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Article Published on The Intercept

THE INTERCEPT’S NEW DOCUMENTARY, “Freedom Dreams: Black Women and the Student Debt Crisis,” profiles Black women educators and activists struggling under the weight of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, in student loan debt. The title is inspired by scholar and activist Robin D. G. Kelley’s eponymous book, and the film is narrated by former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a longtime ally of the growing debt abolition movement.

As directors Erick Stoll and Astra Taylor and the film’s cast demonstrate, a lack of intergenerational wealth and persistent wage discrimination force women, and Black women in particular, to borrow at disproportionate rates and struggle with repayment. Reactionary policy decisions have transformed education, long trumpeted as a ladder of upward mobility, into a debt trap.

This country’s 45 million borrowers will never pay back the nearly $2 trillion they collectively owe; it must be canceled. With the current moratorium on federal student loans set to expire August 31, these debtors are anxiously awaiting a decision from President Joe Biden, who campaigned on a promise to eliminate a significant amount of student debt. Citing economic and racial equity, Biden pledged to wipe out an “immediate” “minimum” of $10,000 for every person with loans, in addition to erasing all undergraduate student debt for millions of borrowers.

“Freedom Dreams” offers a window into the financial and psychological costs of the president’s failure to honor his word — a word he could keep by signing an executive order. Just as importantly, the film evokes the jubilation that wide-scale cancellation would bring. Freeing people from the trap of student debt would have transformative consequences, enabling millions of Americans to support themselves and their families and to fully pursue their dreams. As Shamell Bell says at the film’s conclusion, “A system where Black women do not have to be subject to crushing debt is a system that would benefit everyone.”

This film was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.