Wanda’s Picks for April 2016

by Wanda Sabir 

Mutulu-Shakur-Is-Welcome-Here-Wanda-w-poster-Sole-Space-032016-by-Wanda-169x300, Wanda’s Picks for April 2016, Culture Currents
Wanda welcomes the crowd to “Dr. Mutulu Shakur Is Welcome Here,” the Bay Area’s event, held March 20, in a nationwide series of events to convince the federal parole board that beloved political prisoner Mutulu is not so dangerous as to be unwelcome anywhere. Learn more at http://mutuluiswelcomehere.com/. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

“Dr. Mutulu Is Welcome Here” is the title of the campaign and the program Malcolm X Grassroots Movement hosted Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, in Oakland. As we walked into Sole Space, a venue that also sells shoes and art and is a part of the corner building that houses Oakstop, we were invited to pose with a photo of Dr. Shakur. Mama Ayanna, seated at the door, welcomes and greets comrades and friends of friends as other members of MXGM (https://mxgm.org/) host the program, which includes a slide presentation that presents Dr. Shakur’s political biography and what led to his conviction on Feb. 11, 1986.

He was charged and convicted of freeing our Sister Assata Shakur from prison and masterminding a 1981 expropriation of a Brinks armored truck. He is a prisoner of war, a distinction which carries certain legal rights, not that the federal government acknowledges these rights. It is for this reason that after serving 30 years of a 60 year sentence, his release was not addressed nor his parole date honored this past Feb. 10. His next date is April 7, 2016. There is lots of information and a wonderful video at http://mutuluiswelcomehere.com/.

A young sister poet opened the program, followed by Wanda Sabir, who spoke of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, followed by Phavia Kujichagulia who stated that we are at “WAR.” Tureeda Mikell spoke about the system of white supremacy and its tactics in a poem which every Black child needs to hear and use as a counterinsurgency plan. Queen Ayodele Nzinga – Wordslanger – sprinkled medicine on the fire and it came up red, her brazen hot fingertips covered in molten language, bullets formed and fired from her mouth. Write to Brother Mutulu; support his release.

Adopt an encampment

The monthly breakfasts are going strong, the two encampments we serve are cleaner and have less dumping now that we have mobilized support for their inhabitants. There was a lot of flooding in March. RJ and I got sandbags from the City of Oakland to help with the excessive water. We have also been able to continue to give away shoes, men’s pants, socks, coats and men’s underwear. However, these supplies and others like heavy garbage bags, pine cleaner, food, blankets etc., often come out of our pockets. I average $200-$300 out of pocket a month. I am not sure how long I can keep this up. We are still looking to develop permanent housing stock for these alternative communities. Visit http://theausetmovement.blogspot.com/ or email theausetmovement@gmail.com.

‘Welcome to Leith’ premieres on Independent Lens April 4

So you thought racism has spun its wheels and left the concourse? Nope. Meet Craig Cobb, notorious white supremacist leader who sees a real estate investment opportunity, and before the small North Dakota town of Leith can blink, it is occupied by nouveau Mayflower stockholders, puritans who want a place in America where they can honor and celebrate whiteness and white power. Leith is so off the beaten path, Mayor Ryan Schock can’t define white supremacy, let alone agree to participate in Cobb’s armed legion. Directed by Christopher K. Walker and Michael Beach Nichols, the film airs on Independent Lens, April 4, on PBS.

Mutulu-Shakur-Is-Welcome-Here-Mama-Ayanna-MXGM-organizer-032016-Sole-Space-by-Wanda-web-300x225, Wanda’s Picks for April 2016, Culture Currents
Mama Ayanna, after greeting and welcoming friends at the door, hosted the show with other members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the lead organizer of the Mutulu Is Welcome Here campaign. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Listen to an interview with Walker about the surreal experience, a throwback to the Wild Wild West mixed with Jim Crow South, when the only ones winning were white men with guns: http://tobtr.com/8558877.

That the film screens on the 48th anniversary of Martin King’s shooting at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, April 4, the end of The Season of Peace – the months between the killing of men of peace: Mahatma Gandhi, JFK, Malcolm X and Martin King, is not unnoticed by this writer. Nor is it lost on anyone watching the heated presidential race how in line Team Trump is with Team Cobb. After 9/11, the federal government shifted attention away from domestic terrorism to an inarticulate international terror, so if it weren’t for organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Project monitoring white supremacist activities, the Leith invasion might have gone unnoticed, especially given the fact that Leith has a population of 24 people. It is a registered ghost town. To check local times, visit http://itvs.org/films/welcome-to-leith/.

