TROY alumna explores growing up biracial in new documentary

Filmmaker Sarah Gambles, a TROY alumna, discusses her new documentary “Armor” at the Troy Campus on Nov. 15.

Filmmaker Sarah Gambles, a TROY alumna, discusses her new documentary “Armor” at the Troy Campus on Nov. 15.

Armor,” a feature-length documentary written and directed by Troy University alumna Sarah Gambles, had its premiere screening at the Troy Campus on Nov. 15.

A Banks, Alabama, school teacher and double graduate of TROY, Gambles’ film highlights her experiences and those of three other biracial women living in the South and the struggles they faced with being viewed as “different.”

Gambles graduated from TROY with a Bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and theater, but returned in 2001 to get her master’s degree in education after spending time in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles working for NBC and John Wells Productions at Warner Bros Studios.

“A couple of years ago, she kind of felt that itch to get back into creative productions and decided to return to her love of filmmaking,” Jonathan Cellon, coordinator of learning initiatives, said. “She reached out to us about a month ago and asked if there would be any interest in screening the film on campus.

“[Earlier in November] we screened the film “Six Angry Women,” which dealt with issues of race and the legal environment, which is extremely complex. We’ve seen plenty of examples nationally of incidents that reveal the underlying biases that are present in society, so this seemed like a natural and more localized extension of how we talk about and regard race in our culture and society.”

Watch the film’s trailer:

Gambles’ African-American father was born in 1931 in Crenshaw County, and her Caucasian mother was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1940. He joined the Navy and was sent to Hawaii, where the pair met and married.

When she was 14, Gambles’ father had the desire to return home with the hope that times had changed; upon arriving back to Troy, they found that they were still treated differently as a mixed-race couple.

“We still live a life that is somewhat segregated, and a light needs to be shown on that particular part of society,” Gambles said.

Gambles attended Charles Henderson High School and started the ninth grade in a new town far away from her home and everything she had grown accustomed to—she described how strange she found it that the students voluntarily sat with their own race in the lunchroom and the odd stares she would receive in the hallways.

“‘Why is your hair so long?’ ‘Why do you have freckles’? I don’t even know how to answer these questions,” Gambles said.

Poster for the Troy Campus screening of "Armor."
Poster for the Troy Campus screening of “Armor.”

The film was almost completely self-funded and took three years to complete, including trips to Hawaii and California to feature her hometown and her other two Caucasian sisters. Along the way, she also met two current TROY students, Hayden Glass and Hope Rangel, who actively run the Troy Cinematography Society. They were invaluable in helping her vision become a reality, she said.

“Hayden went to Hawaii and California with me, basically a complete stranger,” she said. “It was a really unique time, but we survived.”

Included in the film with Gambles are 14-year-old Jayla, 16-year-old Autumn and 22-year-old Tiesha.

“They represent me at different times in my life,” she said. “Jayla represents me at the age I was when I moved to Alabama. I was so young and vulnerable and not yet leery about what everyone thought about me. When I got to be about Autumn’s age I began to realize how different I was from my peers, and I completely withdrew.

“You realize you’re different from everybody else: all of your peers, none of your friends look alike, you go to a restaurant and people ask your mom if you’re adopted. I’m so glad Tiesha came into the picture because she rounded us all out; she’s entering the world as this confident woman with an education behind her. They are my inspiration and my sisters.”

Gambles has entered “Armor” into nearly 30 film festivals including several in Atlanta, New Zealand, Vancouver and Toronto.

“I wanted to make sure that Troy was the first place that I started though,” she said, “especially because so many from here have been there with me through the whole process, so I wanted to make sure this was the genesis of the screening circuit.”

Gambles has other ideas in mind for future short films: one on how mental illnesses, specifically bi-polar disorder, in parents affect their children, and another on immigration.

She plans to start another crowdfunding campaign in the coming weeks and has designed a t-shirt to help with the film’s expenses, and DVDs are pending due to participation at the film festivals.

Updates about t-shirts, donations and DVDs will be posted on Gambles’ website.