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Common Reader film explores racial inequity, class barriers

After a series of events exploring racial inequities in America, University of Houston-Clear Lake's Common Reader Program will culminate with a screening of "Owned: A Tale of Two Americas" on Monday, April 26, at 5 p.m. via Zoom.

The event will be followed by a Q&A session led by the film's director, Giorgio Angelini, along with Alyssa Shotwell, the moderator for the event and the online editor of UHCL's student newspaper, The Signal.

The documentary, released in 2018, vividly portrays racial and class barriers to property ownership.

Hunter the Hawk, UHCL's mascot, will cap off the presentation by revealing the 2021-22 Common Reader selection.

This year's text, entitled "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" by Wes Moore, traces the devastating impact of racial disparity through the lives of two young Black men with the same name, from the same neighborhood in Baltimore. The documentary's parallels to the topics discussed in the book were the basis for its selection as the program's final event of the semester.

"The committee decided to screen this documentary because it overlaps with our Common Reader's discussion of the human cost of historical, racialized disinvestment of communities of color," said Anne Gessler, coordinator of UHCL's Common Reader Program and clinical assistant professor of First-Year Seminar and Humanities.

"Examining the experiences of diverse Americans across three cities, director Giorgio Angelini illustrates intensely and distinctively how postwar housing policies institutionalized racial inequalities in homeownership that continue to shape our housing market today," she said.

Associate Professor of Art History Beth Merfish, who is assisting in coordinating the event, said the film serves as a way of further exploring discrimination and other issues that are discussed in Moore's book.

"Our goal was to go beyond the book's descriptions of individual consequences of discriminatory policy to focus on and reveal the actual policies," Merfish said. "The film sheds light on these policies and on the power structures that enforce and perpetuate injustices." Merfish added that she hoped attendees would benefit from learning about the structural barriers to equity and consider ways they might work to correct them. "We also hope students interested in documentary filmmaking will learn about that field," she said.

This documentary came to fruition after Director Giorgio Angelini photographed an abandoned "McMansion" development in California during the housing crisis in 2012. In an effort to challenge the belief that the area had recovered from the crisis, he turned the photo into a broader documentary film.

"We can't propose solutions if most Americans don't even agree that a problem exists in the first place," he said. "My film aims to lay the groundwork for understanding both the legacy of racism in housing policy and the ways in which the commodification of housing negatively impacts Americas. And why we need to solve for both these things if we want a more secure housing economy in the future."

UHCL's Common Reader Program aims to foster critical thinking and discussion around important social issues. Every year, a committee of students and employees select a specific piece of literature to be studied throughout the academic year. The committee also plans events to complement overarching themes in the text, with the intention of including the entire university community.

This event is free and open to all students, and open to register online. Learn more about the Common Reader Program online.