‘Red Whiteville and Blue’ film follows fight for income equality in Columbus County

By Rachel Baldauf


Patriotic Millionaires, a political advocacy group run by a group of wealthy Americans who want higher taxes for the rich, went to the N.C. Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville in November 2022 to ask fairgoers a question: What do you think about the economy?

The group was in the midst of launching a pilot program aimed at engaging local voters in the Columbus County town of Whiteville, where more than one in five residents live in poverty. Over the course of a year, Patriotic Millionaires hosted eight dinners at Dale’s Seafood in hopes of creating a grassroots movement for income equality.

“We really wanted to focus on areas that have working class people,” said Cat Hadley, the director of Patriotic Millionaires’ Great Economy Project, which has started similar programs in Mount Airy, North Carolina, and Richland, Wisconsin. “We need them in this movement.”

The group’s efforts in Columbus County – including the question-and-answer sessions at the Pecan Festival – are the focus of a film that premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham on April 7. “Red Whiteville and Blue” tells the story of four local residents who volunteer with Patriotic Millionaires, which financed the project. 

Film director D.L. Anderson and producer Sarah Sloan, both based in North Carolina, followed their subjects for a year. “I was really taken with this question that they were asking strangers,” Anderson said. “‘Tell us how you feel about the economy. Is the economy working for you?’”

Anderson said he was initially skeptical of Patriotic Millionaires’ efforts in Whiteville, where the average per-capita income is more than $13,000 below the statewide figure. “But,” he said, “over time I saw their commitment to it and to the people as being genuine.” 

Patriotic Millionaires was formed over a decade ago in Washington, D.C., by a group of millionaires who said the economy was failing to work for all Americans.

“It was a group of rich people that just kind of came together and said, ‘We need to be paying higher taxes, the minimum wage needs to be stable and everyone deserves political equity,’” Hadley said.

The group set its sights on Columbus County in 2022, attracted by the residents and the region’s potential to influence politics. Columbus County, like much of rural southeastern North Carolina, has seen a shift toward the Republican Party in recent years, with President Donald Trump winning nearly 64% of votes in the county in 2020.

“It’s just positioned to be a really strong area,” Hadley said. “The people that are elected here hold a lot of power.”

Since the start of the program, Patriotic Millionaires has gained a core group of about 60 local volunteers with different backgrounds and political leanings, Hadley said. “They’re going into the community, they’re at dinners, they’re out talking to community members, they host monthly meetings where they just have a dinner and talk about different issues.” 

The group has garnered over 400 signatures on a petition calling for an increase in the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Thirty states and Washington, D.C., have higher minimum wage rates.

Brittany Newton, 29, is one of the volunteers featured in the film. She and other volunteers traveled to Raleigh last year to speak with lawmakers about the importance of raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes on the wealthy. 

State Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican who represents parts of Brunswick, Columbus and New Hanover counties, and Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican whose district includes parts of Columbus and Robeson counties, have refused to meet with the group on multiple occasions, Newton said.

“It was like, ‘Wow, we voted you in, and you can’t even take five minutes to meet with the people who voted you in and hear how they think,’” Newton said.

As a single mother who works multiple jobs to pay her bills, Newton connected with the Patriotic Millionaires’ message. “This is the stuff that you don’t know. You’re not taught this,” she said. “It started having my wheels turning.”

Before getting involved with Patriotic Millionaires, Newton had never considered pursuing political activism. Now, she’s looking forward to going back to Raleigh to speak with lawmakers this year.

“I feel like a lot of the times we vote based off of what our parents told us to do years ago, and we just continue the cycle instead of finding out what’s best for us as a whole,” she said. “I’m really trying to focus on getting the information out to people and making them more aware, especially people my age that are working hard, and they do not know the information.”

The response to “Red Whiteville and Blue” has been positive, according to Anderson and Sloan. The production team chartered a bus that took more than 30 Whiteville residents to Durham to watch the film. In the future, they hope to have screenings in Columbus County.

Sloan and Anderson maintained editorial control of the film, although it was largely funded by Patriotic Millionaires. “There were definitely things that we disagreed on,” Anderson said, “and there’s definitely things in this film that are not flattering and are authentic to the experience.”

He hopes the film shows the power of what a community can do when it works together. The message is especially important now, he said, when there is so much political polarization.

“I think it’s compelling when you see people from many ages and many different backgrounds gathering together in the interest of one another,” Anderson said. “This kind of sense of goodwill is what’s missing in a lot of our resentment politics.”

Brittany Newton, left, and William Durand are featured in the film “Red Whiteville and Blue.” Photo by Vittles Films