by Wanda Sabir
We want to remember the MOVE family on the anniversary of the bombing Mother’s Day weekend, May 13, 1985, where 11 people, including John Africa, five other adults and five children, died. The only survivors were Ramona Africa and Birdie Africa. Ramona was put in prison and Birdie in foster care.
We will have special Mother’s Day programming on Friday, May 6, on Wanda’s Picks Radio. Joining us will be a formerly incarcerated mother, Kimberly Jeffery. While shackled, her baby was taken from her after a C-section, performed not for the mother’s health, rather scheduled at prison administration’s convenience. She will be joined by attorney Priscilla Ocen and staff advocate at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), Hafsa Al Amin. Tune in at 8 a.m. PST at www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
National Monument for Slavery and Freedom Petition
John Henrik Clarke, scholar, spoke of erecting monuments for our people; this petition authored by scholar and writer Thulani Davis will do just that. This is a lot more significant than an apology for slavery, not that this government shouldn’t facilitate a process – let’s call it reparations – to repair the damage from the Black Holocaust or Maafa.
UNESCO named 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent. Nothing has been done nationally in this country to commemorate this honor. What better way than to recognize the African presence, an unnamed or honored presence, which lies at the heart of this nation’s economic success? Visit http://signon.org/sign/national-monument-for?source=s.fwd&r_by=144598.
The petition is to be delivered to President Barack Obama. I am not certain if it will be hand carried or not (smile). Rhodessa Jones sent the petition to me, and everyone is aware of the lifesaving work she does via Medea Project, Theatre for Incarcerated Women, where she helps women find their voices, key to their liberation.
The petition reads: “As president, Barack Obama can designate a parcel of federal land as a national monument. Only three of the 100 national monuments in the nation address the legacy of its African American citizens – the birth homes of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver and the African Burial Ground in New York City. The site of the First Landing of Africans who would be the source of the North American slave system is far and away the most important site of the African American legacy to this country, and is sacred ground for the millions who consider themselves descendants of those brought here in chains.
“Tell President Obama to ask for a parcel of land at Fort Monroe, Va., to be named as the First Landing National Monument to Slavery and Freedom.” The petition is followed by this explanation: “In 1619 at Old Point Comfort, Va., 20 Africans were traded for food, setting in motion the slave system in this country. The first known African American child was born there, at what is now Fort Monroe in Hampton. Tell President Obama we have waited nearly 400 years for acknowledgment of these other ‘founders’ of this country and its ideals of democracy and equality.”
On the fly
Dimensions Rites of Passage Spring Production is Sunday, May 1, 3 p.m., at Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts Theatre, 1428 Alice St., Oakland. Visit http://www.dimensionsdance.org/calendar.html. Happy 25th Anniversary to Vukani Mawethu Choir, which is celebrating at the Freight and Savage in Berkeley, 2020 Addison St. near Shattuck on Sunday, May 1, 4-7 p.m. Visit www.vukani.com or call (510) 444-5009. The event is also a fundraiser for AIDS-related projects. Listen to the great interview on www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks with Kaidi Depelchin, Andrea Joyce and Jon Fromer. President Obama has a website for his African American constituents, sort of like America On-Line’s Black Voices. Check it out: http://www.whitehouse.gov/africanamericans.
The Seventh Annual CubaCaribe Festival: La Tierra de Arará Celebrating the Dance and Music of the Afro-Caribbean is three dynamic weeks of dance, music, film, master classes and special events in San Francisco and Oakland. Cuba Caribe is in the East Bay this year. The schedule is May 13-15 at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco and May 20-22 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center, 1428 Alice St., in Oakland; May 26-28 at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St. in Oakland. Performances are Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. A family matinee with discount pricing is at 3p.m., Sunday, May 22. Visit www.cubacaribe.org/festival7.html. The Seventh Annual Berkeley World Music Festival is June 4, 12 noon to 9 p.m. Art and Music in the Gardens is June 4 and 5 at Lake Merritt Garden Center in Oakland.
