Wanda’s Picks for May 2015

by Wanda Sabir

MOVE 9, Mumia Abu Jamal, 30th anniversary of MOVE bombing on Osage

MOVE-bombing-fire-051385-by-AP-web, Wanda’s Picks for May 2015, Culture Currents
To remove the MOVE organization off the face of the earth, Philadelphia bombed from a police helicopter – yes, bombed – the house where the family lived, causing a fire that burned the entire block and consumed 11 people in the MOVE house, six adults and five children. Police shot those who tried to escape the inferno. – Photo: AP

Happy Mother’s Day to all the nurturers, both female and male. Congratulations to all the graduates, beginning this month and continuing through June. Condolences to all the recent victims of state violence and those families and communities affected, especially in Baltimore. Much love, light and wellness to Mumia Abu Jamal; love and light to Brother Albert Woodfox.

ON A MOVE to the MOVE Family, Ramona Africa the only adult survivor of the bombing on Osage Avenue 30 years ago this Mother’s Day weekend, May 13. There is an 11 a.m. rally planned on Osage Avenue at 62nd Avenue. Call 215-386-1165 and 267-408-7802 or email onamovellja@gmail.com.

‘3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets’ at the 58th annual San Francisco International Film Festival

I just had the opportunity to view “3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets” (2015), directed by Marc Silver, a film about the killing of Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old boy-child who was shot in the parking lot of a convenience store in a dispute over loud music three years ago this November. I remember when I heard the news, not long after Trayvon Martin was killed. I thought it dangerous indeed to be a Black male in Florida. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have certainly thought Florida a wild place where white men get to hunt Black boys for sport.

The trial proceeded typically, with the prosecutor placing blame for the killing in the hands of the victim. Of course the boy deserved what he got when he didn’t do as Michael Dunn asked him to – turn down the music. I can’t imagine Jordan’s friend in the back seat with him when he discovered the wound and blood while another youth drove backward trying to get away from the shooter who kept firing – 10 times. I am surprised all the boys were not injured with glass shattering and bullets riddling the sides of the jeep.

3-12-Minutes-Ten-Bullets-poster, Wanda’s Picks for May 2015, Culture Currents With excellent audio footage of 911 emergency calls from the store where the shooting took place to the news coverage of the manhunt, to the surprising testimony from the shooter’s fiancé, Jordan Davis’ killing and the lives he affected and the loss his death will mean to those he loved is visually clear. He was 17. Jordan was a blessing to his parents, who didn’t think they would have a child. His dad spoke of the miscarriages his wife suffered and how happy he was when she got bigger and then Jordan was born via C-section.

Trayvon Martin’s father texted the grieving father a welcome to “the club no one wants a membership card to. Fathers are supposed to protect their children, so what happened?’” Mr. Jordan said there was nothing to prepare him for this tragedy. The time was early, the boys were in a good neighborhood, the young men his son was with were good kids, yet his son never made it home.

In “3 ½ Seconds,” we meet a child whose life was a bridge, a passage to another side … perhaps a bit sooner than his girlfriend, mother or father was ready, but Jordan made preparations; he filled his life with assignments.

What is remarkable about the work is its intimacy. We witness the impact this one irrational act has on so many lives, especially those of Jordan’s parents. Sound footage from prison phone calls to his fiancé show Michael Dunn’s complete absence of remorse. We are given access to Jordan’s parents’ most private moments at home, in church, in the courtroom, which is also filmed.

I don’t know how he did it, but the director has access to courtroom material I have not seen on camera to date. Given such an approach and the collaborative nature of this work, from producer Minette Nelson, who brings the story of Silver, to Orlando Bagwell, veteran independent filmmaker whose credits include “Eyes on the Prize,” and Citizen King, who as executive producer then brings in Julie Goldman and Bonnie Cohen to executive produce the film with him, we have a classic treatment of the warfare against Black males.

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Jordan Davis’ mother in “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets”

“3 ½ Minutes” is instructive and cautionary. It is a useful study of the criminalization of a people and the legal support for such thinking. If you feel threatened, even if the threat is imagined, you can shoot first – stand your ground rather than retreat. What does that say about safety for Black boys – Black people – in Florida and to a larger extent America?

The film screens May 6 and May 7 at the San Francisco International Film Festival this year. Check the schedule: http://www.sffs.org/sfiff58 and https://vimeo.com/122129029. Perhaps it will save a Black child’s life in California, Florida, Maryland …. Look for the film in theatres this June and for an interview with Jordan Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath. The film is also an HBO documentary film.