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at the AAACC for ‘Thurgood’

Steven Anthony Jones, framed by the stars and stripes, has the look of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who has returned to his alma mater, Howard Law School, to tell all, well, maybe not all, but enough. In a stunning work, reprised for a limited engagement, April 7-17 at the Burial Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton St., in San Francisco, Jones brings this remarkable man to life in George Stevens Jr.’s remarkable work. Jones, who is artistic director of the LHT, says he was born during a time when Marshall’s court battles were topical and had a major impact on Southern family members whom he’d visit during the summer. However, Jones and Marshall’s lives run parallel in other ways over a generation apart.

SAJ: “Thurgood Marshall was such a great man. I thought I knew him, but I did not know what a great and important person he was to all of our lives. He was the foot soldier under Charles Hamilton Huston, professor at Howard University who established the law school. Marshall led the civil rights movement in the courts. He fought so many battles, put his life on the line for so many things we take for granted,” Jones said in a recent interview. “He is a man who was getting Dr. King and other Civil Rights activists out of jail.” (If I remember my history, Marshall was also the person who told King to distance himself from Bayard Rustin – but that is not this story (smile).

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Some of the crowd gathered to spell it out and make it plain: Mutulu is welcome here and everywhere! – Photo: Wanda Sabir

“He was responsible for Brown vs. Board of Education. Under the guidance of Professor Huston, they fought all the small battles in the court. It was just finding out the details of that struggle and then walking in that man’s shoes for a couple of hours that was a real thrill. It might be, of all the things I have done on stage, my favorite. He was just an amazing human being. I am happy to get this story out for another generation.”

WS: Talk about how your walk in the arts has allowed you to do justice to such a character, such a life? You are at a point in your career when it fits, wouldn’t you say?

Jones laughs. “Well, I am the right age. It presents him after he retires. He says at the beginning of the play, ‘I have given 50 years to the law.’ I have given 43-44 years to the theatre. I have the fortune to have started at the Negro Ensemble Theatre with Turner Ward. I originated a role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, ‘A Soldier’s Play.’ I worked with the brothers, Denzel and Sam Jackson, who went on to become major box office stars, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it was to be able to work with Douglas Turner Ward (‘Day of Absence’). He is responsible for mentoring and teaching generations of African American actors, playwrights, designers. He put so many people into the business.

“We needn’t forget that Douglas created the modern Black theatre movement in the early ‘60s when he wrote the editorial in the New York Times, “Theatre for White People Only,” and that led to the discussion that led to the creation of the Negro Ensemble Company and pushed the door open which led to the creation of all the ethnic theatres. We’re talking Asian, Native American or woman’s theatre, Gay and Lesbian, all the sub-groups that eventually began to function in the structure of American theatre and give voice to their stories. I think all of this is possible because of the work of Douglas Turner Moore.” To hear more, visit http://tobtr.com/8558877. To see “Thurgood,” visit http://www.lhtsf.org/tickets.html.

An Easter Story: ‘Jerusalem,’ California

Black man seated on a shopping cart wearing a sweater and slacks, smoking a cigar in Oakland’s Chinatown is an anomaly, so as I walk by him, I turn around and look again. Was I really seeing this? I was flabbergasted. I could not believe my eyes: a naked black man? I called RJ and told him what I was witnessing and asked him what I should do. He told me to go to the Salvation Army and get the slightly built man some clothes. He suggested a men’s size 8 ½ shoe.

Mutulu-Shakur-Is-Welcome-Here-Kujichagulia-032016-Sole-Space-by-Wanda-web-300x225, Wanda’s Picks for April 2016, Culture Currents
Djialli (griot) Phavia Kugichagulia told the crowd, “We are at war!” – Photo: Wanda Sabir

When I walked into the busy store a couple blocks away, I see a friend trying on a faux fur stole, which looked good on her. Might be a bit warm for Easter Sunday in Oakland – but two of us tell her to go on and buy it. As I wandered the store looking for jogging pants, tee-shirts, and shoes, I learn that most of the men’s shoes are kept for Army men. I find sandals which might have been too small, but I hoped not. I pick up canvas shoes, but they are too large and there are no socks, so I put them back. I purchase a pair of khaki walking shorts, flannel shorts, two tee-shirts, long jogging pants and a hooded front zipped sweatshirt.