The 10th Annual DIVAfest presents the World Premiere of “Lucky Girl” by Frances Driscoll, author of the collection “The Rape Poems,” and Tom Juarez, performed by Cheryl Smith, directed by Kathryn Wood, at the EXIT Theatre Studio, 156 Eddy St. in San Francisco. Previews are May 5 at 8 a.m. It opens May 7 at 5 p.m. and runs Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 28. Visit www.thexit.org or call (415) 673-3847. Listen to the great interview on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show April 20.
KBLX’s 14th Annual Stone Soul Concert is on Sunday, May 29, at the Sleep Train Pavilion, features Charlie Wilson, former lead singer for the Gap Band. He is dropping “Just Charlie” with the hit “I Wanna Be Your Man” with Fantasia. I happen to like “I Never Got Enough.” The track “My Girl Is a Dime” worries me. I can’t get past the small change – a dime?! The lyrics are inspiring; the woman definitely supports the protagonist, but a “dime”? If this is a metaphor, it escapes me (smile). Wilson is a prostate cancer survivor, his life reading like a script chronicling descent – homelessness, addiction and cancer. His cancer in remission, he is no longer homeless and he’s clean and sober. He has a lot to sing about. I think he’s singing about it on “Once and Forever,” “Crying for You” and “Where Would I Be.” The lyrics are really lovely as well. After learning that one in six American men will be diagnosed with this disease – and one in three African American men – he decided it was time for him to start “informing as well as performing.” He has become a spokesman for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Visit http://www.kblx.com/events/concerts.php.
Speech and other members of Digital Underground visit Debbie Peagler and record a song with the choir at the prison, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). They are featured in the film, “Crime After Crime.” On May 14, the ensemble will be Kimball’s Carnival, 522 Second St., Jack London Square, Oakland. Visit airbornetickets.com. Sonoma Jazz Festival is May 20-22 in the Field of Dreams, downtown Sonoma, featuring a Sunday afternoon concert with Gipsy Kings and their unique blend of South American rumba rhythms, pop flavors and flamenco guitars. Additional festival performers include John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow and more. Tickets are available now at sonomajazz.org or (888) 512-SHOW.
If you feel like a work weekend, I recommend Work Week at Oakland Feather River Camp May 27-30. Volunteers can go for the entire weekend or a couple of days, your choice, but I have gone for the past three years – this makes four – and I really enjoy being in the redwoods, listening to the river and working up a sweat painting the bathrooms, sweeping up leaves and stargazing at night, not to mention the great hot meals, movies with the kids and solitary train whistles at night. Visit http://www.featherrivercamp.com/ or call (510) 336-2267. If anyone is looking to go and wants to carpool, let me know.
‘Rodney Ewing: Unwashed Saints’
“Rodney Ewing: Unwashed Saints” opens at the Dogpatch Cafe and Art Gallery, Saturday, May 7, 7-9 p.m., and continues through June 9. The cafe-gallery is located at 2295 Third St. at 20th, San Francisco, and is open daily, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Visit www.rodneyewing.com and www.dogpatchcafe.com or call (415) 269-5566.
The second set of drawings is part of a series in progress called “Rituals of Water.” This project is an exploration of the allegory of water in the context of the African Diaspora. The work is segregated into four thematic sections: Transition (Middle Passage), Transformation (Baptism), Resistance (Civil Rights) and Dispersal (Hurricane Katrina). By categorizing the topic in this manner, Ewing has not only created a timeline but has also produced a record of how an element can serve in mundane, transcendent and malevolent capacities.
SpeakOut and City Lights present Angela Davis and Tim Wise in Conversation
Through her activism and scholarship over the last decades, Angela Davis has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice, while Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States. The event is Friday, May 13, 7 p.m., at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison St., Oakland. Tickets are $20 general admission, youth ages 17 and under $17. Call (800) 838-3006. For group rates – 10 or more people – or for more information, contact SpeakOut at (510) 601-0182 www.SpeakOutNow.org or email email@example.com.
Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” spent most of her career as a national correspondent and bureau chief at The New York Times and is the first Black woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for American journalism. She is hosted Wednesday, May 25, by the African American Museum and Library, 659 14th St., in Oakland. Call (510) 637-0200 to RSVP for this free event.
Jean Kwok, author of “Girl in Translation,” is in town May 4, 6 p.m., at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco. “Girl in Translation” (Riverhead Trade Paperbacks; May 3, 2011) marks the debut of an extraordinary new Chinese-American voice, telling the story of a young immigrant girl who goes from a sweatshop to the Ivy League.
At AAMLO, ”Allensworth: 100 Years of California Dream” opens April 30, followed by another exhibit, “Phoenix Risen: The Art of Cartoonist David Brown,” which opens May 27, 2 p.m., with special invited guest Wee Pals creator Morrie Turner. Both of these events are at 659 14th St. in Oakland. Call (510) 637-0200 to RSVP for these free events.
From Process to Print: Graphic Works by Romare Bearden at Museum of the African Diaspora
Presented as part of Romare Bearden’s national centennial celebration, “From Process to Print: Graphic Works by Romare Bearden” includes over 85 lithographs, etchings, collagraphs, collagraph plates, screen prints, drypoints, monoprints and engravings produced over three decades. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to examine the printmaking process of this preeminent artist and to understand how key themes and motifs like trains, family life, rituals, rural and urban scenes, jazz and mythology extended his artistic imagination beyond collages, of which he is an acknowledged master, into the graphic medium. Organized by the Romare Bearden Foundation, the touring exhibition is on view from May 6 through July 3.
The opening reception is Friday, May 6, 7:30 p.m., at the Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St. at Third, San Francisco, www.moadsf.org or (415) 358-7200. Regular hours are Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Film event: ‘Juvies’ – challenge the criminalization of our youth!
On Friday, May 13, 7-9 p.m., at the Eastside Arts Alliance, 2277 International Blvd. in Oakland, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners will host a screening of “Juvies” (directed by Leslie Neale, 66 min., USA), a film about youth tried as adults and sentenced to outrageously long sentences. The film forces us to ask questions about the failures of the juvenile justice system and questions about justice itself.
The California Coalition for Women Prisoners regularly visits young women and trans folk sentenced as adults for crimes they were involved in before they were 18. Some of these people are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Several women CCWP visits are featured in the film.
This event is being organized in collaboration with women organizing inside prisons in California, and the evening will include some of their writing. The film will be followed by a moderated discussion. Come join with community groups, youth organizers, formerly incarcerated community members and local activists to share ideas on how to work together to stop the criminalization of youth, particularly youth of color, to learn about the recent SB 9 legislation, to meet with different groups and get updates on current youth justice campaigns and connect with continuing actions. The event is free, wheelchair accessible and open to the public.
Dance event: Opiyo Okach, Body Evidence
As part of its commitment to bringing contemporary African dance to the Bay Area, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts welcomes Kenyan choreographer Opiyo Okach, who will present a work-in-progress showing of his latest solo, “Body Evidence,” May 13 and 14. Known for the simplicity and elegance of his improvisation style, Okach examines the role of the body in shaping 21st century global culture, where long held notions of ethnic, geographic and temporal identification give way to the power of the individualhttp://ybca.org/lemi-ponifasio-mau. Enjoy same-day gallery admission with all YBCA presented performances.
Push Dance Company presents ‘Mixed Messages’
The vibrant diversity of contemporary multi-racial communities takes center stage in dance, film, spoken word and interaction as Push Dance Company and the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) present the world premiere of choreographer-director Raissa Simpson’s “Mixed Messages” in eight performances May 21-29 throughout the stunning public spaces of MoAD in San Francisco, including galleries, atrium and multi-story glass staircase on the building’s Mission Street façade, intermingling performers and public. Performances will be given Saturday, May 21, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.; Sunday, May 22, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; Saturday, May 28, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.; and Sunday, May 29, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. MoAD is located at 685 Mission St. in San Francisco. For more information, visit www.pushdance.org or www.moadsf.org.
