On January 28, 2020, award-winning journalist Natasha S. Alford joined Pulitzer Center Outreach Assistant Kayla Edwards to discuss Alford’s documentary Afro-Latinx Revolution: Puerto Rico.
A Pulitzer Center-supported documentary, Afro-Latinx Revolution takes a look at Afro-Puerto Rican and Afro-Latinx identity while exploring the complexities of what it means to be Black. During the webinar, Alford went into detail about the inspiration behind her film, the filming process, and what she aimed to accomplish by starting a conversation about race relations in Puerto Rico.
In 2018, Alford pitched her project idea to the Pulitzer Center to cover Afro-Latinos in Puerto Rico. A year later, when Puerto Rican citizens were protesting against Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló, Alford felt it was the right time to pitch the story again. Alford saw an opportunity to cover how racism manifests structurally on the island. After receiving approval for her grant, Alford used her documentary as means to dig deeper into the history of Puerto Rico and to visually display the reality of race issues happening there.
Afro-Latinx Revolution reveals how the past has affected the current state of race relations in Puerto Rico. “There is this element of racialization in every aspect of society,” said Alford. The understanding of what it means to be Black has always been present on the island, but the question of racial identity remains a complex issue.
Alford discussed how race relations in the continental U.S. affect one’s ability to comfortably identify as Black rather than Puerto Rican. Some Afro-Puerto Ricans feel that by identifying as Black racially, they would be abandoning their Puerto Rican heritage. Alford explained that others are operating under racist beliefs and ideas and stated that there is still a racial hierarchy that leaves Black people at the bottom.
Alford said that in the continental U.S., being called Black often equates to African American, and the word “Black” has its own very complex history. This had led to some Afro-Puerto Ricans feeling hesitant to identify as Black.
“We’re Black but we’re not Black like they are; they being the African Americans,” Alford explained.
While filming and reporting in Puerto Rico, Alford wanted to make sure she captured authentic thoughts and ideas during her interviews. She discussed how building trust was an important part of the process.
“That is where good reporting and good journalism comes in [...] You can’t just dive in. You have to build trust with the people and the communities that you are visiting,” Alford said. Alford also was intentional about working with local crews in Puerto Rico and credited the activists and community leaders who helped vouch for her and who spoke to the validity of the topic.
In a short 30 minutes, Alford’s documentary Afro-Latinx Revolution reminds viewers how important it is to make space for the different ways that Blackness manifests in different communities in the African diaspora. Alford hopes her film will be an inspiration to other creators to go after the untold stories and share them too.
“I feel like I am contributing to this growing movement that is saying pay attention to these stories,” Alford said.