Another SFIFF film of interest is “Romeo is Bleeding,” which follows the story of poet Donté Clark and his work with youth in Richmond, California, in theatre arts. His play, “Te’s Harmony,” revisions Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the community where he lives and works. It screens May 1 and May 3; see http://www.sffs.org/sfiff58/program/romeo-is-bleeding#.VUJQyvBbjm4.

“T-Rex” looks at a woman warrior, a boxer out of Flint, Michigan, 17-year-old Claressa Shields and the new Olympic sport of women’s boxing. It screens May 2, 4 and 7. Visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff58/program/t-rex#.VUJSl_Bbjm4.

Donte-Clark-in-Romeo-Is-Bleeding, Wanda’s Picks for May 2015, Culture Currents
In “Romeo Is Bleeding,” poet Donté Clark collaborates with youth to relocate Shakespeare’s play to the bleeding streets of Richmond, California. With lines delivered in slang-filled iambic pentameter and hip-hop metaphors, the play occasionally quotes Shakespeare as it tells a tale of love, revenge and murder amidst police occupation and poverty.

Lastly, Kim Longinotto receives the Persistence of Vision Award this year and will premiere her latest film, “Dreamcatcher.” She follows Chicagoan Brenda Myers-Powell, who advocates for these women, who she still calls sisters though she is no longer in this work. The film screens May 2. Visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff58/program/pov-award-kim-longinotto-dreamcatcher#.VUJS0PBbjm4.

There are lots of films of African interest this year at the SFIFF, especially on Saturday, May 2 (smile). Visit http://www.sffs.org/calendar?date=2015-05-02.

SF Green Festival May 28-June 3

All the information is at http://www.greenfilmfest.org.

Bobbe Norrise Day Celebration

Oakland celebrates master yoga teacher Bobbe Norrise and her contributions to the health and wellbeing of Oakland residents Saturday, May 16, 2-5 p.m., at the Anasa Yoga Studio, 4232 MacArthur Blvd., in Oakland’s Laurel District.

In the course of her 40 year career, the longtime resident has exposed generations of students in Oakland to yoga in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area, and these students have gone on to teach many others. She is a role model and trailblazer using her training and love for Iyengar Yoga to reach out to people who historically have experienced barriers to a yoga practice.

She was the first African American yoga teacher to publish a yoga book. Published in 1990, it’s called “Easy Yoga for Busy People.” Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan proclaimed May 15, 2011, as Bobbe Norrise Day. We also want to offer her our condolences on the recent loss of her husband. His homegoing is Saturday, May 2, at their home. See more at: http://anasaoakland.com/workshops-events/#sthash.xt1IQ75t.dpuf

‘Blackademics’ by Idris Goodwin at Crowded Fire through May 2

Don’t read this review before seeing the play.

Playwright Idris Goodwin’s “Blackademics,” directed by Mina Morita, on stage presently as a part of Crowded Fire Theatre’s 2014-15 season, is about kinship through proximity, like the instant families aboard slave ships, except this is 500 years later. Why do Black women in higher education still find themselves marooned as these two women are? I felt like tossing them copies of “Souls of Black Folk” and “Black Rage,” two books I was carrying when I entered the theatre on Portrero Hill. The two professional friends represent diversity in an otherwise all-white town. Ann (Safiya Fredericks) works at an elitist private college, while Rachelle (Lauren Spencer) works at a state college, with all that implies.

They meet at an out of the way – read “inconvenient” – exclusive restaurant where competition adds spice to a questionable menu. The walls look like a chopping board – wooden planks with smaller framed boards on walls. This restaurant comes highly rated, yet has no table, chairs or amenities. In the end, even the door disappears.

Should we ask, who, not what, is on the menu?

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A scene from “Blackademics”

It is the vying for viands from the master’s table that fuels this tense, provocative work. Between servings, in conversation, much of it heated, the characters and their mysterious waitress, Georgia (Michele Aprina Leavy), examine or question, even challenge, the politics of Blackness in great detail. It is not surprising when we see Rachelle is a lot less compromising politically than her friend Ann, who is also darker than she. Perhaps this is why Ann has just gotten tenure. She looks the part.

Singing “Sorrow Songs” (a DuBois reference), we wonder how Hansel and Gretel will get away from the witch, Georgia, whose plans become clearer as we reach the literal end. The celebration Ann was looking forward to becomes a dirge … not quite a funeral march, but certainly a place where the women look closely at what is not serving them and consider discarding the excess weight.

