by Wanda Sabir
With the storm approaching New Orleans, I spoke to Dwight Henry, co-star in the film, “Beasts of a Southern Wild,” currently in Bay Area theaters. President Barack Obama asked Oprah Winfrey if she knew the film; she didn’t. Now she knows the film and story of the baker who portrays a single father in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Henry called me. I’d seen the film a few weeks earlier. My mother sent me an article from the Wave, a community paper in LA she gets and then tears articles for me she thinks I might like. I am happy she did. For some reason, when the film opened in San Francisco and the press was alerted, my star was not on the horizon despite the involvement of the San Francisco Film Society, yes the folks who produce the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Numerous attempts to contact publicists for the film were stonewalled, so I checked on-line to see if the baker-actor has a Facebook page and he does, so I sent him an email (smile). And a week or so later, he called. We were to talk this morning on the air, but Hurricane Isaac is making its way through New Orleans. His representative deemed it practical to save his cell phone power. I was fine with that, so I will speak to him once things settle down.
Mr. Henry spoke of being in California often, at least three to four times in the past five months: Tavis Smiley had him on his show. Within the past year, he’s been to the Lucas Studios here and to Pixar. I don’t know how I missed or was not included in the loop, but my Mama was watching out for me (smile).
In lieu of a formal program, I wanted to do a buyout for the film to raise money for Katrina survivors in the Gulf and the San Francisco Bay Area, Aug. 29, 2012, like we do every year with the report back, but the will wasn’t there. This year, perhaps more than those past, was one where money would have helped. People can send money to the organizations we support: Common Ground Health Clinic, http://www.commongroundclinic.org/, and Living Independence for Everyone of LIFE of Mississippi, Biloxi site, http://www.lifeofms.com/index.php. Let them know you are a San Francisco Bay Area supporter. We earmark funds to people with disabilities and elders. We are interested in supporting the lesser funded alternative therapies.
Malik Rahim, co-founder of Common Ground Relief, said in a brief conversation after I spoke to Mr. Henry Tuesday morning, Aug. 28, that the situation hadn’t improved over the past seven years. Most people are without electricity or any kind of power. On his street in Algiers, Malik shares power with neighbors, but he was furious that the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana has been so negligent once again in providing basic emergency preparedness services to those who could not afford to leave town. “School just started,” he said, “which means people don’t have money for relocation.”
In a special broadcast, one hour earlier (5 a.m. PST) than usual Aug. 29, 2012, I spoke to three men who are riding the storm out: Parnell Herbert, Angola 3 activist and playwright, Mwalimu Johnson, community organizer and prison abolitionist, and Malik Rahim, former Black Panther. All the men are Katrina survivors, as is Robert King, author, political prisoner and only freed member of Angola 3, who now lives in Austin. King joined us as well.
The four men gathered on the air to reflect on the unrelenting push to force African people from New Orleans. The gentrification is not subtle. At times heated, the conversation covered a variety of topics as winds pushed through town at a potentially lethal yet leisurely pace. I cannot rest, even though Herb told me this storm is not as threatening as Katrina.
At the time of this writing, the hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical storm; there is flooding, evacuations and rescues, plus, believe it or not, the levees were breached once again – CRAZY! All my family who rode out Isaac in the Gulf are fine, just without amenities like water and heat and light. Listen to the Seventh Anniversary interview on blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/hurricane-isaac-alabama-baldwin-mobile_n_1840876.html.
I played music from Boukman Eksperyans, thinking of Haiti and the 24 deaths there, 42 injuries and the miserable conditions in the Internally Displaced Persons Camps (http://www.myspace.com/boukman). I can’t imagine the horrific conditions as we approach the fourth anniversary of the earthquake, especially now that cholera is endemic. See http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/weather/hurricanes/isaac-death-toll-rises-24-haiti/nRLw8/.
If one wants to watch the award winning film “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” which looks at the intentional infection of a nation, and support the suit initiated by IJDH/BAI www.undeny.org, one can send funds to http://ijdh.org/get-involved/donate. The Institute for Justice and Democracy, Haiti (IJDH), is doing fine work in collaboration its Haiti-based affil¬i¬ate, the Bureau des Avo¬cats Inter¬na¬tionaux (BAI), in Port-au-Prince. I have visited there and met the wonderful director and many of the women and men who direct multiple programs from its offices. This is the organization where I slept in a tent on the ground and the next day couldn’t move (smile). See http://ijdh.org/who_we_are/bai.
