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Wanda’s Picks for April 17

April 17, 2009

by Wanda Sabir

We remember

Snow Banks during his birthday week, April 15, TAX DAY. He was a World War II veteran, a great stepfather whom we miss a lot.

Pirkle Jones, the wonderful photographer whose work included documentation of the Black Panther Party in 1968, died last month, March 15, at 95. He was a great artist whose photos included work on Chicago’s Black community, California’s landscape like his mentor Ansel Adams and his peer Dorothea Lange.

Beloved musician Ron Stallings died of cancer on Monday, April 13, before the program already planned to honor him: “A Tribute to Rev: Celebrating the Life of Ron Stallings,” is Sunday, April 26, 7:30 p.m., $12 – no reserved seating – at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.

On the Fly

The Oakland East Bay Symphony has a performance at the Paramount Theater tonight at 8 p.m. Mos Def on his acoustic tip is finishing a sold-out run locally, and the Northern California Book Awards is this Sunday, April 19, 1 p.m., at the San Francisco Main Library, Koret Hall. It’s free.

The San Francisco International Film Festival begins April 23. Visit www.sfiff.org for all the details. I saw quite a few great films this week: “17 Again” – excellent film about getting a second chance on life, an opportunity to correct some errors and make better choices the second time. Other films I saw this week besides “Sugar,” which is a great story about baseball and life choices, were “Rudo y Cursi,” the two brothers’ game, soccer, but the parallels between the two stories “Sugar” and “Rudo” are uncanny.

Miriam Makeba in "Soul Power"
Miriam Makeba in "Soul Power"
“Soul Power,” based on the concert in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, is another winner, especially the footage of Mama Africa Miriam Makeba and Godfather of Soul James Brown. The final film I saw was “Tyson” about Mike Tyson. Except for “Sugar” and “17 Again,” which have opened or will this weekend, they will be screened as a part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 52. Oh, another film I saw, which was part of a tribute to Alfre Woodard last year at the Mill Valley Film Festival, is “American Violet,” based on a true story of police corruption.

James Brown in "Soul Power"
James Brown in "Soul Power"
“Made in America” is having its community screening next week at the Oakland Museum James Moore Theatre. It’s a free event. I don’t know what to say about “Made in America.” The story of the inception of the Crips and the Bloods doesn’t mention Stanley Tookie Williams, and I haven’t been able to get an interview with the director to ask why, so the omission makes the entire story a lie since it is not a feature, rather documentary, so its value is questionable.

True, the imprisonment of Black men and the criminalizing of a community which made it impossible to make a living once time was served led to the criminal economy which dominates Black or urban communities today, but Tookie’s legacy was one of redemption. His work was in dismantling the gangs and helping youth develop more socially acceptable avenues of commerce.

I’d still like an interview but, until then, I would not recommend this film for wide distribution because it distorts the truth, maybe not as badly as Bobby Seales’ story is distorted in the doc “Chicago 10.” Both these films with national distribution show how we need to tell our own stories and not support partial truths or factual distortion.

Hugh Masekela, South African musician, activist and humanitarian, is in town celebrating his latest CD, “Phola,” his 36th as a leader, at the SFJAZZ along with years in music, Friday, April 24, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. He is also celebrating his 70th year (April 4 b-day). Visit www.sfjazz.com. See “My City My Life” documentary.

The great film about New Orleans during the storm, “Trouble the Water” with Kimberly and Scott Roberts, has its HBO debut this week, April 23, www.troublethewaterfilm.com/gotHBO, and an exhibit at the Women of Color Cancer Resource Center on Shattuck Avenue in Oakland, opens this evening; visit www.wcrc.org. Tomorrow, April 18, is a free all day Hip Hop Studies Conference. It is free and if participants register in advance, there is lunch. Visit www.dreamdancecompany.org.

There is a concert featuring the Conscious Daughters tomorrow, also in Oakland, on 34th Avenue. Visit www.hardknockradio.org. If you are not at the concert at Stanford University celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Kinda Blue,” then you might want to check out the concert tomorrow evening at www.SFJAZZ.org. The orchestral director was on Hard Knock this afternoon.

