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Make it Snappy: Thea St. Omer's "Nigger" at ArtRage

"I don't audible-ize the word," says one of the interviewees, a middle-aged white man and presumably a teacher. He says that he will write "nigger" and he will refer to it, just never "audible-ize" it.

I suppose he really means "say out loud." Generally I take a dim view of the practice of interchanging parts of speech -- using "impact" as a verb is just lazy -- and now here is a further alarming foray into adjectival contortion. "Audible-ize" may exist somewhere, probably as a technological term, but this is the first time I've heard it used. And perhaps it shows up here to illustrate unwittingly the lengths to which we'll go in seeking linguistic escape from the snares of another word. Thea St. Omer takes on the many-shaded malignancy of that word in her masterful documentary, "Nigger."

An instructor at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University, St. Omer screened an earlier version of "Nigger" there last spring and later at New York University. Now she's finished the film -- 59 minutes and shot in digital video -- and she hosts a premiere screening next Wednesday at ArtRage Gallery in the Hawley-Greene neighborhood, just a short hop north from the SU campus near James and Lodi.

St. Omer distills Nigger from over 100 interviews. The majority of her interviewees are of African descent, but there are also Latinos, a number of whites including a German mother whose school-age daughter uses the term "digger" as code for the forbidden "nigger," and several Asians including a slender young man who says he's never been called a "nigger" and adds wistfully, "I'm not that cool." One thing that film as a visual medium accomplishes here, without making any fuss about it at all, is the accumulation of a pool of subjects who are astonishingly varied in their range of age, style, accent, dress, station and degree of worldliness, stance and hue. This of course makes its own point given the film's consideration of blunt-force stereotype.

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