Atlanta journalist -- who was first to shed the light to segregation -- helped McCrary's struggle garner public support.

Produced by Lifetime Television, "For One Night" tells the story of a smart, popular, and vivacious high school senior Brianna McCallister (Raven-Symone) who risked her friendships and academic standing to combat racial segregation.

Set in Mercier, La., the film opens with an image of an everyday American teen couple arriving at high school one morning. The couple -- a white young woman in a cheerleading uniform and her African-American boyfriend -- park their car waving gleefully to their classmates, including Brianna McCallister.

The couple kiss in the parking lot as the school bell rings. Caught abruptly, the couple is ripped from their car and reprimanded by a white male school administrator. At this point a subtle reality becomes clear -- blacks and whites mix socially in the public spaces, but intimate, private interaction is considered taboo.

For the rest of the day, Brianna struggles with the fact that she -- as the white young woman -- is released back to class without formal punishment while her African-American boyfriend is suspended and humiliated.

Raven-Symone ("That's So Raven," "The Cheetah Girls"), Aisha Tyler ("The Ghost Whisperer," "Friends"), Jason Lewis ("Sex and the City") and the rest of the diverse cast deliver an inspiring story about how ordinary citizens -- with a little bit of wit, charm and audacity -- can change deeply embedded social constructs.

The movie sticks to the essence of the true story of Gerica McCrary and the former Taylor County High School alum-turned-journalist Desiree Howard (Aisha Tyler) who helped her expose the story to the world. Aisha Tyler explained, "This is an important story to tell because, since the '60s, we've all gotten a little complacent about race relations in this country. We think we've done the work and we've finished. I think it is important to show that these things are still going on and to really confront people's preconceptions and their comfort with the way things are."

Tyler's assertion encompasses the most important message from the film -- racism and discrimination still exist in America in both blatant and subtle ways. "For One Night" succeeds in breaking down the complexities of institutionalized discrimination in a way that is tangible and accessible for young people.

Produced for Lifetime's education and advocacy campaign, the film was supported by community organizations, including Girls Inc., Martin Luther King Foundation, Youth Service America, YWCA USA and the Anti-Defamation League. The Lifetime network joined with social justice groups to reach out to disparate communities through the mainstream television and internet. The producers hope the film will encourage young people to become leaders in their communities and fight racial inequality. The online educational guide available at Lifetime.com serves as an entertaining and inspiring tool to educate youth about the power of individual activism.

Based on the reactions of high school students at the D.C. premiere of the film, I expect that young people will be inspired to stand up for their rights as a result of watching the strong evolution of a young activist. I hope that other networks will follow Lifetime's lead and promote inspiring programming to help fight oppression and exploitation.

The late Coretta Scott King said, "Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation." In memory of Coretta Scott King, it is my hope that this generation will fight for the freedom we have not yet won because even though we no longer see the shackles of slavery, the shackles of racism still grip us tightly, keeping us from progressing and making the change we need to be truly free.

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"For One Night" will air on Lifetime Television in March. Jamia Wilson is a writer and activist based in Washington, D.C.