The 11th Annual Malcolm X JazzArts Festival
The 11th Annual Malcolm X JazzArts Festival is Saturday, May 21, 11a.m.-7 p.m., at San Antonio Park, 18th Avenue and Foothill Boulevard in Oakland. The event is free, presented by Eastside Arts Alliance, www.eastsideartsalliance.org. This annual event has become a community institution. On the main jazz stage are, at 12 p.m., John Santos Sextet (http://www.johnsantos.com/); 2 p.m., The Grassroots Composers Ensemble; 4 p.m., The Abraham Burton Trio (http://www.abrahamburton.com/); 6 p.m., Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets (http://www.umarbinhassan.com/). I last saw Umar Bin Hassan and Ranzel Merritt in Dakar at the World Festival of Black Art and Culture (FESMAN) in December at the “Monument,” what Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi called Africa’s statue of liberty.
This lineup features some of the best jazz musicians from right here in Oakland, such as John Santos and the Grassroots Composers, as well as hot young talent from New York City, such as Abraham Burton and the everlasting jazz poetry of one of the all-time greats, Umar Bin Hassan. John Santos will be playing excerpts from his powerful new composition, “Filosofîa Caribeña,” a monumental new project that explores the African roots of jazz. The Grassroots Composers Ensemble, led by trumpeter Mark Wright and featuring pianist Muziki Roberson, will be playing exciting original jazz compositions alongside some standards that we all need to hold dear.
Abraham Burton is a young lion on the saxophone. He will be leading a trio along with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits. This is Burton’s second visit to the Malcolm X JazzArts Festival – his music was so strong the organizers were compelled to bring him back. Closing the festival will be renowned poet Umar Bin Hassan; he brings the fire of The Last Poets and will be accompanied by legendary drummer Ranzel Merritt, who will also feature his sons, who have put together their own jazz ensemble, Pop Lyfe.
Abraham Burton’s Trio will also be performing two sets at The EastSide Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., in Oakland, Sunday, May 22, 6 p.m. Visit www.eastsideartsalliance.org or call (510) 533-6629.
San Francisco Carnaval 2011
Native Son Danny Glover will be grand marshal of the San Francisco Carnaval Parade 2011, on Sunday, May 29. Visit http://www.sfcarnaval.com. Carnaval is May 28-29. The festival location is Harrison Street between 23rd and 16th streets in the Mission District, accessible by BART and Muni. The festival draws hundreds of thousands of people for two days of dancing salsa, samba, reggae, tango, hip- hop, merengue, calypso, cha cha cha, cumbia and mambo into the evening. Food vendors offer traditional delicacies, while others sell crafts native to the Carnaval countries of their heritage. Giant stages sparkle with continuous entertainment.
Anna Deavere Smith is back with ‘Let Me Down Easy!’
“Let Me Down Easy!” conceived, written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith and directed by Leonard Foglia, will be performed at Berkeley Rep May 28 through June 26. Visit http://www.berkeleyrep.org/season/1011/4556.asp. She set the Bay Area ablaze with “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight: Los Angeles.” In recent years, you’ve seen her on “The West Wing” and “Nurse Jackie.”
Jeff Stetson’s ‘The Meeting’ at Jazz Heritage Center
In celebration of Malcolm X’s 86th birthday, San Francisco’s Jazz Heritage Center Educational and Media Theatre at 1330 Fillmore St. will host a live stage performance of Jeff Stetson’s award winning play, “The Meeting,” on Thursday, May 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. and on May 22 at 3 p.m. “The Meeting” depicts a fictitious meeting between two of the most important leaders of the 20th century: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The one act play takes place a few days before the assassination of Malcolm X at New York’s Audubon Ballroom, high up in an intimate and modestly furnished hotel suite in the heart of Harlem. In “The Meeting,” both men’s philosophies resonate and clash as they eloquently set forth their arguments on issues of freedom, dignity and respect, not only for African Americans but for all people who have suffered at the hands of injustice. It imagines what could have happened had they actually met, joined hands and pushed in the same direction.