A review of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ at theatres in San Francisco, Berkeley, San Rafael, Pleasant Hill and more
“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” directed by Benh Zeitlin, is a lyrical film about a community in the Southern part of the Louisiana Gulf Coast called “The Bathtub.” Surrounded by water, this little island is cut off from the mainland more than just physically. It is the philosophical separation that makes its people look suspiciously at what those on the mainland see as normal. Inherent in their lives is a respect for all living beings.
The line between childhood and adulthood doesn’t exist as a father teaches his daughter to be tough, so tough she has her own house, which she burns down on purpose (smile). The two even share a drink when the child, who is supposed to be tough, and tough means to accept life without tears … the two break down. The kid is, after all, a child, perhaps 8, maybe younger.
The writing is what gets the audience – the externalized thoughts of this little girl who speaks to a mother who is no longer present and a dad who is sick and, we find out later, dying. When Hurricane Katrina comes, the folks in The Bathtub don’t evacuate, they make plans, which are in constant flux. Like life, they roll with the tides and when rescued … they leave.
Wild … containment is not something they are used to. When learning about the melting glaciers and the prehistoric animals that walked the planet before us, Hushpuppy is able to have a meditative acceptance of life as it cycles – sunrise, day, sunset.
The interchange is between the beasts whose nature is survival juxtaposed with that of the human species, who are also beasts, Hushpuppy’s teacher tells her students, yet with a twist. The wild boars might eat their kin if hungry enough, but for the tribe Hushpuppy belongs to, it never comes to that. She does say, when her dad disappears, that she might have to start eating her friends if he doesn’t return soon.
He does, return, that is, dressed in a hospital gown. One never quite knows what is on Wink’s mind, except he loves Hushpuppy and loved her mother, a mystery we never quite solve. While watching the lazy, luscious film, it reminded me rhythmically of Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust.” The lyrical quality of the film also comes through as well. It was Dash’s pen and palette that created this landscape, along with exceptional co-stars, the three women, among them Barbara O. In “Beasts” it is Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, neither an actor before this illustrious debut, who make the illusion tangible.
This beauty is also enhanced, I’m sure, by the technical presence of Art Academy University and the San Francisco Film Society. Shot on location in Louisiana and its Ninth Ward, one sees the levy breached. (An editorial aside: Whenever I think about the AAU, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and an odor in my nostrils. Its president is responsible for Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s displacement and subsequently its founders’ deaths – OK, she didn’t kill them, but they might have lived longer if they hadn’t experienced this loss.)
Perhaps what is so remarkable is how natural the actors appear with one another. The mixed race community is a few families large, but though isolated, they are not unaware of what life is like outside The Bathtub Island they create for their families.
Who are the beasts, one might ask of herself after the film: the people who plug their sick into a wall or the people who teach their children to fly? There are so many picturesque scenes. Almost all the ones with Hushpuppy in them are keepers (smile). The memory of her father holding her as a baby, juxtaposed with that of a woman holding her and dancing is one. The other is when she cooks a meal with a blow torch, and the final is when Hushpuppy talks to the mammoth boars. It’s pretty remarkable. Oh, and one more, when Hushpuppy sits buried in crayfish shells.
Another beautiful moment is Hushpuppy’s creation story, the story of her parent’s first meeting, where everything falls away except their attraction for one another.
The spunky child is pretty remarkable as is her dad. Her life illustrates the fact that it is best if we tell our children the truth; Wink and Hushpuppy’s lives are what they are because of this. Hushpuppy tells her father that if he dies, her life will be over. He tells her that she will live much longer than he will and that is when she cries.
In the end, they are both crying. Hushpuppy listens to heartbeats in leaves, birds, hogs and other human beings. She knows this is life’s rhythm as she lies down next to her dad’s heart one more time.
For a list of theaters and showtimes in the Bay Area, go to http://www.sfweekly.com/movies/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-2984589/.
UpSurge! Farewell Concert
There are a few events this month not to be missed; one of them is Raymond Nat Turner and UpSurge Jazz and Poetry Ensemble’s farewell concert, Friday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m., at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. Yes, Raymond and Zigi are leaving the Bay. Visit http://www.upsurgejazz.com/.