There is a film festival tonight at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco featuring the work of Art Academy students. Wednesday, April 22, “You Is My Woman Now: Black Lesbian Poets on Love, Laws, Vows, Commitment and Marriage,” is at the San Francisco Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St. at Grove. For information, call (415) 557-4277 or visit www.sfpl.org. All programs at the library are free.

I am going to participating in the Bike for Diabetes Ride tomorrow in Yuba City. My father died at age 59 from complications from renal failure brought on by diabetes. You can register the same day. The event starts at 7 a.m. – more at http://www.bikearoundthebuttes.com/.

Wanda’s Picks Radio

Today on Wanda’s Picks Radio we interview T.J. Windham, the director, Margo Hall and some of the cast; Dwight Huntsman, Halili Knox and Craig Marker of “The Story,” at the SF Playhouse through next week. Jacinta Vlash, director of Liberation Theater’s “Animal Farm” follows and the show closes with an interview with Algenis Perez Soto, star in the film “Sugar.” Listen in at http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org.

‘Love on Both Sides of the Wall: A Two Way Struggle’

The cast of “On Both Sides of the Wall”
The cast of “On Both Sides of the Wall”
“Love on Both Sides of the Wall: A Two Way Struggle” plays at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek April 17-18, 6:45 p.m., www.lesherARTScenter.org. When I saw it starts at 6:45 p.m., I mistakenly thought I’d get out in time to make a trip to Whole Foods in Berkeley, but by intermission the clock was already at 9-something. It didn’t matter. I was committed.

Based loosely on the novel, “On Both Sides of the Wall: The Two Way Struggle,” by T.J. Windham, which I thoroughly enjoyed, the production was topnotch, from the multitalented actors who could sing, dance and act to the great set and costumes. I was really impressed with the range of actor Mike Grayson, who played a gangster, “Big KO,” in the opening scenes, a policeman, and the female protagonist, “Tasha’s” lovers, “Rob” and “Money.” If Mike’s mother, Coretta Grayson, hadn’t been behind me, I wouldn’t have recognized him in these roles – they were so different. His “Money” was my favorite though: gold tooth, big chain with a dollar sign on it, and a flashy black suit.

Another character I liked was Mike’s sister, Michelle Grayson. Her “Lady Squab,” a thugged out girl-gangster was really convincing, especially when reigning kingpin “De” told his “homies” that he wanted out of the game and they weren’t hearing it, especially “Lady Squab,” who said the gang was family and De had taught her everything she knew. He gave her her first gun. Her hair in cornrows, I had to look really hard to recognize the girl child beneath the hard surface. This character was a sharp contrast to another character Michelle portrayed, “Peaches,” Tasha’s best girlfriend. I loved the way “Peaches” kept drinking from her flask.

With hints of McMillan’s “Waiting to Exhale,” “On Both Sides of the Wall,” especially in the scenes between the girlfriends, is a pleasant journey into Black sistahood. All the women really care about each other: Michelle, Peaches and Tasha. Amanda Doss’ “Michelle” is off the chain, as in unclasped, can’t handle it, let it go loose … she is too cool. The three actresses bring out the best in each other’s characters that are strong and well developed – I love their lines. Here the writing really sings; one of the production’s strong suits is the dialogue.

I am enjoying the sparring between Tasha and her two best girlfriends and also between Tasha and her boyfriend Rob’s sister, Jeanette and De, long before actress Amanda Doss, who portrays both Jeanette and Michelle, sings one of her original songs. (There are three in the program.)

Did I confuse you? Don’t worry; it works a lot better on the stage and in the novel (smile).

One of the more poignant scenes is in the prison, when after 15 years “De,” actor Jaye Diggs, finally breaks down and cries, but it’s the song that foreshadows the tears which is one of the showstoppers sung by Rob Turner, De’s cellmate. After the show, Rob told me that the song was actually written by a man imprisoned who later was released and became a contestant on American Idol. The song is called “Cry” on Lyfe Jennings from his album: “Lyfe 268-192.” Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4UjoWT03Hk and http://www.metrolyrics.com/cry-lyrics-lyfe-jennings.html.