There was only one check stand open and the line was long. I didn’t want the elder to leave, so I requested another checker and one came to the register and rang up my purchases. I then raced back across the street where the regal elder sat calmly smoking a cigar.

I was kind of nervous. I didn’t want to intrude, but I went up to him and told him I bought him some clothes as I began taking the items out of the bag and showing them to him. I told him I would leave the bag with him for the items, but he took the shoes and another item and put it in his cart. I repeated what I said about the bag and stepped back so that he wouldn’t take the items from my hands. Each item was greeted with a “Thank you Ma’am.”

Felt funny to be thanked so formally, considering he might be my elder, but looks are deceiving. I have learned over the past few months that people who look to be my elders are actually younger than me. So perhaps I am his elder (smile).

When I finished speaking, I gave him the bag which he added to his cart where the red floral blanket and other items were stored. I then left. I forgot to ask him if he was hungry, but he didn’t mention it, so I hoped that his day continued to go well and that he had a safe place to sleep that evening. I was tempted to go by the site later that evening about midnight when I was driving home from a play, also about a displaced man, Johnny “Rooster” Byron.

Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem,” produced by Secondwind Productions (http://www.secondwind.8m.com/home.html) March 4-26 at SF Playhouse in San Francisco, http://sfplayhouse.org/sfph/jerusalem/, is set in Wiltshire, England, during the holiday celebration honoring St. George. Rooster, portrayed powerfully by actor Ian Walker, has occupied a forest just outside of town for 26 years when real-estate developers want to expand their housing stock and get an ordinance against Rooster to take the land where he has lived in a camper undisturbed up to now. The town kids love him. His place is one where there is no judgment; they can experiment with drugs, sex and feel free.

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About the name of the play, director Bill English says: “In the last 10-15 years, ‘Jerusalem,’ the song based on a poem by William Blake, has become the unofficial national anthem of England. Sung at every rugby match, it has become the ‘people’s’ anthem. Originally, Blake was lamenting the destruction of British rural life by the industrial revolution, but today the English have adopted his battle cry to the sanctity of common man against incursion of corporate and government control.”

Located deep among the trees in a sacred forest, Rooster’s sanctuary is a place where the elder tells stories, gives guidance and sets the kids on their way, when they eventually journey into the lives carved out for them by a larger social order. A social order which appears in orange vests, loud speakers, clubs, video cameras, waving threatening legal papers which they paste on a noncompliant, unruffled Rooster.

In Candomblé, St. George (or St. Sebastian), syncretized orisha, or Black diety, Ogún (also spelled Ogum), is the warrior, fighter of injustice, defender of his people. He is said to have been the first orisha to descend from “orun,” heavens, to the earth, “aiye,” to make it habitable for humanity and orisha. In establishing the ile aiye, or house of the earth, Ogún is seen as “the father of civilization.” It was his tools and labor that cleared away the wilderness to build cities, homes and roads. He is the cutting edge of the knife and as such is often misunderstood. The knife can be used to kill someone or to save someone in surgery – such is Ogún’s nature.

“Ogún lives in the wilderness and forested areas of the world. He is often found hunting with his best friends Eleggua and Ochosi. Ogún can be a loyal and loving father who works tirelessly at his forge making new inventions, or he can be a blood thirsty warrior who swings machetes and decapitates his enemies.” (See http://santeriachurch.org/the-orishas/ogun/.)

“He is believed by his followers to have ‘wo ile sun,’ to have disappeared into the earth’s surface instead of dying, in a place named Ire-Ekiti. Throughout his earthly life, he is thought to have fought for the people of Ire, thus is known also as Onire. In Dahomey religion, Gu is the vodun (deity) of war and patron deity of smiths and craftsmen. He was sent to earth to make it a nice place for people to live, and he has not yet finished this task.” (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogun.)

Butterworth’s character certainly captures much that is African deity and folk hero, Ogún. There is a mystical element connected to Rooster concerning his birth and resurrection. He has special blood and seems incapable of dying. Townsfolk whom he grew up with visit so that Rooster can recount their creation story. He holds their sacred memories sacrosanct, even if he is often the topic of ridicule or harassment. Rooster represents a rite of passage for boys and girls into adulthood. For those kids who listen, the Rooster moments are singularly life changing, shapeshifting.

Johnny Rooster Byron says he was born on the tip of a speeding bullet, which he pulls from a pocket and tosses it to Ginger to see. Ginger tosses it back in disbelief.

