Yale screens alumni-featuring documentary on race in South Carolina
On Monday, director Jon-Sesrie Goff came to Yale for a screening and discussion of his documentary “After Sherman,” a narrative surrounding racial trauma in South Carolina which features two Yale Divinity School alums.
Ahaan Bhansali, Contributing Photographer
Filmmaker Jon-Sesrie Goff came to Yale on Monday to screen his new documentary “After Sherman,” which featured two Yale Divinity School alumni, Elijah Heyward ’07 and Norvel Goff ’91.
The film, released in March, depicts the racial trauma within the region of South Carolina through the perspective of the Gullah Geechee people and explores ideas of power, gender, race, identity and the environment. Held at the Humanities Quadrangle, the screening was followed by a panel discussion with Goff.
“If I could use three words to describe “After Sherman,” they would be ‘family,’ ‘culture’ and ‘connection’,” Heyward, who was also a consulting producer and research advisor to the documentary, told the News.
The film traced the family history of the filmmaker, as well as several members of the cast, including Heyward. Describing the project as “homegrown,” Heyward told the News that After Sherman was one of the few projects that made him feel close to home.
“It felt empowering seeing so many people I know and respect behind this collective effort,” Heyward told the News.
Thomas Allen Harris, a professor of African American Studies and Film and Media Studies, organized the screening as part of his course ‘Family Narratives/Cultural Shifts.’
Aimed to bridge larger sociocultural movements and film, the course offers students the opportunity to examine their own cultural backgrounds by studying the formal aspects of filmmaking. Harris told the News that Goff was the first filmmaker to visit the class in over six months.
“It is the first Yale course that looks exclusively at family archives, probing students to understand the nuances of identity,” Harris said.
The film looks at the 2015 Charleston Massacre, the aftermath of which saw Goff’s father, Norvel Goff, become the interim pastor of the church. As the film progresses, “After Sherman” burrows itself both into Goff’s personal community and into the stories of the larger Gullah Geechee community.
“It was difficult having to sort through data and optimize the entire airing process,” Goff said at the discussion.
Goff said that the production of the film involved extensive interviews and archival footage and faced the challenge of navigating sensitive themes.
The role of grief, Goff said, proved to be demanding, but he found consolation in the thought that each person in the audience “walk[ed] away with a sense of hope and perseverance.”
Atin Narain ’26, one of the attendees, described After Sherman as “uplifting” and “invigorating”.
“It is growing increasingly relevant to discuss subjects around diversity and identity,” Narain said.
Heyward told the News that the film hopes to create an environment of empathy and advocacy, bringing to light the less-told parts of American history and inspiring students to engage in scholarly discourse.
“After Sherman” won several international awards following its release, including the Best Documentary award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Ahaan Bhansali | email@example.com