Buses filled with black teenagers roll up the hill toward South Boston High School. Waiting for them is an angry mob of white people. One holds a sign that says, “Whites have rights, too.” Several others hold signs featuring the N-word.
As the buses approach, the crowd bangs on the windows, chanting: “No more busing. No more busing. No more busing.”
It is a volatile scene, right until the director yells, “Cut!”
On Monday, the dark days of 1974 returned to the streets of South Boston, as the crew of “Black Mass,” the Whitey Bulger biopic, reenacted the volatile protests over the court-ordered desegregation of the Boston public schools.
For 40 years, South Boston has been defined by, and has attempted to move past, the busing riots, arguing that those who say the protests were simply about race are using an oversimplified explanation for a very complex social issue.
Among the longtime Southie residents who gathered on G Street to watch the production, there was a fear that the high-profile film, which stars Johnny Depp, will again paint the neighborhood with that broad brush.
“This is just an attempt to show people in a bad light,” said one 60-year-old South Boston native, who refused to give his name. “It’s just going to bring up bad memories and open bad wounds, and now people around the world are going to watch this movie and think this is what we’re like, a bunch of racists.”
He said his younger sister, who dropped out of school after being told she would have to be bused to Roxbury, refused to come out and watch the film.
David Casali, who lives on Thomas Park, overlooking the high school, said many of his older neighbors were in the same boat, refusing to come out and watch what they saw as another bit of Hollywood’s exploitation of South Boston.
“They lived through it,” Casali said. “They don’t want to see Hollywood’s version.”
The filming, which is expected to continue for two more days at South Boston High School, features hundreds of extras in period garb — bell bottoms and afros, leisure suits and mutton chops — as well as a smattering of 1970s cars parked on the street. Several people watching pointed out, with much nostalgia, that there were plenty of available parking spaces between each car.
Anne McGrath, 34, brought her four young sons to the high school to watch the crews film, with a specific purpose. She said they had been sitting outside their house on K Street, several blocks away, yet even from that distance they could hear the crowd of extras chanting “No more busing,” over and over. Soon, the children began chanting it, which created an interesting situation for McGrath, since she has three biological children, who are white, and one adopted son, a 3-year-old from Ethiopia, who is black.
So she put the baby in the stroller and marched the other three up toward the high school and tried to explain to them what “busing” was about.
“A lot of white people didn’t want brown people in their schools,” she said to her children as the crew filmed another scene and the chanting started again. “But he gets to go to our school,” one of her white children said, looking confused as he pointed to his black brother.
Things are different now, she said.