Ann is from privileged circumstances, yet her bright brother can’t find a job. He has been unable to juggle the ever shifting identity he must affix as the ground grows more slippery – the two women finishing each other’s sentences, his life struggle they know intimately. Why is it that Ann has tenure while Rachelle, who is just as smart, is fired because she is not ethnic looking enough? Both teach African American history and culture. Rachelle also teaches rhetoric, a useful tool in the ‘hood.

Sorrow songs.

After the performance I spoke to Lisa Marie Rollins, dramaturge and assistant director. She agreed with me that location, like the idea of a meal, is a metaphor. She said the place, exclusive and out of the way, is a crossroads, and like all such places, it evokes a taking stock, drawing lines, naming the enemy, and learning the truth about friendship. Is being the first really that important when one’s integrity is the casualty? The women speak a lot about power and who has it. In a place where they are the novelties, the two peers are separated in ways unacknowledged, realized or understood until forced to look at each other and really see who is there.

But of course, it’s understood what’s at stake. As the meal progresses, Georgia opts in with directives from a chef we never see. The waitress is disappointed when the hungry women share their meal. The women validate each other in ways Georgia cannot fathom. The hostess stands on the outside with the prize for the winner(s) without realizing the two women are a team with a common goal and an equally identifiable foe.

That Georgia is a cannibal is not surprising – America eats the flesh of its citizens. Georgia says she wants an authentic experience of Black life as she sharpens her knife. Performances are at Thick House, 1695 18th St. in San Francisco, at 8 p.m. Visit www.crowdedfire.org or call 415-746-9238. To listen to an interview with the actresses, visit http://tobtr.com/7506683. To listen to an interview with the playwright and directors, visit http://tobtr.com/7506687.

Remembering the ancestors is important

I just feel like saying this only a month before the annual international Libations for the Ancestors the second Saturday in June, June 13, this year at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, 12 noon Eastern Time, 11 a.m. Central Time. Check the international clock for times outside the USA.

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Libations for the Ancestors, Lake Merritt, on June 11, 2011 – Photo: Wanda Sabir

This is the 20th Anniversary year of the Maafa Commemoration San Francisco Bay Area. The ritual is Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015, at Ocean Beach, Fulton at the Great Highway. Visit http://maafasfbayarea.com.

If anyone is interested in working with us to make this anniversary special, let me know. I’d like to do a fundraiser for California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) to help get former prisoners from Southern California to San Francisco for the Nov. 7, 7 p.m., Fire Inside Gala Event at the Women’s Building in San Francisco. Visit womenprisoners.org. If we raise enough money, a bus could be chartered. I am also interested in a few symposia and talks about “Black Self-Defense in Spiritual and Physical Warfare,” plus “Master Talks by Our Scholars – Elders and Youth.”

I’d like one of the salons to be on the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey and a 21st Century UNIA on its centennial. What does Garvey’s vision look like through a depth psychological lens? How do we translate the UNIA-ACL, the most successful Pan African organizing strategy to date, into present terms: psychologically, philosophically, socially, spiritually and economically? This would be a prelude to a conference perhaps next year leading up to 2020, the anniversary of the first convention of African peoples held in Madison Square Garden in 1920. It was at this event that the Hon. Marcus Garvey was elected provisional president of Africa and the African Diaspora.

It would be great if we could get Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing (“Isis Papers”) to come out to speak this October with Dr. Price M. Cobb (“Black Rage”) and produce a talking book. I’d also love to have The Mark Lomax Trio with Edwin Bayard and Dean Hulett come out to perform “Isis and Osiris” and their “#Black Lives Matter” over a couple of days. It would be great if we could have “A Healing Passage Art Experience,” Hassaun Ali Jones Bey’s performance ritual, “Dew Drops Come and Make Repairs,” and an art exhibition with an appreciative inquiry workshop. To listen to an interview with Ali Jones Bey, go to http://tobtr.com/7350905.

We need sponsors and legs and arms and feet to make this happen (smile). Again, let me know if you are interested and available. October is Maafa Awareness Month in the state of California, Alameda County and Oakland, California. It would also be great to expand the reach of the proclamations to each city and county in California beginning with Northern California.

‘Mount Misery’ at Cutting Ball

Imagine Frederick Douglass as a youth of 16 in conversation with Donald Rumsfield in 2015? The location is the former plantation where he was sent to be broken. He was not broken. Instead Douglass fought his overseer and won. This moment would permanently alter the course of Douglass’ life, freeing him from fear and building a new sense of agency.

