A Binding Truth is an confronting and eye-opening film that centres around the story of Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick and De Kirkpatrick.
They were high school classmates in 1965. Jimmie transferred his senior year to an affluent high school in Charlotte – he was their first Black football star. That decision swept him into one of North Carolina’s most volatile civil rights cases, played out at the explosive intersection of football and race. De watched that case unfold and wrote about it in his college essay application.
The film begins as one might have expected. Documenting Jimmie Lee’s experience when he transferred from an all-Black Second Ward High School to a predominantly white Myers Park High School.
Despite leading the Mustangs to an undefeated season, scoring 19 touchdowns and earning All-American honors, Kirkpatrick was snubbed for a spot on the Shrine Bowl, an annual game that features the best high school football players in the Carolinas.
However it takes a turn in the second act when former teammate, De Kirkpatrick, gets in touch following a retrospective newspaper article on the team.
Back in the day, the two players jokingly and affectionately called each other “Cuz” due them having the same last name. But Jimmie reveals they are actually more officially linked through a darker and tragic connection.
It turns out that De’s great-great-grandfather was a slave owner, and actually owned Jimmy Lee’s ancestor. Kirkpatrick being the name given to the slaves by their owner.
The documentary follows the two men as they attempt to come to terms with this revelation and dig deeper into their family history, and how it can help further the discussion in wider America.
The issue of slavery and race relations in the United States is one which is still sadly as relevant today as it was at the time of emancipation or the Civil Rights movement. Slavery may have ended, but the scar tissue that it left in the country has never truly healed.
In order to move forward as a nation, you must be able and willing to confront the past. One cannot know where one’s going, until they know where they have been.
Director Louise Woerhle’s mission statement for her films was to “shine a light on stories that help us see ourselves and others in new ways, promote healing and connect us as human beings”.
Narratively speaking, it does not break the mould, push boundaries or reinvent the wheel when it comes to format or visual storytelling. This is not your typical “pull the rug out from under you” Netflix doc, like Misha And The Wolves for example. Instead, following the men as they trace their family lineages and visit unmarked graves, It plays out like an episode of the BBC’s popular ancestry programme Who Do You Think You Are?
With the number of people exploring their family trees exponentially increasing thanks to online platforms, many will find themselves facing some tough questions about their ancestry. Do you turn a blind eye or confront it head on?
Just like the BBC, a good documentary should seek to educate, entertain and inform. A Binding Truth achieves at least two out of the three, as it informs and educates the viewer, even if the delivery is a little dry. Whilst we learn much about Jimmie Lee and his story, when it comes time to reflect, the film ultimately asks more of its audience than it does of its subjects.
Director: Louise Woerhle
Stars: Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick, De Kirkpatrick
Runtime: 92 minutes