The story?

Right! The story is about gang life in Sacramento between the Crips and the Bloods. It is also a love story, one which is doomed almost from the start but survives because there is no other alternative – the characters chose life over death, which means they have to change. The story shows how Tasha lets go of destructive behaviors and people who participate in this lifestyle. It’s not easy and in the novel more so than in the play the audience witnesses the arduous journey.

What this couple experiences gives us a microcosm of what our ancestors must have felt each day they awoke and were still enslaved – since prison is slavery nouveau. What does a man do when he has a life sentence and he hasn’t committed the crime he is charged with? De is not saying that he is innocent but, after 20 years, he is a new man.

There are a few meltdowns in the piece but, compared to the novel, it was lightweight. I love the line Tasha gives De when he is feeling like a victim: She says that when a person is behind bars, his entire family, all those who love him, are doing the same time too. De’s sister, “Kathy,” actress Jonez Cain, is another favorite of mine. Jonez has a hat for almost every occasion. She is the character out to save souls, but Tanya Windham gives the saint flaws too.

When I posted the story on Facebook, my friends wondered why any woman in her right mind would marry a man behind bars serving life. When I spoke to Tanya, whose life is reflected in both the novel and now the stage production, she said though she knew her husband before he went inside, she got to know him when she began corresponding with him and later started visiting. “He is my best friend,” she said, and the two encourage each other.

I love it in the play when the letters are read aloud and end with: the man you raised/the woman you raised. Remember, when the two met, both were in their teens and then early 20s. Now, coming up on 20 years, in the play 15, De’s real life wife, just like her “Tasha,” is sharing this story, both to be instructive and to raise money for De’s legal defense.

There are several wonderful moments in the film; some I have already shared. Another I liked was during the opening scenes, when the crack addict “Paulette” convinces Big KO to give her drugs. I also like it when Tasha and her girls get together for Peaches’ birthday. The banter and camaraderie is so genuine and the writing superb. I don’t know who did the choreography, but the greeting is so fun. Each woman has a dance she identifies herself with and the three do it together. I think it dates back to when the three were children.

“On Both Sides of the Wall” is a coming of age story, cautionary yet uplifting. There are no villains and if there are, the bad guys and gals repent and mend their ways. It’s all about choice. De owns his role in his fate. None of it was accidental; he fell into the trap … but most adolescents do this as a matter of course as a part of the matriculation process.

Order My Life Productions’ mission is to “uplift, inspire and encourage the lost, while walking them into a heart changing victory through gospel stage plays.”

One of the themes in “On Both Sides of the Wall” is drug commerce, the ease with which drugs and guns are available to youth. In the novel, T.J. Windham goes into more detail about De, who is recently released from prison, has a promising career in college sports and a job offer, which he blows when he can’t stay away from the lure of the streets. He makes bad choices and he doesn’t get a third chance – his bridges are literally burned and today he and his wife are trying to mend them: Order My Life Productions is a way to do this.

Tanya’s story is thematically current for another reason when one looks at the high number of African American men and women behind bars. The intentional saturation of the Black community with crack cocaine and guns, which Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” addresses, is played out here – not death, but the other alternative, prison.

Films like “American Violet,” the story of Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie) look at drug raids on the Black community and how these communities are targeted in Hearne, Texas, in Robertson County. She sues the county on behalf of other unjustly imprisoned plaintiffs. Another film, “Tulia, TX” (ITVS) looks at the same phenomenon, the case against – not a district attorney – but an FBI undercover operative.

Webbs’ “Dark Alliance” points to the use of drugs – crack cocaine and handguns and the destruction of the Black Liberation Movement, most noticeably the Black Panther Party. The generation the protagonists “Tasha” and “De” represent reflect the seemingly forgotten Children of the Movement. “The Other Side of the Wall” is their story.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1@aol.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m. and archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.

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