The Making of Hate Crimes in the Heartland with Writer and Producer, Rachel Lyon

On Monday, January 19, the Cleveland Museum of Art will open its doors for a free daylong celebration of art, music, and film in celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Family-friendly activities, storytelling, and song will fill the galleries to honor Dr. King’s vision of altruism and acceptance. The day will culminate with a special screening of Hate Crimes in the Heartland, a groundbreaking documentary that explores media coverage of hate crimes in America. Following the film, a panel of religious, civic, and activist leaders as well as the film's producer and writer, will discuss local challenges to diversity and share thoughts on service-related responses to hate. We caught up with Rachel Lyon, writer and producer of Hate Crimes in the Heartland before the Cleveland screening to get some insight on why she decided to make this film. Read on for her story, and watch the film trailer below.

Above: Watch the trailer for Hate Crimes in the Heartland.

I was inspired to make Hate Crimes in the Heartland, a documentary based on a breaking case a couple of years ago, when two white men drove into the black neighborhood in Tulsa and randomly killed three people and injured five... I literally leaned forward when I heard the news, because I knew of Tulsa's 'open secret': the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, where up to 300 blacks were killed in one night in the very same neighborhood by a white mob and police.

I realized that a documentary about both crimes could be made and that this was a way for us all to look at the terrible legacy of racial injustice and hatred and to search for ways to find reconciliation and hope. 

Within a few weeks I had a pile of faculty and students in a van driving to Tulsa to begin a two year adventure of delving into current and past tensions - to explore what happened in Tulsa as a microcosm for our country.

One note about the production: We were filming all over Tulsa and we were a mixed crew of white, black and Middle Eastern folks, but we decided to stay within the black community and chose a hotel in that area. It was an old mansion and had beautiful rooms and decorations - and we had the former mayor and journalists and historians all come to this 'dangerous' neighborhood to be interviewed... Apparently, very unusual. But everyone had a great experience and they were all willing to come into the old "Black Wall Street" to be interviewed.

I'm very excited to be sharing the film with the Cleveland Art Museum and community on Martin Luther King, Jr. day and to bring a distinguished panel to discuss media, race, crime and punishment in America - and in Cleveland.

Hear more from Rachel Lyon on Monday, January 19 during a panel discussion after a free film screening of Hate Crimes in the Heartland at the Cleveland Museum of Art! 

Guest Author

Rachel Lyon

Writer and Producer

Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Rachel Lyon has produced 65 feature films, movies-for-television, feature documentaries and limited series. Her work focuses on critical global issues, human rights, civil equality, art and archeology and history. Lyon serves as Director of Special Gifts at the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. Her breakthrough work on exposing the “crime-media business” involves a partnership including 10 universities, culminating in a major symposium on Media and Human Rights in America and her new film, Hate Crimes in the Heartland. Her films have appeared on CNN, PBS, BBC, History Channel and National Geographic, among others.


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