Q & A | Black, deaf, and Jewish filmmaker Eli Steele is challenging how we view race

Image by Eli Steele

Eli Steele’s great-grandfather on his father’s side was born into American slavery. His grandmother on his mother’s side escaped the Nazis, then went back and rescued her entire family. His father is Shelby Steele, the famous Black conservative and author of “The Content of our Character,” a book that got him cancelled back in the 1990s.

So when Eli Steele, who is deaf in addition to being Black and Jewish, wanted to become a filmmaker, he was joining a long line of people who refused to accept what society told them about themselves.

Steele’s third film, “What Killed Michael Brown,” stars his father, who is now a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. In it, Steele and Steele go to Ferguson, Missouri, again and again, trying to figure out how an 18-year-old Black man ended up fatally shot by a white police officer, and why despite the fact that the Department of Justice concluded that Brown was shot in self-defense, a narrative prevails in which he was killed out of racism while his hands were in the air.

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