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American Totem: Reckoning With Gun Cultures

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Catalogue Number:  TVP085
Producer:  Video Project, Inc.
Subject:  American History, Criminal Justice & Law, Current Events, Documentary, Guidance, Media and Communications, Politics, Social Media, Social Sciences, Sociology
Language:  English
Grade Level:  Adult
Country Of Origin:  United States
Copyright Year:  2019
Running Time:  89:39

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After public mass shootings, the national gun debate consists of predictable talking points that focus on the object and neglect the underlying causes. However, firearms are unlike other objects. For some Americans, they are the symbols of personal identity and community. For other Americans, they represent racial oppression and violence. American Totem explores American’s emotional connection to firearms, and the power of this object to both create and destroy community. Taking a non-artisan approach, diverse communities, gun rights activists, gunshot victims and community organizers share their stories; and historians, philosophers, and sociologists offer their viewpoints.
Exploring the topic of guns in America from a more nuanced approach than the standard “more guns versus less guns” debate, American Totem recognizes that Americans have complex, and often contradictory, relationships with firearms.

  • Melina Abdullah, PhD Pan-African Studies, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Rakem & Yafeuh Balogun Co-founders, Huey P. Newton Gun Club
  • Soraya Chemaly, Journalist and Author, Rage Becomes Her
  • Saul Cornell, PhD Fordham University, A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America
  • Scott Crow, Author, Setting Sights: Reflections and Histories on Community Armed Self Defense
  • Julianna Crowder, Founder, A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League
  • Firmin DeBrabander, PhD Philosophy, Maryland Institute College of Art, Do Guns Make Us Free?
  • Bigg Flawliss, Rapper and Actor
  • Pamela Haag, PhD Author, The Gunning of America
  • Mark Kaplan, PhD Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA
  • Tina Maldonado, Firearms Instructor
  • Fatima Mann Co-founder, Counter Balance: ATX
  • John E. Price, PhD History, Penn State University
  • Harel Shapira, PhD Sociology, University of Texas Austin, Waiting for Jose
  • Robert Trausch, Community Organizer, Chico Housing Action Team
  • Cody Wilson Founder, Defense Distributed

** This program contains mature subject matter which may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. **

** Program not available for sale to Post Secondary institutions. **


"In addition to providing an excellent data-driven analysis of gun violence in the United States, American Totem also offers a visually rich look at the ways Hollywod and the gun industry have inculcated a narrative that romanticizes gun use and killing by the 'good guys'...Thought provoking without being biased." — Robert Speer,



FILMMAKER'S STATEMENT: "In 2015, I decided to make American Totem in response to what seemed to be a rise in mass shootings across the country. Like most Americans, I thought the solutions to address gun violence were obvious, and only political will was lacking. I believed that if I simply offered unbiased facts, political action would follow. But the conclusions I’ve drawn in the process are not the ones I set out to find. I’ve learned that this object has meaning to both sides of the political debate, and a deeper understanding of what the gun represents is critical for reducing gun violence. My hope is that this film reframes the debate in order to move us towards a more peaceful society."
— Sue Hildebrand

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