“A Byron boy comes with three things.” Rooster tells his skeptical young audience. “A cloak and a dagger, and his own teeth. He comes fully equipped. He doesn’t need nothing. And when he dies, he lies in the ground like a lump of granite. He don’t rot. There’s Byron boys buried all over this land, lying in the ground as fresh as the day they was planted. In them’s cloaks. With the teeth sharp. Fingernails sharp. And the two black eyes, staring out, sharp as spears. You get close and stare into those black eyes, watch out. Written there is old words that will shake you. Shake you down.”

Mutulu-Shakur-Is-Welcome-Here-Antique-the-Edutainer-032016-Sole-Space-by-Wanda-web-300x225, Wanda’s Picks for April 2016, Culture Currents
Antique the Edutainer performed to bring Dr. Mutulu home! – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Ian Walker as Rooster looms as tall as the trees surrounding him. These evergreen soldiers are fitting companions, as is the youth, Ginger (Nickolas Rice), who loves Rooster, even when he ignores the wannabe DJ. Other interesting characters are Phaedra (portrayed by Tyler Barnes), the fairy queen with wings that light up and a crown, who hides out with Rooster. Other interesting characters are the multiple adolescent boys, one about to leave for Australia, the singing professor and the dancing bartender, Westley (actor Stefin Collins). The play is set in Ireland, 2014.

“Jerusalem,” directed by Misha Hawk-Wyatt, perhaps questions the notion of the antihero Rooster as both beloved and hated. What of his story is true and what is make believe? Was he really born of a virgin with teeth and a spear as were all his descendants? Did Rooster meet the giant who built Stonehenge? What of the sacred drum the giant gave him to summon the mighty giant and the giant’s family, if Rooster ever needed their help?

With a gorgeous soundtrack featuring blues artists, rock and other dialectic discursive digressions, the youthful and more mature characters and cast tell a remarkable story, set on lilting tongues within a world which, seemingly stable, must change nonetheless. Even the earth spirits or gnomes and leprechauns cannot save Rooster’s home in the woods from “progress.”

If our lives are nothing but a series of narratives, collections of stories strung together or linked to a larger dynamic, yet human tapestry, then “Jerusalem” and what Rooster faces when his time runs out, is a terminus or conclusion we can all anticipate. Rooster serves as the canvas upon which the uninitiated shoot like arrows into a sky then return. For at least a generation, he has welcomed the local kids with caustic or cautionary humor. He loves “the vermin,” even when they do harm his fabric – piercing or tearing away at his soul.

As the bulldozers approach, the eviction imminent, we wonder where Rooster will fly too next or if he plans, like his relative, the Phoenix, to also go up in flames. It doesn’t hurt, even in a casting philosophy which is race and gender neutral, Ian Walker, as the protagonist, is a strapping Black man.

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Khary L. Moye says he is honored to be playing the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in “The Mountaintop.” A New York City native, Khary worked on several Off Broadway productions and with a repertory group in Harlem before moving to the Bay Area.

The intimate set has the audience privy to various activities, whether this is the outdoor tub filled with fresh water where Rooster dips his head in the morning or the sofa which is a welcoming sight for travelers who come in peace. The space is large enough for the kids to have a party, yet, small so that they can’t hide from fate when the sun rises and well accounts are tallied for payment. Good humor seems to be the way of this world, and when humor fails, Rooster gets on his post and crows.

‘The Mountaintop’

Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” directed by Marilyn Langbehn, is at Contra Costa Civic Theatre, 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito, April 15-May 8. Visit http://ccct.org/the-mountaintop/.

On April 3, 1968, after delivering one of his most memorable speeches, an exhausted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while a storm rages outside. When a mysterious stranger arrives with some surprising news, King is forced to re-evaluate the meaning of his life, confront his destiny and come to terms with his unfinished legacy, as every person must do. “The Mountaintop” is a compelling and thought-provoking re-imagination of events the night before the assassination of the celebrated civil rights leader.

On the fly

San Francisco International Film Festival 59, April 21-May 5, http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59/about/welcome-to-sfiff59.Crowns” is at Theatre on San Pedro Square, April 8-May 1, 29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose, Top of FormFriday, Apr 8-May 1. Visit http://www.tabardtheatre.org/tickets.html.

Crowns” stars Tabard’s original 2009 cast strutting their “hattitude”: Glenna Brambill-Williams, Debra J. Crenshaw, James Creer, Juanita Harris, Tracy Perrilliat and Paula Warren. In this moving and celebratory musical, hats become a springboard for the storytelling and exploration of coming home. Written by Regina Taylor, “Crowns” is adapted from the book “Crowns, Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

Alonzo King’s LINES Contemporary Ballet in collaboaration with Jason Moran and Charles Lloyd opens at Yerba Buena Center for Theatre, April 21-30, www.linesballet.org, 415-978-2787.