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A young Frederick Douglass, the subject of “Mount Misery”

“Mount Misery” is the title of the commissioned work Cutting Ball Theatre resident playwright Andrew Saito has imagined. “Mount Misery” is the small Maryland town where the teenage Frederick Douglass fought his overseer and triumphed.

Over 150 years later, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld bought the mansion and property to use as a vacation home. Andrew Saito’s new play, “Mount Misery,” juxtaposes Douglass and Rumsfeld’s life works and philosophies. This satire examines the United States’ inconsistent progress on issues of human rights and race by imagining the two men interacting across time.

“Mount Misery” was commissioned by Cutting Ball and developed as part of the 2014 edition of RISK IS THIS, the Cutting Ball New Experimental Plays Festival. The world premiere production runs concurrently with the 2015 RISK IS THIS Festival in celebration Cutting Ball’s new play development program from commissions to full productions! Listen to an interview with director Rob Melrose, playwright Andrew Saito, and actor Giovanni Adams, who plays Frederick Douglass, at http://tobtr.com/7506693.

‘Head of Passes’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney at Berkeley Rep through May 24

When we walk into the theatre, there is a man sitting in the living room; later we learn that is “The Angel.” He doesn’t speak. Neither does Shelah. There is so much she needs to say, so much she hasn’t said we learn of later that perhaps needs to erupt, spill, let go. It is raining in the house, so much so, Cookie gets drenched and Creaker puts on protective covering. The mood is festive and light, despite the leaky roof, wet furniture and rising tide.

In playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s work, “Head of Passes,” set this time in a place in the “southernmost Louisiana, where the three passages of the Mississippi River join the Gulf of Mexico,” called Head of Passes. Lexi Diamond writes in the program notes, that this channel, where the story takes place, looks on a map like “strange lace: a system of rivers, swamps, and marshes … coil[ing] off from the three main rivers of the Mississippi, weaving in and out of one another to reveal the occasional landmass. Only 10 percent of what little land that does poke through the labyrinth of channels is dense enough for human use; the rest is sand, silt and clay that shifts constantly with the movement of the waters.”

Cheryl-Lynn-Bruce-Shelah-Francois-Battiste-Aubrey-in-‘Head-of-Passes’-cy-kevinberne.com_, Wanda’s Picks for May 2015, Culture Currents
Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Shelah) and Francois Battiste (Aubrey) perform in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Head of Passes,” a poignant and poetic new play about the journey of family and faith, trial and tribulation at Berkeley Rep. – Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

It is here we meet Shelah (actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce) and her family on a wet evening. The occasion is a surprise birthday party for Shelah. Besides her two sons, Aubrey and Spencer, step daughter Cookie and friends, Creaker, his son, Crier, and girlfriend, Mae, Dr. Anderson also joins the gathering, so does an Angel, whom no one sees except Shelah.

Isolated, Shelah lives outside New Orleans in a place where there are few people and fewer services. That evening her son Aubrey (Francois Battiste) says he’d like her to live with him, so he can look after her. His brother, Spencer (Brian Tyree Henry), agrees.

The matriarch has forgotten this day is her birthday, and wonders why everyone is coming by. She is unaware of the surprise party, though she is happy to see her children. It works out well because she has important news to share; however, before she can, tragedy strikes about as unexpectedly as the hurricane which devastates her home.

In this work, McArthur Genius Tarell Alvin McCraney once again asks important questions about faith. The work, commissioned by Steppenwolf, looks at Job’s story. Shelah is McCraney’s Job; she is our Job, the woman who survives and has to cobble together life in the midst of unimaginable chaos. What does Shelah have left to grasp when her world is tossed asunder? The water makes everything slippery. What was once certain is not. How does she survive such devastation? How does she keep from falling in the water or purposely letting go? It would be so easy to give up hope.

Her lovely home, which is in shambles by the close of the story, reflects her life – all the beams or pillars on which she hung her hopes for todays and tomorrows have fallen. With each curse and cry, admonition and apology she utters to God, her house sinks further into the rising waters until it floats beneath her like an island. Cut off from those who care about her, she can only call on God, present perhaps in the Angel, whose light buoys her spirits. Dressed in a white shift, Shelah stands at the edge of the rising water and contemplates crossing over? Will she?

The ensemble carries the story well, the tales fluid like the rapidly falling water which is in itself another character – cleansing, yet a force one needs to respect. Insistent, water often pries loose matter that is stuck. Sometimes water washes away material beings before we are ready to let them go. Visit www.berkeleyrep.org. To listen to an interview with the playwright, go to http://tobtr.com/7506683.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. 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 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.