Jaime Harrison and the Politics of Race in South Carolina: Filmmakers Emily Harrold and Charlamagne Tha God on ‘In the Bubble with Jaime’

By Brigitte McIndoe for WORLD

The director and executive producer talk about following Jaime Harrison and his 2020 U.S. Senate run in the middle of the pandemic, and how the messages of the campaign can resonate around the country and across party lines.

On a new Local, USA during Black History Month, Jaime Harrison challenges Lindsey Graham for South Carolina’s seat in the United States Senate. ‘In the Bubble with Jaime’ follows Harrison as he launches his 2020 campaign against the long-time incumbent against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic and a racially- and politically-divided electorate, in a story that extends far beyond the results of the race.

Director Emily Harrold and executive producer Charlamagne Tha God, both born and raised in South Carolina (Orangeburg and Moncks Corner, respectively), spoke with Local, USA host Tina McDuffie about what drew them to Harrison and his campaign and how it painted a larger picture of where politics and the people stand in their home state and beyond.

“Race and politics in the South is something that we are going to continue to debate, because it's not going away anytime soon,” Harrold said.

Even though Harrison, who is now Chair of the Democratic National Committee, didn’t win out against Graham, his campaign was, and is, representative of the intersection of race and politics in the U.S. today.

WORLD: Why did you want to tell Jaime Harrison’s election story?

Emily Harrold: We knew going into it that this campaign was going to be historic for a variety of reasons. First and foremost: a global pandemic. None of us have ever experienced that. If we could pull it off, we thought it would be an interesting story. What does it look like to try and campaign when people can't go outside? How do you connect with voters? How do you reach people and understand what they're interested in and what they care about? I've known Jaime for almost my entire life, and to see what he was doing was, personally, very exciting, and I wanted to make sure it was documented.

[The film is] about his campaign, but it's been four years since the story was filmed. It encapsulated a candidate that has this very idealistic vision about creating a broad coalition that is not based on race in a world where race still so defines our political system. That's the conversation and the theme that I want people to be thinking about as they watch the film. Jaime’s story just happens to be the conduit through which we're exploring that.

W: What made Harrison a different kind of candidate?

Charlamagne Tha God: The thing that frustrates me about a lot of politicians is that they're in their offices, or in D.C. on the Hill, and they're creating policy, but they're not really talking to the people they're creating policy for. [Jaime] was going door to door, talking to people, doing the barbershop campaigns. Being home [in South Carolina], I felt the energy for Jaime Harrison. And when I wasn't home, I was getting calls about Jaime Harrison. That's what made me feel like he could win this thing. Then we started to see him raise more money than anybody has ever done in the history of the Senate. That's when I was like, “Okay – we got something real here.”

What I saw was a lot of people, Black and white, energized for something new in South Carolina politics. So, when he lost the way he did, that was the biggest surprise for me. But then I also had to take a step back and say to myself, “Well, it is still South Carolina.”

W: What does this film say about the relationship between race and politics in South Carolina and across the country?

EH: In a political story like this one, even today, race largely defines how people vote in South Carolina. One of the things that we were exploring in the film is the math for someone like Jaime to win. When it is so racially divided, it makes it a really, really tough thing to try and figure out what to do. Jaime was very idealistic in this campaign, and that was amazing to watch, but that idealism backfired to some extent. It's a difficult thing when you live in a state like South Carolina and there's still so much division that exists. How do you reach all these communities, and then how do you make sure they feel valued? 

CTG: Being a Black person in America, we're all looking for the same thing, and that's upward mobility. We have these conversations about systemic and structural racism – if something was done to put us in these positions, then it's going to take something systemic and structural to get us out. We truly cannot heal what we don't reveal. We should not be embarrassed by the history of this country – it happened. How do we learn from that, correct it and move forward? This is a people who constantly show up for this country and feel like they don't ever reap the benefits of the people that they put in office. 

If we make up such a large portion of their base [the majority of Black voters in America vote Democrat], we absolutely should be asking for a Black agenda. But we're in a place in this country where people are either trying to erase the history of Black people or don't even want to acknowledge the history of Black people. It’s strange to me that we can't be honest about racism in America. If you're against somebody having a Black agenda, an LGBTQ+ agenda, an agenda for women – do I really want your support?

W: How do you think this film can inspire Americans, especially during an election year?

CTG: I learned from people like Stacey Abrams. I think that we can probably do a better job in South Carolina of going in the trenches and activating those people who have never voted. I was a person who never voted in an election until President Barack Obama in 2008. He energized me in that way. So when I see Stacey in the trenches in Georgia and really activating those people who've never even thought about voting, I feel like we can do a better job of that.

I hope that [the film] inspires another Jaime Harrison. I hope that people watch this and don't feel discouraged. There are people who may not have seen the documentary, but just know the story, and they may feel discouraged because they saw Bakari [Sellers] run – he didn't win [Harrold and Charlamagne also teamed up for the documentary, "While I Breathe, I Hope"]; they saw Jaime Harrison run – he didn't win. But I hope that next young Black man, young Black woman doesn’t feel discouraged. And I hope that a documentary like this gives them hope.

W: What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

CTG: Even though Jaime came up short, this was one of those unique moments where people realized we need to change, that something different needs to happen. A lot of people came together to attempt to make that happen. 

It’s not about the happy ending all the time, right? It’s about the process. Sometimes you may not shatter that glass ceiling, but you put a lot of cracks in it. Somebody might watch this documentary and know what they need to do in order to actually shatter the glass ceiling.

In the Bubble with Jaime is now streaming online, on YouTube & on the PBS app.

Watch more from this interview now on YouTube.

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