Kaid Benfield Archive


'Welcome to Shelbyville': a community of immigration challenges, faith and hope

Kaid Benfield

Posted September 10, 2010 at 1:15PM

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The upcoming documentary film Welcome to Shelbyville is "a glimpse of America at a crossroads," according to its executive producer, the BeCause Foundation:  

"In one small town in the heart of America's Bible Belt in the South, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics.  Just a stone's throw away from Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan), longtime African-American and White residents are challenged with how best to integrate with a growing Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Somali refugees of Muslim faith.”

The film is currently in pre-release screenings, including one next week at the Brookings Institution here in DC.  It is expected to appear on PBS sometime in spring 2011.  Here’s more from the description:

“Set on the eve of the 2008 US Presidential election, the film captures the interaction between these residents as they navigate new waters against the backdrop of a tumultuous year. The economy is in crisis, factories are closing, and jobs are hard to find. The local Tyson chicken plant is hiring hundreds of new Somali refugees, and when a local reporter initiates a series of articles about these newcomers, a flurry of controversy and debate erupts within the town. Just as the Latino population grapples with its own immigrant identity, African-American residents look back at their segregated past and balance perceived threats to their livelihood and security against the values that they learned through their own long struggle for civil rights. While the newcomers, mostly of Muslim faith, attempt to make new lives for themselves and their children, leaders in this deeply religious community attempt to guide their congregations through this period of unprecedented change.

“Through the vibrant and colorful characters of Shelbyville, the film explores immigrant integration and the interplay between race, religion and identity in this dynamic dialogue. The story is an intimate portrayal of a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.”

Apart from the obvious importance of the subject matter, the trailer opens with a great Dolly Parton gospel number.  Here it is:


According to Brookings, the film is featured in the US State Department’s American Documentary Showcase, a touring program of filmmakers and award-winning documentaries that reflect contemporary American society and culture.