Like the CD-ROMs we had done with Nina Menkes and John Rechy, this was another interactive memoir, but this time based on an actual autobiography—Carroll Parrott Blue’s The Dawn at My Back: Memoir of a Black Texas Upbringing (2003), which was soon to be published by University of Texas Press. The idea of collaborating with Labyrinth on an interactive version originally came from film scholar Vivian Sobchack, who was one of the editors of the “Constructs Series” in which Carroll’s book was to appear and also one of the participants in Labyrinth’s pre-production seminar on Tracing the Decay of Fiction, our project with Pat O’Neill. Although in 2002 we were initially reluctant to start this new collaboration (because we were still completing The Danube Exodus and Bleeding Through), Carroll simply wouldn’t take no for an answer and we eventually agreed to do it.
As an African American photographer and filmmaker, Carroll set her story against her complex relations with two communities: her middle-class family, especially her mother Mollie Carroll Parrott (with whom she had a stormy relationship and to whom the book is dedicated); and the independent black community in Houston, Texas, where she grew up and which helped empower her to deal with America’s racist culture. Both contexts are illuminated by the popular culture of the time—her encounter with films like Birth of a Nation, Imitation of Life, and The Graduate and with the fandom around black stars like Belafonte and Poitier, and with the glossy spreads in magazines like Life. To strengthen this emphasis on media, Carroll recruited veteran actors Debbie Allen, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis to perform the voice-over narrations. The project deliberately included a wide range of tones, from light humor to a grizzly description of a lynching.
As the central trope of the interface, we used Carroll’s family quilt, which not only wove these varied experiences together but also enabled users to keep track of what parts they had visited and what others remained to be seen. Labyrinth’s visual designer Kristy Kang purposely refrained from making the memories too detailed. She left room for the gaps and for the on-going revision of memories as they were recalled. For the production team, we purposely chose media artists who represented other ethnicities, not only Kristy (a Korean American who headed the team), but also our editor Myrton Running Wolf (a Black Foot Native American) and Priscilla Ovalle (our Latina compression queen).
Released in 2003, the DVD-ROM was an Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize for New Narrative Forms. It was also featured at the “Race in Digital Space” Media Festival in Los Angeles, the Dallas Film Festival, Ars Electronica in Austria, and V Salon Internacional de Arte Digital in Cuba.