“The Meeting” features veteran actors Michael Lange as Malcolm X, Abbie Rhone as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dejuan Conner or Dorian Brockington as Rashad, Malcolm’s bodyguard. The play, first performed in 1984, received eight NAACP image awards, including best play and best playwright. It has been reviewed as “a remarkable, intensely intimate meeting full of undisguised competitiveness, deep passion and potent reasoning. ‘The Meeting’ is enthralling.”
Tickets are $20 and are on sale at BrownPaperTickets.com, (800) 838-3006. Group rates, student and special prices are available. The group coordinator receives one free ticket. For more information, contact Director Michael Lange at (510) 485-6338.
‘John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk’
This video chronicles the life and times of the noted African-American historian, scholar and Pan-African activist John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998). Both a biography of Clarke himself and an overview of 5,000 years of African history, the film offers a provocative look at the past through the eyes of a leading proponent of an Afrocentric view of history. From ancient Egypt and Africa’s other great empires, Clarke moves through Mediterranean borrowings, the Atlantic slave trade, European colonization, the development of the Pan-African movement and present-day African-American history. Watch it at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5784756819358533059#.
San Francisco International Film Festival
One of the films yet to be screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival is “COINTELPRO 101” (56 minutes, 2010), directed by Claude Marks, which screens Thursday, May 12, at 7:15 and 9:15 at the Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., San Francisco. Director Claude Marks will be present at both shows for Q&A. Visit http://www.freedomarchives.org/Cointelpro.html.
Other African Diaspora and African American interest films at SFIFF include “The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975,” Göran Hugo Olsson, Sweden/USA, Saturday, April 30, 9 p.m., at Kabuki and Tuesday, May 3, 6 p.m., at New People, also in San Francisco. “Children of the Princess of Cleves” screens at 4:15 p.m. at Kabuki and so does “The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” directed by Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion, USA, at 6:45 p.m. at Kabuki; “Butt Naked,” also screens Monday, May 2, 9:45 p.m., at Kabuki. “Kinyarwanda,” directed by Alrick Brown, USA/Rwanda, screens three times beginning Sunday, May 1, 12:30 p.m., at Kabuki and again Tuesday, May 3, 9 p.m., at New People in San Francisco, 1746 Post St. at Fillmore, following “The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975” at 6 p.m. “American Teacher,” directed by Vanessa Roth, USA, screens Thursday, May 5, 3:45 p.m., at Kabuki prior to “Kinyarwanda” and “The Place in Between,” directed by Sarah Bouyain, France and Burkina Faso. You could see all three. I wanted to attend the “Novikoff Ward: Serge Bromerg: Retour de Flamme: Rare and Restored Films” in 3-D at the Castro on Sunday, May 1, but Vukani Mawethu is celebrating its 25th anniversary at Freight and Savage Coffeehouse in Berkeley from 4-7, so that is where I will be.
Other films still with screenings left are “Marathon Boy,” May 3, 9:15 p.m.; “Miss Representation,” May 4, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki; “Incendies,” May 2 and 5; “Hands Up,” May 3, 1 p.m., and May 4, 3:30 p.m., at the Kabuki and “The Green Wave,” May 2 animation, look interesting, as do “A Cat in Paris,” May 1, animation for the family; “The Tiniest Place,” May 1, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki and May 5, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki; “Circumstance,” May 1 and 3; “Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times,” May 1. Hopefully you saw “Microphone,” set in Egypt; “Hot Coffee, Pink Saris,” an excellent film from the director of “Sisters in Law,” “Divorce Iranian Style” and “A Day I Will Never Forget,” Kim Longinott; “Jean Gentil” set in Haiti; “Women Art Revolution,” “The Troll Hunter” and “Life, Above All,” directed by Oliver Schmitz, South Africa and Germany.
SFIFF at 54 Wrap: ‘Crime After Crime’
Though I haven’t seen a Black director yet this season at the San Francisco International Film Festival, there are plenty of films of interest to an African Diaspora audience, not to mention a socially conscious and aware audience at that.
This year marks a first for me re: multiple screenings and activism. I don’t recall ever participating in SFIFF screenings as part of an organization connected to the subjects and themes in a film, in this case incarceration of women who were battered by their boyfriends and/or husbands.
The film is Yoav Potash’s “Crime After Crime.” Talk about a defense attorney with a magic wand in his back pocket, in this case, “Yoav Potash,” Joshua Safan’s friend. How many attorneys do you know who enlist the assistance of an award-winning filmmaker and his team as part of one’s defense? You can probably count the instances of this happening on one finger (smile).
“Crime After Crime” shows how justice is a marathon, the form set to weed out the weary. However, the team holds each other up, as together they all, with Debbie in the leading position, sail across the finish line. Justice is a collaborative project, crime doesn’t occur in isolation and justice is not achieved in isolation; one needs cameras and lights to spur action. The fact that such a document as this film exists is a way to ease the process for so many other women in prison with habeas claims.
Debbie’s original attorneys not only withheld evidence, lied to her and her co-defendant, then had them agree to a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, “Crime After Crime” shows how this same legal team had as its key witness an informant who perjured himself repeatedly before the deal was made and the defendants signed.
The film is a roller coaster ride, Joshua always ready with a quip, comic relief in a situation that intensifies as the years parade by, the California judicial system filing counter motions and denying agreements, like the DA’s reneging on his agreement to release Debbie, as if this isn’t a human being’s life we are talking about. Debbie herself is such a trooper; she couldn’t have been better cast.
Yoav’s camera is everywhere and when it isn’t, it is not too far behind. His style reminds me of Michael Moore’s: in your face. He sticks his microphone in the faces of DAs like Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley – who ran against Kamala Harris for state attorney general and lost – and lets them prove his point, which is their complicity in injustice and their absence of empathy. They really don’t care about this Debbie or the countless other Debbies wrongfully incarcerated. It is amazing how much material the courts already had which the legal team with the help of its private investigator, the late Bobby Buechler, uncovered which exonerated Debbie – on paper, yet they wouldn’t let her free.
The immediacy of this issue – domestic violence and women who are survivors criminalized – is apparent and enhanced by the women in the audience at each screening. These women talk about their friend whose life reflects their own. Debbie’s daughter Natasha and her children were present at the Berkeley screening, along with Marisa Gonzalez of the California Habeas Project and of course the two attorneys, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safan, and the director, Yoav Potash.
“Crime After Crime” is also the story of the power of media to shape ideas and perceptions; one just needs to know how to bend the tools to one’s end, in this case justice. Often campaigns are ill equipped and out-maneuvered in crucial public policy disputes, because they might lack the media-savvy tools to compete or they might not have the funds. In Debbie’s case, not only was her team aware of the power of media, they had a powerful law firm and other constituent donors available to make their plan work. Another key was they entered the contest hoping for justice, yet knowing the crooked system, prepared for the worse. Yoav was there from the beginning collecting data which, when strategically necessary, the legal team used.
There is one more screening Monday, May 2, in San Francisco at 9 p.m. Check ticket availability beforehand. The film will have a theatrical debut later in the summer in the San Francisco Bay Area and will open in New York before the Los Angeles opening. There is an LA outdoor screening in June, I think June 25. Visit the website: crimeaftercrime.com.
‘Detroit Wild City’
I have a certain affinity for the city of industry, Detroit, or Michigan period. Though I’ve never been there, when I think of Detroit, I recall Motown (Motor + Town Records) and Berry Gordy Jr., Diana Ross and Little Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. I think about the Jones brothers: Elvin, Thaddeus and Hank from Flint. I think about Ogun, Ford and Firestone. I recall King Leopold and the ghosts that haunt this city today, the ancestors in Congo whose lives fertilize the soil.
Detroit is the hometown of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the birthplace of the Nation of Islam and the Republic of New Afrika. Detroit was the epitome of Black America working. Perhaps this is why it looks the way it does today – at least the way French film director Florent Tillon portrays it in its vacant vacuous despair. Detroit, the film, reminds me of Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” – Flint, Michigan, not a far stretch of the imagination from its big city sister Detroit.
Florent Tillon’s “Detroit Wild City” isn’t seen in Pearl Cleage’s “I Wish I Had a Red Dress” – the setting for her novel a place where a woman starts a program for young girls who need mentoring and guidance. Tillon’s Detroit isn’t the perhaps fictive place that hosts a jazz concert each summer with Michigan native sons and daughters as headliners.
Tillon courts the voices of urban gardeners who plant food in tubs that exude radioactive contaminates as one gardener speaks of the benefits of dirt and how much she loves to get dirty. I wonder at the metaphor, brown soil on white skin? Who are the people she references who refuse to eat fresh food? Where are they? Do they only come out at night? If these people stopped eating fast food and started eating live foods, would the city then come back to life as she suggests?
The only part of the film that faintly resembles the Detroit of my imagination is shown in a scene at the end of the film: the Sunday community gatherings in the park with music and food and fun. Another critic whose review I read disagrees and says this end is fanciful and unrealistic, as if African people haven’t disappeared on American landscapes and then come back before, perhaps immaculately conceived – unlike the indigenous people who didn’t. After all, Detroit’s not completely dead yet.
Robert F. Williams and his wife, Mabel Williams, lived just outside Detroit and their older son told us about a program he developed in Detroit to help youth. I wonder if he is still there. He and his mother visited Oakland several years ago. What would he and his mother say about this bleak film which looks like the Will Smith film, “I Am Legend.” Are Florent Tillon’s subjects zombies, ghosts?
One of the subjects speaks about how the unoccupied buildings have evidence of their former inhabitants as if they left in a hurry. Reels of film in the director’s box at this lovely old theatre lie in a dark corner. The train station looks like the passengers are still somewhere near waiting for the next train. The stadium – what’s left of it – is fenced in, philosophically prepped for the season about to begin.
Why demolish the city’s stadium if there are no people to fill the vacant housing nearby, let alone new development?
There are a lot of unanswered questions here. Who are these voyeur narrators, the majority outsiders without ties to the people? Scavengers, they subside on echoes of discarded memories speculating on what is in the context of what is left. I love the scene with the burned books, all the same title. It seems like the director set the scene up with the book about Detroit. The subject, Black Monk (a white guy), shares its opening pages, ones he hadn’t read before. We look out the window and there is a billboard with a message from God, something about the temporal nature of life and life ever after with him. I was like “wow.”
Tillon’s “Detroit Wild City” is a lovely treatment of what a “Day of Absence” (Douglas Turner Ward, 1965) really looks like: a world where traffic is silent, not many birds sing and the only life which is increasing is that of dogs whose noses look like pig snouts – their story another tragedy we learn of as dog catchers snare strays and then take us to the shelters where recent arrivals snarl at the camera. See http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text12/warddayofabsence.pdf.
He states that Detroit is known nationally for its negative stats, such as “murder capital,” “high unemployment,” “citizen flight,” “poor schools,” that these negative assets are capitalized on by the remaining residents who live down to national expectations. How inhuman can I get? How beastly can I become?
Many residents breed dogs to have them then kill or maim each other in competitions, their owners guilty of callous abandonment of the pets or their brutal killing such as burning the dogs alive. This is the only population that is increasing, numbering in the hundreds of thousands – stray dogs abandoned wandering the streets killing and being killed.
I like the way the director projects the captor as other or outsiders as well. The subject here talks about how he is more comfortable in the woods than in the city, and as we travel the highway in his vehicle, Detroit seems to have areas dense with green landscape. The animal controller reflects on a time when he met a cheetah in the wild, as he laments the possibility that man will kill everything that can potentially maim or kill him and what such a world would look like. “Detroit Wild City” screens again at UC Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive Wednesday, May 4, 8:40 p.m. on Bowditch at Bancroft Way. Visit www.sffs.org.
‘Better this World’
Another film of interest is “Better This World,” which looks at FBI surveillance today and how if you think COINTELPRO ended with the killing of Martin King and Malcolm X, think again. It shows how, like Hitler, the enemy is a master at seduction and uses one’s passions, in this case, two young men who wanted to make the country uphold its ideals expressed in founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and its Constitution and Bill of Rights. The only problem: They meet a man, Brandon Darby, a spy on the FBI payroll who breaks the law, yet it is these two young men who take the fall.
It is an amazing story with cast and causes the San Francisco Bay Area audience is familiar with like Malik Rahim and Common Ground Relief, Robert H. King and the Angola 3. Informants are not all bad, I guess, if one looks at Brandon’s work at Common Ground Relief and his rescue of Robert F. King, but he definitely needed watching, his behavior then and as depicted in the film, unstable and extreme – read: crazy.
Darby twists the boys’ enthusiasm into a terrorist operation. It shows how vulnerable certain people are and how evil is manipulative and pervasive. By the time the two subjects wake up, they are captured ideologically and then physically with their arrest.
“Better This World,” directed by Kelly Duane de La Vega and Katie Galloway, is a study in how good intentions are preyed upon by scavengers who cowardly use the naïveté of youth to further ends which look sane to the uninitiated. These are the same kids we see blowing themselves up around the world, while their tutors remain safe and alive. The film screens for a final time Thursday, May 5, 8:45 p.m., at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.
‘The Place in Between’
“The Place in Between,” directed by Sarah Bouyain (France/Burkina Faso), is the story of displacement of both child and mother in a mixed race union, where father takes the child and the mother is left alone. In this case, the man is French and the mother is African and the child is raised by his French wife with her half-brother, also white. The film takes place when the girl, now grown, wants to know her birth mother and what happens when she retraces those early steps.
The sorrow signified by fractured lives – the brokenness unrecognized at least by the girl until she tries to find herself – is portrayed well. The juxtaposition of all affected by her birth – both mothers, siblings, other parents, and the community in Africa and at large – the relationships lost and the relationships the young woman estranged from her life and from her roots cannot capture or restore, is also explored.
The girl is able to step on and off the set, since she is between worlds, neither of one nor wholly of the other. One sees her dizziness as she tries to choose, her loyalties split. She is an outsider, marked. She cannot fade or pass and when she tries she is insulted by a man who sees her in traditional attire and propositions her. African women in big hotels are things, not people; of course she is there for his sexual amusement. She can’t be a guest.
When the young woman meets her aunt and finds that the memories she recalls are of this mother, this woman who has been waiting for her return, her world is flipped on its other side.
“The Place in Between” reflects on the role of mother in a child’s life, transcultural adoptions and interracial adoptions and what the impact is on the child, who, in this case, looks Black but is really her stepmother’s child, socially, if not genetically. Unlike other transracial adoptions or blended families, this girl does have memories of her earlier life, one her father rescues her from, even if she loses her linguistic access.
This latent memory helps, perhaps even inspires, the quest while it destroys a life, a life built on the absence of truth. The inferno burns all connected to the story and their pain is palatable – the mothers who love this child and don’t or didn’t want to let her go, and the third mother whom no one knows or considered, who suffers perhaps the most.
“The Place in Between,” set in Burkina Faso and France, looks at African people symbolized by this displaced child and how horrific the rift between those who left or were taken and those who stayed, and how the repair is shabby and ineffective.
The historic and contemporary European presence is anything but positive here, the poverty striking in the depictions of those with means and those without. Many of the impoverished like the girl’s aunt reside or float in memories too great to bear. She, like her other sisters, self-medicate, her prescription of choice alcohol, a temporary cure, which only dampens and covers the loss.
The birth mother is shamed and ashamed, so she leaves without a forwarding address and her family is left bereft. The only one seemingly not affected is the father who dies before his African child makes the journey back home.
The ending is not sweet or conclusive, which I think lends honesty to this taboo subject – outside children, a further implication of the continued Maafa in African Diaspora communities. Even those of us with recent memories feel we cannot return home. Yet, the return is what heals the girl’s aunt, who has been waiting, wondering, wishing for her daughter’s return. Again, the film screens Thursday, May 5, at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco, 8:45 p.m.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7:30 or 8 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.