Back to all films

CodeSwitching: Race and Identity in the Suburban Schoolhouse

A film by Jonathan P. Schwartz and Mike Mascoll

Narrated by Naheem Garcia. DP Erik Angra. Original score and additional animation by an outstanding artistic team

CodeSwitching: A NETA ( PBS) /NEW DAY/Mass Humanities/Interlock/ LEV FILMS presentation on the intersectionality of race, gender and generation.

CodeSwitching is a mash-up of personal stories from African- American participants in a landmark voluntary school desegregation program. While in noble pursuit of educational opportunity, shuttling between inner-city neighborhoods and predominantly white suburban schools can be traumatic, especially for teenage girls. At times ostracized by their neighborhood friends, isolated at their adopted suburban schools, they must constantly CodeSwitch. The hard part is staying connected to their authentic selves.

At daybreak, a camera-drone follows a bus full of students headed from the urban core, out to the highway, and on to the affluent suburbs. The students are a bonus to the mainly white suburban schools where they disembark, as their presence provides visible diversity.

Typically, girls do not experience the same athlete-hero status as many of their male peers. They may face the burdens of ostracization back home and feelings of isolation in the suburbs.

Social media can compound their troubles. Pressures to “act white” or even “act more black” are common for participants, who struggle to bridge the gap between home-life and school culture. In the process, they quickly learn to act and speak differently depending on the venue. This is Code-Switching.

For some of our characters, especially the older black men, “code-switching” has brought social and professional mobility. For others, the nature of code-switching has been harder to handle, causing anxiety and depression.

School integration programs seek to alleviate educational inequalities, and as a derivative function, to address social, economic, and racial injustices. Increasingly, participants and alumni in such programs are speaking out, and demanding robust black studies, more black teachers, and more support for BIPOC students who may be struggling with self-identity and against systemic racism.


Associated Members

Paul Heinzelmann, Independent Filmmaker


We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture