Power to Heal
Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution
The untold story of how the twin struggles for racial justice and healthcare intersected: creating Medicare and desegregating thousands of hospitals at the same time.
Directed by Charles Burnett & Daniel Loewenthal
Produced by Barbara Berney, Roberta Friedman, Daniel
A film by Barbara Berney
Editor: Daniel Loewenthal
Writers: Anna Reid Jhirad, Leslie Clark
Music: Stephen James Taylor
Executive Producers: Tammy Robinson, Martin Dornbaum
Narrator: Danny Glover
A BLB Productions, LLC production
[Note: Community screenings of POWER TO HEAL can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"A critically important yet heretofore untold story...Painstakingly accurate and profoundly moving." Paula Braveman, Dir. Center on Social Disparities in Health, UC San Francisco
POWER TO HEAL tells a poignant chapter in the historic struggle to secure equal and adequate access to healthcare for all Americans. Central to the story is the tale of how a new national program, Medicare, was used to mount a dramatic, coordinated effort that desegregated thousands of hospitals across the country practically overnight.
Before Medicare, disparities in access to hospital care were dramatic. Less than half the nation's hospitals served black and white patients equally, and in the South, 1/3 of hospitals would not admit African-Americans even for emergencies.
Using the carrot of Medicare dollars, the federal government virtually ended the practice of racially segregating patients, doctors, medical staffs, blood supplies and linens. POWER TO HEAL illustrates how Movement leaders and grass-roots volunteers pressed and worked with the federal government to achieve a greater measure of justice and fairness for African-Americans.
Grade Level: 9 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2018
Copyright Date: 2018
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-14-3
"Every scholar, student, professional, and patient of public health and medical care should see this film - and discuss it. It stands as an extraordinary correction to the collective amnesia about race and health and a deeply considered tribute to the struggles for racial justice forged by so many during the implementation of Medicare. The testimonies, archival footage, and historical argument this documentary marshals in such a compelling manner is essential to our education as health care professionals and scholars. It is not an overstatement to say that Power to Heal is a key corrective to a lesser known, but necessary historical reclamation of the relationships between health and in America."
Stewart Auyash and Yolanda Clarke, American Journal of Public Health
"Having spent most of my career studying the civil rights movement, I assumed that I was well informed about its many dimensions. But watching Power to Heal was a revelation to me. The film is a fascinating and instructive story about the long American struggle for social justice."
Clayborne Carson, Professor of History, Founding Director, The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, Stanford University
"Compelling...Details[s] the struggle to bring long-overdue change, along the way detailing the achievements of inspiring figures...While most documentaries on the Civil Rights movement focus on the political and educational aspects of segregation, this one addresses a much less remarked - if no less shameful - chapter in American race-relations history. Highly recommended. 3.5 stars."
P. Hall, Video Librarian
"What a wonderful film. This chronicle of the leadership of black physicians, nurses, and dentists with their white allies should be shown to each entering class in US health professional training programs. It is a glorious story of this enduring struggle for equality with an important victory along the way. Power to Heal is full of lessons for today's students, their clinical colleagues, and professors as we try to cope with the current situation that would take us back to this cold dark past."
Dr. Peter Orris, Professor and Chief of Service, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System
"Power to Heal has a critically important yet heretofore untold story to tell. And it does so in a way that is both painstakingly accurate and profoundly moving. The range of historical film footage and interviews is remarkable."
Paula Braveman, Professor, Family and Community Medicine, Director, Center on Social Disparities in Health, University of California, San Francisco
"Power to Heal shows both the destructive legacy of racism in American health care and the potential for collective action to redress these wrongs. We should be inspired by Medicare's role in desegregating our nation's hospitals, and should insist on further reform - like improved Medicare for all - to address the systemic racism that plagues patients of color to this day."
Dr. Claudia Fegan, National Coordinator, Physicians for a National Health Program
"Power To Heal is long overdue. It unearths another painful past - racial segregation and discrimination in healthcare during Jim Crow, resulting in Blacks being denied basic medical care. This is a must see. It's riveting from start to finish."
Michele Goodwin, Director, Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy, Professor of Law, University of California - Irvine
"A powerful documentary. A moving story of the twin struggles for racial justice and health care, and how the two struggles intersect. This is an important film because the struggles for racial justice and access to health care continue."
Alan Goodman, Professor of Biological Anthropology, Hampshire College, Past President, American Anthropological Association
"An outstanding presentation...Brings this history to light. It is critical to view this film to see how a powerful movement brought needed change to American healthcare. This film should be seen by citizens everywhere and shown in every classroom."
Janet Golden, Professor Emerita of History, Rutgers University - Camden, Author, Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century
"A powerful film offering deep and accurate insight into our nation's history regarding racial segregation in health care delivery and health policy. A great tool to teach students, policy workers and those simply interested in gaining a better understanding of our country's sordid past regarding racism and health inequity. This film serves as an important reminder and lesson - of where we've come from and the power of grass-roots activism - for those of us in the fight to achieve health equity amidst the current day challenges in our society."
Dr. Rachel Hardeman, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota School of Public Health
"Many unsung heroes of health care and civil rights history appear on camera here for the first time, along with extensive archival footage on medical discrimination and the contentious passage of Medicare. The story it tells reminds us how far we have come, but also how far we have to go to end racial inequality in health care. The film should be of great interest to community groups that advocate for equal rights and health care for all, and will be a valuable teaching tool for university-level courses in civil rights and public health history."
Beatrix Hoffman, Professor of History, Northern Illinois University, Author, Health Care for Some: Rights and Rationing in the United States since 1930
"A remarkable film...Essential viewing for anyone interested in the deeper conversations about health disparities and the pursuit of equality today."
Michael Olender, Manager of Outreach and Advocacy, AARP North Carolina
"It is essential that students and young physicians from all backgrounds know their history and how our profession both supported and worked to dismantle segregated healthcare in our country. This is a critical film that not only speaks to a time that has passed in our American history; it foreshadows to the present. Segregated healthcare still persists and is highly invisible in this country - except to the people who experience the ills of it. And so this film challenges us all as physicians and soon-to-be physicians to recognize that our collective work to ensure justice in health must always move beyond our typical work within hospital walls."
Aletha Maybank, Deputy Commissioner, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Director, Center for Health Equity
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DVD includes SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.
Host a community screening
Awards and Festivals
Directors' Award for Documentary Short, Pan African Film Festival
Director's Choice Award, Black Maria Film Festival
Best of Festival, Route 66 Film Festival
Award of Excellence, Special Mention, IndieFEST Film Awards
Best Short Film, Ogeechee International History Film Festival
Baltimore International Black Film Festival
Port Townsend Film Festival
Denton Black Film Festival
Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival
Roxbury International Film Festival
American Psychological Association Film Festival
Global Peace Film Festival
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"An excellent documentary on a lesser-known chapter in the American Civil Rights Movement: the desegregation of hospitals, and the heroes - both the famous and the more obscure - who made it happen. A must-see for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of race and medicine in America and how it began to change during this pivotal time."
Dr. Damon Tweedy, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine, Author, Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine