What kind of legacy do we want for our city? When people across the country talk about Omaha, what is it we hope they’ll say? These are choices made every day and, perhaps most consequentially, at the ballot box. In my experience, one of the first things outsiders learn about Omaha is how divided it is – and how that fact seems intuitively to be rooted in our history of redlining.

Sure, redlining, which disproportionately and often intentionally targeted low-income communities of color through economic disinvestment, was outlawed in the Fair Housing Act of 1968. But much like claiming that the same year’s Civil Rights Act ended discrimination – or, to be more dramatic, that the Sixth Commandment ended killing – laws, racism, economics, violence, and their intersections are rooted in complex histories that still shape the present. As James Baldwin wrote in The New York Times in 1962, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

This is the mission of director Lizzy Barrett with the new documentary “Divisible,” which will be playing at the Benson Theatre on July 8-9. Barrett, a D.C.-based photographer, videographer, and documentarian, first came to Omaha in 2020 to film a fundraising video for a North Omaha-based nonprofit and, though she had what she calls “a baseline understanding of redlining at the time,” her actualizations of the concept were mostly rooted in major cities like Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. 

Lizzy Barrett is a D.C.-based photographer, videographer and documentarian. Provided by Lizzy Barrett.

“Once I started researching Omaha’s history and the ongoing impact of redlining here,” Barrett said, “I knew there was a much larger story to be told – one that really speaks to the pervasiveness of these maps. For instance, nearly 75% of white families in America owned homes in 2022, compared to approximately 45% of Black families – a 30% gap. But in Nebraska, the contrast is even starker. Only 28% of Black families here own their home, compared to more than 70% of white families who own their homes – a 42% gap. A large portion of this disparity can be traced to these government-drawn maps. So the impact of redlining in Omaha is a great case study to understand how it has and continues to play out in cities across the country who are less visibly segregated than Omaha.”

Barrett, who worked on Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, decided from the beginning that, to take on the project that would turn into “Divisible,” she’d need to include Nebraskans in the process. 

“I had the privilege of speaking with countless individuals about the direct and indirect impact redlining has had on them individually, and oftentimes, generationally,” she said. “It’s these personal accounts and the generosity of each participant willing to share their knowledge and experiences that really complete this story and make Omaha a compelling example of this national phenomenon.”

Beyond these personal accounts, Barrett established a somewhat unusual dynamic for a documentary. In addition to her role as director, she relied on a governing board with deep ties to Nebraska to collaborate on the overall vision: the Rev. Dr. Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani, a professor of Black studies at UNO; Schmeeka Simpson, Director of Tours at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation; and Terri Crawford, who teaches Black studies at UNO and is a community fellow at the UNO Service Learning Academy.

Schmeeka Simpson, Director of Tours at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation. Provided by Lizzy Barrett.

Simpson explained that this structure lent itself naturally to the subject matter. “A top-down culture that controls a particular narrative is oftentimes suppressive of those whom the narrative is about,” Simpson said. “Our governing board allows us to all participate in this project, have all of our voices and concerns heard, and we all have a personal stake in the outcome of the film. As a board, we have been able to bounce ideas off of each other, hold each other accountable, collectively celebrate milestones reached and encourage each other through our collective disappointments. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Barrett was adamant that building a credible picture of this problem would require communicating with those affected by redlining as well as local academics and scholars whose work focused on or related to redlining and its implications. 

“Luckily, there are a plethora of people working in a variety of spaces from academia to advocacy who were willing to speak with me both on and off camera about what redlining in Omaha really looks like and the history that surrounds it,” Barrett said, adding, “It was during this process of information gathering and personal study that I recognized the absence of redlining from my own education. Even though history and social justice issues have been two major interest areas of mine since middle school, I couldn’t remember learning about redlining in any of my classes. And once I started to understand just how transformational these maps and policies were across all major aspects of American life, I knew I wanted to create something that would start to fill that gap in our collective understanding of this critical issue and its long-lasting impacts.”

To achieve this, Barrett and the board believed a documentary was the medium most suited to the message. 

Terri Crawford teaches Black studies at UNO and is a community fellow at the UNO Service Learning Academy. Provided by Lizzy Barrett.

Crawford noted that media consumption patterns in recent years have meant that “the American public has started to shift from traditional print news consumption to video and other multimedia formats. As a result, documentaries are able to reach a broader audience across the available platforms, which is critical for increasing widespread education around these issues.” 

And theatrical screenings of a film can offer something crucial that is not easily replicated by print or online writing in our fractured media landscape: a forum for discussion by members of a community in the same room. In a way, it’s going digital to go analogue. How can a community solve problems? First, it needs to face them. For Barrett, that’s ideally happening together at the same time. 

The production is teaming up with several organizations and venues to host free screenings of “Divisible.”In addition to the Benson Theatre and Culxr House, other venues targeted areThe Union for Contemporary Art, The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, and potentially several universities and lower-level schools across the metro in a long-term effort to include clips within local curricula. 

“Each of these screenings will include panel discussions with experts and leaders from the North Omaha community to discuss the historical and ongoing impacts of redlining, and how to translate the information learned from the film into impactful action,” Barrett said. And following that, “We want ‘Divisible’ to serve as a metaphorical coalition – building space, connecting organizations and initiatives who are working to undo the impacts of redlining to those who need access to their relief services as well as those who are interested in supporting their work. In doing so, we hope to generate a best practices methodological template for change in areas and communities that face similar empirical challenges. Once we have established and solidified a local presence and impact in the Omaha metro area, we will expand our screening and outreach efforts to other cities in the Midwest and nation as a whole.”

Omaha is just the starting point. This suggests a twofold audience for a project like “Divisible”: the communities and the elected officials. And it raises a question: Is there a disconnect between people in power and their constituents when it comes to the relevant issues of the film’s mission statement? 

The Rev. Dr. Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani is a professor of Black studies at UNO. Provided by Lizzy Barrett.

“There is a simple but succinct maxim that gets to the heart of the answer to this question: ‘Where you stand is intimately connected with where you sit,’” Dr. Imani said. “Politicians represent political constituencies. Their views are conditioned by the spheres they represent. It’s rare for a sitting politician to speak out against the political status quo, because they are presiding over and maintaining that status quo. Occasionally revolutionary politicians appear, but they tend to last only a brief time.”

If there’s one kind of politician Omaha is unlikely to elect, even in the wave of a revelatory documentary, it is a revolutionary, though Dr. Imani points out that Omaha is not unique in this regard, and often what is considered revolutionary can be traced to phrasing found in the Constitution. “Divisible” challenges Omaha, and America beyond it, to confront the legacy of what it has done, not in definitive condemnation but as a challenge: rise up to your own stated ideals. If we, as Americans, believe that all people are created equal with unalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then why not start acting like it? Why not legislate toward it? Is that really so revolutionary? 

Barrett and the board are optimistic, perhaps they have to be, that once the enduring problem of redlining is faced, it can be changed – even from the top.


  • What: “Divisible”
  • Where: Benson Theatre
  • When: July 8, 7 p.m. and July 9, 2 p.m.
  • Tickets: Free Admission (https://www.divisibledoc.com/)

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