Growing up in London, Che R. Applewhaite loved going to art exhibitions and film screenings. He would often chronicle his experiences through blogging and journaling. At Harvard, he wrote articles on culture and politics for campus publications like the Harvard Political Review and the Harvard Advocate. While he has long orbited the art scene, Applewhaite ’21 never considered himself an artist until he made his first short documentary, “A New England Document,” last year.
The film was an official selection at the 2020 Sheffield Doc/Fest, a prominent global documentary film festival, and premiered online this summer. “A New England Document” profiles Lorna and Lawrence Marshall and details their extended expeditions with their children to Africa’s Kalahari Desert starting in the 1950s. But it also explores Applewhaite’s personal and intellectual concerns with history and with colonialism as a native of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as related questions of the field of anthropology, which he studies at Harvard.
The 16-minute production features archival images and documents from the Laurence K. and Lorna J. Marshall Collection, housed at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The material was gathered over 11 years by Lorna, an anthropologist, and Laurence, founder of the aerospace and defense firm Raytheon, and documents the lives of Indigenous peoples as they transition from a migratory life as hunter-gatherers to one on a preserve.
Applewhaite, a joint concentrator in anthropology and history and literature, used the Marshall collection as the foundation for his film after attending the Peabody exhibition “Kalahari Perspectives: Anthropology, Photography, and the Marshall Family” in 2019. He was struck by the groundbreaking photography that captured everyday life for the G/wi and Ju/’hoansi Indigenous peoples prior to extended contact with Western people, but he also came away uneasy about the stories he wasn’t hearing from the subjects of the photographs.