‘L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema’
The film series, “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema,” at UC Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive begins Sept. 6 and runs through Oct. 30. Visit http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/larebellion. I had a great interview with one of the curatorial team, Jacqueline, which aired Friday, Aug. 31.
The series opens Thursday, Sept. 6, 7 p.m., with a restored print of Julie Dash’s classic, “Daughters of the Dust,” written by Dash, photographed by A. Jaffa Fielder, with Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O (Barbara O. Jones) and Cheryl Lynn Bruce. The evening opens with “Diary of an African Nun” (1977), adopted from a story by Alice Walker (15 min.)
The following week, Thursday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m., a new print of Haile Gerima’s “Bush Mama” screens (1975). It is written by Gerima, photographed by Charles Burnett and Roderick Young, with Barbara-O (Barbara O. Jones), Johnny Weathers, Susan Williams, Cora Lee Day (97 mins, B&W, 16mm). “Daydream Therapy” (Bernard Nicolas, U.S., 1977) precedes it.
What is really cool about “L.A. Rebellion” is the mining of these directors who are still relatively unknown, despite the creative and innovative content of this narrative and experimental or nonlinear works which look at Black life in all of its complicated and sublime variations. I watched quite a few on-line on the “L.A. Rebellion” website at UCLA.
What I enjoyed as much as the films were the interviews with directors about their craft 40 years ago. These artists were just as important to the revolution as were those brandishing rifles. The liberation of Black images is what the Black power movement was all about. How can one be free if one doesn’t recognize herself?
In Alile Sharon Larkin’s “The Kitchen” (1977), a woman goes mad. Nappy hair is the tipping point – she sees the white mother and daughter bonding in the hair combing ritual and tries to make her daughter’s hair comply. Of course it refuses. The only thing straightened in this film is the woman’s arms when she is confined in a straight jacket. I am reminded of Bill Duke’s “Dark Girl” (2012).
Another film I love for its poetry is “Rain.” Melvonna Marie Ballenger’s film is poetically sentimental. A clerk-typist decides to do something different with her life. She is rushing to work in the rain and misses her bus. Instead of getting upset, she says: “I guess the rain isn’t so bad. … It’s a chance to band together [one’s thoughts].” She takes a leaflet from a man standing near her bus stop. Later while typing she gets up to leave work and looks at the leaflet – ”Your liberation is my liberation.” Is the rain a baptism into a new life – sanctified? Changing oneself can be maddening; one might find herself alone. “It’s like waiting for the rain.”
Another film I really liked – well, there were two: One is about a Freedom School in L.A., Don Amis’ “Ujamii Uhuru Schule Community Freedom School,” and the other is about a man who sells his soul to the devil for one last hit: Jamaa Fanaka’s “A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan” (1972). Dying for that last hit. It should be shown in high school drug programs without a preface. It is superimposed over a remake of “Super Fly.”
Abortion is a topic covered in Jacqueline Frazier’s “Hidden Memories.” The woman isn’t raped, yet at issue is whether a woman is property of the state or not. Who controls one’s reproductive rights – person or state?
According to Todd Akin, Senate candidate from Missouri, if a woman gets pregnant when she is raped, then obviously she wanted it (!@?) as there is a special anti-pregnancy hormone that kicks in to prevent most unwanted pregnancies. How stupid is that! Imagine all the white people whose ancestry includes African heritage, because some white man raped an enslaved Black woman (Thomas Jefferson among the more famous child molesters – remember Sally Hemings?
Is this what Akin means when he uses the loaded term “legitimacy?” Is his statement a kind of a flipped insult? He says to a journalist that “[i]f it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
You won’t want to miss a single screening. Directors might show up, special guests will introduce some of the selections. It is just a rare opportunity to revisit the revolution in shades of gray, black and white and Technicolor (smile). Visit http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/project-one-films.
‘Half the Sky’ PBS Mini Series Community Cinema Kick-off
Community Cinema kicks off its 2012-2013 slate with a special screening of “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” A landmark PBS mini-series based on the book by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, “Half the Sky” follows Kristof and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde as they travel to six countries and meet inspiring, courageous individuals who are confronting oppression and developing real, meaningful solutions through health care, education and economic empowerment for women and girls.
