Local Filmmakers Work on Documentary about Black Infant Mortality

Lindell Singleton and Garrett Graham are working together on a new documentary project called The_Gap, which covers black infant mortality, maternal morbidity in the United States and issues revolving around systemic and environmental racism.

Singleton began this project after having a look at United Way metrics showing the rate at which black infants were dying. Starting as an attempt to produce a film called The Valedictorian which focused on asthma and its impact on Black and Latino boys in Texas, the data showed an even larger problem. This project then evolved into one delving into the startling statistics of infant mortality and health care disparities.

"I actually thought the United Way metrics were a misprint.” Singleton said. “I mean— if black infants were dying at this rate, wouldn’t it be considered a public health crisis? Wouldn’t there be a national outcry?”

While in the search for a partner for the project,  Singleton met Candice Bernd, an investigative journalist with Truthout who told him about Graham`s work including his film Don`t Frack with Denton. Singleton then reached out to Graham, an adjunct professor for UNT. Graham wanted to help, and his capabilities impressed Singleton. They shortly became producing partners for the The_Gap.

“Our early conversations were about things like environmental racism and how if you are a poor person of color you are much more likely to find yourself living near sources of pollution and that suffering is largely invisible until you get a healthcare bill you can't pay for. As an environmentalist, I'm always looking for those hard-to-see variables that touch the lives of millions,” Graham said. “It's easy to ignore or pretend that people's health problems are their own concern, but there are many systemic factors here that are way beyond any individual's control. Poor folks and people of color have always been expected to carry the burden of American industry with their broken bodies and medical bills.”

Singleton decided this project, in active development through 13 Studios, is going to be an both a classic documentary cut at feature length time, (a.k.a. the film festival circuit editorial,) and a six-part series which will be available on streaming services. The goal with the series will be to ‘Un-silo’ the factors that may influence the black infant mortality rate such as looking into problems, connections and how they separate in their inter-locking narratives. For their project, the duo is considering shooting in Georgia, Ohio, Beaumont/Port Arthur and the Mississippi delta region but the main hub will be in North Texas.

Talking on the work of Dr. William Callaghan, a senior scientist at the National Center for Health Promotion, Singleton reiterated what Callaghan said in congressional hearing. He said over 500 thousand babies are born premature each year in the United States with more than 33 percent of infant deaths attributed to preterm birth. Additionally, African-American women compared to white women are more than one and a half times more likely to deliver a preterm infant. Going further, the infant mortality rate for black infants is twice that of white infants. After seeing all of this, Singleton asserts there is not one reason for these numbers, but possibly many.

“Are the BIMR number so disturbing because of preterm births, lack of consistent prenatal care, lack of health insurance, environmental toxins in the air and water, low birth weight babies, smoking or something else— or, perhaps, is it a blending of some (or all) of these?” Singleton said. “There is no ‘single cause.’”

Singleton said with this series he hopes to inspire everyone to engage in the topic and inspire people to do something in support of what the Center for Disease Control calls a public health crisis in the United States.

As infant mortality rates are a tool to measure population, it is typically defined as an infant not living to experience a year one birthday. The infant mortality number is currently six for white infants. This means for every 1000 white babies born, six don’t make it to their first birthday. Compared to black infants, about 13 for every 1000 don’t make it to their first birthday.    

In script development, the pilot episode uncovers startling pieces of data going back to the 20th century which Singleton describes as the first period to have some semi-comprehensive record-keeping for the topic. The numbers in data were about 125 deaths for every 1000 live births for white babies and about 250 per 1000 for black babies, proving a noticeable gap between the two. The gap, which Singleton is consistently finding to be two to one.

“Our overarching goal is to ensure that these children have every chance to becoming fine men and women--contributing and productive members of society,” Singleton said. “But, none of this happens unless you get beyond the year one birthday.”

There is a sizzle reel of the documentary viewable here

You can see curated content for the documentary here

Videos of other material available for The_Gap can be seen by clicking here

Header image by Christopher Rodgers