The new film The Cost of Inheritance weighs in on one of the nation’s most divisive but essential topics — reparations — but doesn’t mention government solutions. Instead, it introduces viewers to descendants of slave owners and enslaved persons and profiles their complicated, intertwined histories and their quests to seek repair together. 

The Cost of Inheritance, which also explores the ripple effects of the racial wealth gap, will debut on GBH 2 as an America ReFramed special on January 8 at 10pm and launch on WORLD on January 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

“This film elevates reparations from being a political issue to being a human issue,” said WORLD Executive Producer Chris Hastings. “The film isn’t about what the government should do — it’s the story of personal accountability. I think it starts the process of healing something that we haven’t reckoned with.” 

Directed and produced by Emmy® nominee and Peabody Award–winner Yoruba Richen, the film features insights from experts, activists and historians; archival material; and personal stories from communities that are launching grassroots initiatives to redress economic inequalities that stem from racial injustice. 

One story in the film is Lotte Lieb Dula’s, a White woman who discovered an old family journal that contained a list of Black enslaved people listed by name, age and value. 

“There were 44 souls listed in this ledger,” she says in the film. “If our family enslaved others, I’ve got some repair work I’ve got to do.” She went on to co-found Reparations4Slavery with Briayna Cuffie, an African American. 

“I hope viewers will be surprised at the balance and truth-telling that emerges in this film,” said Emmy© Award–winning Executive Producer Darryl Ford Williams, former vice president of content for WQED-Pittsburgh. She also produced PBS’s Harbor from the Holocaust, which told the story of European Jews who fled Nazi persecution and sought refuge in Shanghai. 

The new film is a natural fit for WORLD, which has featured the award-winning Buffalo Soldiers: Fighting on Two Fronts and Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, said Hastings. 

“At WORLD we work really hard to find those relevant, important stories from independent, often marginalized filmmakers, who don’t have the infrastructure available that more established producers do,” he said. “We want to accelerate them and move them to the next level.” 

Making the human connection is essential when addressing issues like reparations, said Ford Williams. 

“Storytelling is at the heart of any compelling social narrative,” she said. “You can talk about any issue with experts and at meetings, but until you start telling personal stories, you don’t get to the ’why should I care?’ connection.” 

She hopes the film paves the way for more understanding and conversations between White and Black Americans. “The divide between us as Americans is so fraught with so many issues with so much complexity. If we don’t examine this issue, the rest of our issues are in large part compounded,” she said. 

Hastings agrees. “I hope this film gets people talking. I think the problem with race in America today is we don’t talk enough. We yell. And that just makes us more divided.” 

The film doesn’t advocate for any position or opinion, said Ford Williams. Instead, it presents a nuanced view of the key issues and scope and rationale of the reparations debate from a number of perspectives. 

“I hope viewers come away understanding that reparations can take many forms, not necessarily in the form of money,” she said. “There are many aspects to reparations, but they all begin with truth. They all begin with acknowledgement.” 

And they all begin with relationships and ending the silence.