Would you believe me if I told you that Black freedom lies at the bottom of the deepest ocean?”
(Wade in the Water: Drowning in Racism by Director/ Producer Cathleen Dean.)
“Did you know that children of color are drowning at six times the rate of Caucasians?” Cathleen Dean shares this finding as part of her own discovery of a suppressed ‘water culture’ in the African American community. Why do many people of color avoid the water or are unable to swim? The reason goes deep, all the way to the bottom of the deepest ocean. For Cathleen, the depths of this revelation began with her father, Samuel Ralph Dean.
Mr. Dean, the son of Bahamian immigrants, was born in Hallandale Beach, Florida in 1930. But despite having served in the army and being a veteran of the Korean War, he was not allowed to swim in the waters of Hollywood, Florida. When his daughter, Cathleen moved to South Florida in 2003, Samuel pointed out to her that the beaches she had access to now were off limits to him growing up. Teacher, director and filmmaker, Cathleen Dean explains that it wasn’t just her dad, and it wasn’t just in Hollywood. Inspired by her father’s stories she dug deeper, discovering that prior to 1965 people of color were systematically denied access to beaches. The impact of these discriminatory practices has left a deep scar on communities of color. It has removed our knowledge of our water culture.
Coincidentally, Cathleen Dean, an award-winning producer is also the Director of Art and Theatre at the L.A. Lee YMCA/Mizell Community Center. On the heels of her Best Documentary Short Award for the short film ‘BEING’ at the Roxbury International Film Festival last year, Cathleen partnered with Diversity in Aquatics, and their collaboration produced her latest film, Wade in the Water: Drowning in Racism.
Cathleen has been on this path for some time. A passionate teacher and community builder, she has been working on projects and producing films since 2010. She has been active in the 48 Hour Film Project, an annual competition for producers and filmmakers, where participants are challenged to produce an entire film in one weekend. Through this work she has facilitated and been a part of partnerships that have resulted in various film awards, community partnerships and even some marriages! Cathleen calls this work “place making” or community building, it creates spaces and events that facilitate the coming together of the community.
Meanwhile Cathleen has been active in pursuit of her own personal dreams. Her MFA (Master’s in Fine Arts) from the University of Miami has positioned her to follow her lifelong passion of telling stories through film.
“I am grateful that here in South Florida I live in a community that encourages and enhances the process of film making. It also helps that the costs of filmmaking equipment, like cameras have fallen dramatically over the years.”
The short film, Wade in the Water is Cathleen Dean’s latest and most stunning work. Together with Diversity in Aquatics, she reveals the cultural ethos that has led people of color away from the water. Cathleen started swimming with Diversity in Aquatics about seven years ago and is effusive in her praise of their ability to inspire confidence, health, safety, and enjoyment through teaching the art of swimming. Among other activities, the program teaches adults how to swim, the first step in re-establishing our connection as a people to our water culture. According to its website, “Diversity in Aquatics seeks to reduce the drowning disparities for all minorities, expand the efforts and policies around drowning prevention and water safety while promoting the benefits of aquatics activities.”
When asked, what is the purpose of this film, Cathleen responds,
“This film should give back. It should dispel negative stereotypes and encourage those who don’t know how to swim to learn.” Cathleen adds,
“Our community has suffered, economic, spiritual, social, physical health and wellness and historic loss from not being connected to water.”
It is no wonder that Cathleen Dean has earned an EMMY. This crowning achievement comes from the Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Her film Wade in the Water is also an official selection at the 39th. Miami Film Festival where it is competing in the Knight Made in MIA Award category for 2022. She has also received a Proclamation from the city of Hollywood, FL.
Check out the Miami Film Festival on March 10th. 2022. Wade in The Water will be at screening spot 12.
For more information on Cathleen Dean’s amazing work check her out on Facebook at Cathleen Dean, on Instagram @Cathleendeanbcm” or her website Cathleendean.com.
Dixie Ann Black