by Monique McIntosh
MIAMI – From seaweed to lost beach balls, sun-seekers bump into all sorts of surprises swimming along Florida’s iconic beaches.
For black swimmers however, there’s a complex history floating off Florida’s blue waters—one of segregation and violence, but also one of protest and resistance.
That’s what Miami filmmaker Cathleen Dean explores in her new documentary, “Wade in The Water: Drowning in Racism.” Diving deep into Black Florida’s fight for the right to swim, the new film brings to life the 1960s Civil Rights protests that desegregated the state’s beaches and swimming pools.
Now the film has just picked up the $5000 runner-up prize of the Wolfson Cinemaslam Award for Best Film Featuring Archival Material, which recognizes filmmakers’ innovative use of images from the past.
For Dean, the project began while exploring the Florida Moving Image Archives when she was working on her music video, “Happy to Be Nappy” (which also won the Wolfson Cinemaslam Archival Award in 2019).
“I came across all of this incredible footage of the civil rights protests and just became inspired,” recalls Dean, who’s currently an MFA film student at the University of Miami, and the city producer of the 48 Hour Film Project, an international filmmaking competition.
One historic shot includes the landmark 1964 protest at the Monson Motor Lodge pool in St. Augustine, Florida, where the owner of the hotel infamously poured acid into the pool to force out protestors.
Found footage also shows the watershed 1961 wade-in protests that led to the desegregation of beaches in Fort Lauderdale. Led by activist Eula Johnson, the protestors had to be guarded by FBI agents to keep the Ku Klux Klan at bay.
These images “really helped bring to life” the research Dean presents from experts like Thaddeus Gamory, Director of Community Engagement and Programs at advocacy non-profit, Diversity in Aquatics, and Bruce Wigo, former president and senior consultant at the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
“There was such a rich swimming tradition across Africa, but when we came to the New World, through slavery and Jim Crow, the community was deprived of their access to the water,” explains Dean about the historical context presented in the film. “So there was a loss of this spiritual connection and healing.”
An avid swimmer herself, these stories spoke volumes on a personal level. “I love the water and I find it my happy place, so I wanted to combine the spiritual importance of connecting with the water, with the historical struggle that took place in Florida.”
In addition to this new project, Dean will also be screening her new narrative short film “Being” during the Miami Film Festival’s Shorts Program, at the Silverspot Cinema in Downtown Miami.
Taking a personal, intimate look at the impact of racial profiling, the film premieres Tuesday, March 10th 9:35 p.m., with a second screening on Saturday, March 14, at 12 p.m
Tickets to the screenings are available at https://miamifilmfestival.com/events/being/