Youth Speaks Grand Slam Finals! April 16, 7 p.m., at Davies Symphony Hall, Grove Street between Van Ness & Franklin, San Francisco, http://www.youthspeaks.org.

Keeping it wild at sixth annual SF Green Film Festival

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“Tureeda Mikell spoke about the system of white supremacy and its tactics in a poem which every Black child needs to hear and use as a counterinsurgency plan,” Wanda writes. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

San Francisco Green Film Festival returns Thursday through Wednesday, April 14-20, for its biggest year yet. For its sixth edition, the Green Film Fest will be a citywide celebration and focal point for the week of Earth Day. As the West Coast’s leading green doc destination, the festival is bringing together films, filmmakers, experts and audiences to spark the next great environmental ideas.

The festival will present 70 internationally acclaimed, eco-focused films. Over 90 visiting filmmakers and guest speakers will be in attendance to delve into some of the most pressing environmental issues and innovative solutions. Audiences will be inspired to move beyond their theatre seats, with tangible ideas and connections to take positive environmental action.

Scaling the country’s highest peak in An American Ascent”; fighting to make rivers run free in “A River Between Us”; celebrating the National Park Service Centennial in a “Keep It Wild” shorts program; and honoring the 50th anniversary of the film that started a conservation movement, “Born Free.” Additional events in this theme includeWild VR,” an immersive workshop on virtual reality; and “Parrots, Pelicans and People: Oh My!” a discussion with wildlife filmmaker Judy Irving.

Opening night will take place at the Castro Theatre, a new venue for Green Film Fest, on Thursday, April 14, before moving to the festival’s main venue, the Roxie Theatre, from April 15 through 19, and returning to the Castro Theatre for closing night, April 20. Other festival venues include FestHQ at 518 Valencia; Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Main Library; YBCA; Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley; and the Banatao Auditorium in Suturdja Dai Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus.

Pricing for all regular screenings is $15 for general admission; $14 for students, seniors and disabled adults; $13 for members. Tickets for receptions and parties are individually priced. There are free events held in FestHQ, 518 Valencia, on April 16 and 17, and at San Francisco Main Library on April 19. Visit http://www.greenfilmfest.org/.

Retired firefighter Charles Johnson scores another success as a playwright in ‘Ain’t It So …’

GÇÿAinGÇÖt-It-So-GǪGÇÖ-play-set-in-1983-South-Side-Chicago-300x238, Wanda’s Picks for April 2016, Culture Currents
In “Ain’t It So …,” set in 1983, two older African-American women, born and raised in Alabama, now living on the South Side of Chicago, wait for their husbands to retire from their factory jobs. The wives hope to return down home, but the husbands share a secret from the past that stands in their way.

The world premiere of Charles Johnson’s “Ain’t It So …,” directed by Richard Harder and produced by Multi-Ethnic Theatre, runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, April 21-May 14 at 8 p.m., plus Saturday matinees on April 23 and May 14 at 2 p.m. at the newly redesigned Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough St. at Bush in San Francisco, in the west wing of Trinity-St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

In “Ain’t It So …,” it is 1983. Two older African-American women, born and raised in Alabama, live on the South Side of Chicago, wait for their husbands to retire from their factory jobs. The wives hope to return down home, but the husbands share a secret from the past that stands in their way.

Tickets are $20-$40 at 415-420-8000 or www.wehavemet.org. There is a $10 discount on all ticket prices on Thursdays.

Kamau Bell’s #UnitedShades

“United Shades of America,” a new CNN Original Series hosted by W. Kamau Bell, premieres on Sunday, April 24, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The eight-part series follows the comedian as he explores subcultures across the country, using comedy to start a conversation about race and how our differences unite and divide us. The series takes Kamau from the far corners of Alaska to Florida’s retirement homes to America’s most notorious prison. Each hour-long episode strives to show the country is not built upon just one, but many diverse and colorful definitions of America.

In the premiere episode, Kamau heads to the South to challenge the “new” Ku Klux Klan. This generation of Klansmen claims they have rebranded and Kamau must see for himself. The series will regularly air Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT following new episodes of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” Watch the series trailer at http://cnn.it/1TePum4.