The actual program is a four-hour mini-series. At the ITVS event, a 40-minute excerpt on “Maternal Mortality in Somaliland,” featuring Diane Lane, will screen followed by a discussion. The panel discussion will focus on the challenges in women’s health, as well as opportunities for us take action locally and internationally to improve the quality of life for “half the sky.” Guest speakers are Kate Grant, CEO of the Fistula Foundation; Dr. Suellen Miller, director of the Safe Motherhood Program; Carolyn Kouassiaman, Program Officer for the Global Fund for Women; Clare Winterton, Executive Director of the International Museum of Women will moderate.
The screening is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, Tuesday, Sept. 18 at the SF Public Library, Main Branch, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA. Doors open at 5:15 p.m.; the program is 5:45 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
“In the Flow: Soji and the AfroBeat Band,” the long anticipated CD release is now here, and it is fantastic! I loved all the cuts and look forward to speaking to Soji on the air Friday, Sept. 27, 8-10 a.m., about the project and the show at Ashkanez Music and Dance Center in Berkeley, Saturday, Sept. 28, 9 p.m. Visit www.sojisoundz.com and http://www.ashkenaz.com/2011/september12.html and www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes are at the Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, Sept. 19-23. Visit http://www.therrazzroom.com/.
Monterey Jazz Festival No. 55 is Sept. 23-25. Visit http://www.montereyjazzfestival.org/2012/.
The 30th Annual SFJAZZ Festival run Aug. 25-Dec. 7. Visit www.sfjazz.org.
Cal Performance’s “Free for All” is Sept. 30, 11-6; visit http://calperformances.org/performances/2012-13/fffa/fffa.php.
Directed by Abbie Rhone, “A Soldier’s Play” is the 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Charles Fuller that inspired the 1984 film, “A Soldier’s Story.” Set in the early 1940s, the play centers around the murder investigation of a Black non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. While it’s being investigated, we explore who this slain officer was and how racism influences men’s behaviors and ideals. The play runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 21 at Fort Mason Center, Southside Theatre, in San Francisco. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Visit brownpapertickets.com.
Ric Salinas of Culture Clash is in “Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo,” a play by Paul S. Flores, developed and directed by Michael John Garces, on stage Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 6-16, at the Lorraine Hansberry Theate, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Visit www.sfiaf.org or call (800) 838-3006. This is a San Francisco Arts Festival event.
On the fly
Shakespeare Festivals continue at “Marin Shakespeare Festival” through Sept. 30; see http://www.marinshakespeare.org/. Cal Shakes presents “Hamlet;” see http://www.calshakes.org/. And “Free Shakespeare in the Park’s” “Henry V” is at the Presidio Sept. 1-23; see http://www.sfshakes.org/park/index.html. Check www.lapena.org for current listings, along with www.moadsf.org.
ZACCHO Dance Company encore performance of “Sailing Away,” choreographed and directed by Joanna Haigood, returns Sept. 13-16, at 12, 1:30 and 3 p.m. on Market Street in San Francisco. Visit http://zaccho.org/.
These free dance performances begin on Market and Powell Streets and end on Battery Street. All “Sailing Away” performances and community events are free and open to the public. For more information about the performances and community conversations connected to “Sailing Away,” Sept. 11 and 13, call (415) 822-6744.
Inspired by San Francisco’s early African American settlers, this site-specific performance features eight prominent African Americans who lived and worked near Market Street during the mid-19th century and evokes their participation in the mass exodus of African Americans from California in 1858.
“Sailing Away” is coming to the Bayview Opera House, 4705 Third St., San Francisco, for a school assembly Tuesday, Sept. 11. The artists will perform excerpts, joined by a lively discussion and a performance from Dr. Susheel Bibbs’ one woman performance portraying 19th century civil rights activist Mary Ellen Pleasant.
On opening day, Sept. 13, at 5 p.m., Joanna Haigood will be joined by a panel of scholars, historians and local community leaders. This community event is co-presented by the California Historical Society, where it will be held, at 678 Mission St., and the Museum of the African Diaspora, or MoAD. Following the panel discussion, you are invited to an opening night reception at 6:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be served, hosted by Zaccho Dance Theatre’s Board of Directors.
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 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.