“Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land” is an inspiring contemporary documentary about families who pulled together to keep their family land. The movie was an “Official Entry” for the 2023 DC Black Film Festival (DCBFF) held recently at the Miracle Theater in Southeast D.C.
Early in this film, a startling revelation is exposed: stories reveal many Black people may want nothing to do with taking over and maintaining their family land. The history of Black people and working the land is not pleasant, expressed Danita Mason-Hogans, an award-winning civil rights historian, educator, speaker, writer, and activist.
“The land is not oppressive,” Mason-Hogans said in the film, trying to separate the history of slavery from the value of family land.
How Black People Lost Their Land
Award-winning executive producer and director Eternal Polk assembled multiple scenarios showing how Black families can recoup land that may have been lost for various reasons. Black farmers in the United States lost nearly 90 % of their farmland during the 20th century.
Violence, eminent domain, and government discrimination played a part, but a little-known issue called “heirs’ property” also devastated Black land ownership. Heirs’ property refers to land passed to family members by inheritance without a clear title. That has led to shared ownership, vulnerabilities to outsiders taking over, and prevents families from building generational wealth.
“There’s been this incredible loss of generational wealth,” said Al Roker, co-executive producer of “Gaining Ground” and NBC Today Show anchor and meteorologist during a segment on NBC Washington.
“We decided to take a look at the historical nature of this, what the problem is and the people who are trying to correct it.”
Making ‘Gaining Ground‘
This is Polk’s first feature-length film. People featured in this documentary have been working to correct the land ownership problem, as seen through instructive mini-case studies in “Gaining Ground.”
“I hope at the end of this film that folks are inspired to help others gain land, creating a legacy for our families,” said Polk at DCBFF.
Through networking with other people in the film industry, he and co-executive producer Roker brought in John Deere– the farm equipment company is a leading partner on this important film about generational wealth.
The company created a program to help Black farmers and landowners get clear titles to their land. John Deere makes a strong statement through their involvement with “Gaining Ground.” The involvement of John Deere in this film is interesting since there has been friction between the company and Black farmers over the past few years.
“We’re not going to just give some money and just walk away,” Polk was told by John Deere. The company further said, “We’re going to create something that’s lasting, sustainable, and can have an impact in perpetuity.”
What’s Next for Black Land Ownership?
“Gaining Ground” has received positive acclaim at several film festivals. The producers of the film are currently pursuing wider distribution for the documentary. As for John Deere, they will continue supporting methods for heirs’ property and other methods to help Black farmers. The Biden-Harris administration recently announced a $2.2 billion initiative providing aid to Black farmers.
Speaking on behalf of John Deere at DCBFF about “Gaining Ground” was Collis R. Jones, vice president of the U.S. Policy & Strategy for John Deere Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. To view short clips from
“Clearing title to heirs’ property land is the most important thing we can do,” said Jones. “How do you take that land to make money for you? It unlocks economic value. Those are the things that are important to us.”
View short clips from “Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land” on the film’s website at https://gaininggroundthefilm.com