‘Miles Ahead,’ a review

In his directorial debut as Miles Davis, Don Cheadle certainly calls forth a creative yet deeply troubled spirit. In his Miles we see what happens when astral self splits or loses sight of what is earthy. The Davis we meet is in a slump; after a period of profound artistic success, he slows to a creative crawl. A ghost haunts him; her name is Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). The beautiful dancer from Chicago captures his soul and the mercurial master of sound chases her away.

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All but one of the sisters who performed gathered for a group photo after delivering their powerful, moving words: Mama Ayanna, Wanda Sabir, Tureeda Mikell, Phavia Kujichagulia, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga and Antique the Edutainer. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

“Sketches of Spain,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” are just two of the many ways his love, their love manifests in the world then and even now. She knows she is his inspiration and sacrifices her own love of dance and movement for a solo performance on Miles’s stage 24/7. We watch Miles watching her, no longer there, but a presence nonetheless. Perhaps it is her beauty in the midst of so much ugliness – the infidelity, the coke, booze, disrespect and violence, that captivates us as much as the man who courts her until she says yes.

“Miles Ahead” speaks to karma and the fact that ugliness has a price and Miles was not immune. He paid for his trespasses on time, three, four, six years dry, record company calling for new music, his public assuming he’d died despite the absent body. The artist lives like a hermit in his multiple story apartment, alternately painting, listening to the radio, recording notes – thinking, daydreaming.

Cheadle’s Miles is unpredictable and dangerous – a reporter comes to his door unannounced and Davis punches him in the nose. Later he teaches this same guy how to use his sparring bag. They get high together and, even though Miles shouldn’t trust him, he does. Cheadle’s raspy voice, curly hair and audacity that is his Miles has a truth that makes a heart race or a hand tremble in the face of such genius wrapped in such unpredictability. Being in the man’s company could get you killed. Even without a pistol, Miles is dangerous. Several times he puts his pistol to someone’s head and pulls the trigger, shattering ideas about Black manhood and fear. On screen, Davis is fearless, which is perhaps another reason why he got away with so much and lived as long as he did.

An enigma, Cheadle’s film adds a bit of light on a man to know him; one seems to have to step into a darkness his soul occupies. Shadowy, his horn served as a flashlight dispelling demons – slaying dragons, releasing June bugs and shoeflies. There seems to be a tranquility about the character when he is in his zone – never quite captured by the moment, but separated from his internal madness long enough to have perspective. Davis’s rages were constant and well known; however, Frances loves him and it is something he recognizes like King Macbeth recognizes in Lady Macbeth – this thing that hearts do, “bend and break,” even when their paths diverge and part, even when he realizes that she was his strength and anchor.

Davis loses his way, and the film has him chasing a score, a tape, stolen goods. However, what he gets is a younger, more articulate and assured self he thought gone. In Cheadle’s hands, there is grace for the wicked. Yes, Miles is wicked. He is mean and arrogant, brash and hard to take, yet if music soothe the beast, then certainly Miles played on to heal or to forget, perhaps to move on after Frances?

Don-Cheadle-in-Miles-Ahead-by-Elizabeth-Weinberg-NYT-204x300, Wanda’s Picks for April 2016, Culture Currents
Vince Wilburn, Miles Davis’s nephew, was asked if they were ever going to do a movie about his life. He replied, “Yeah. And Don Cheadle’s going to play him,” according to Robert Ito’s “Don Cheadle on Becoming Miles Davis” in the New York Times. Arriving for the interview on his motorcycle, Cheadle said that was news to him. “He read a few scripts and hated all of them,” Ito reports. Cheadle asked himself, “What sort of movie would Davis himself want to be in?” concluding, “If you make a movie about Miles Davis, it’s got to be gangster, it’s got to be a heist movie, it’s got to be crazy.” So, with a partner, he wrote the script, became a director for the first time, and, saying, “I’m Miles all day today,” became Miles, even learning to play trumpet from his friend, Winton Marsalis. Ito writes: “Speaking at the Berlin Film Festival, Mr. Cheadle said that ‘having a white actor in this film turned out to be a financial imperative,’ a comment that generated headlines, not surprising, during the season of #OscarsSoWhite.”

On International Women’s Day, I was in the theatre watching a film about a man infamous for his temper and fisticuffs – also known for his musical brilliance. The film asks one question: What inspired this creative genius and at what cost? For Cheadle’s Davis, the creative package came with excessive baggage: drugs, sex and a need to control.

Davis reminds me a lot of Louis Armstrong, different generations, same Jim Crow. Armstrong knows what slice is up, while Davis thinks because he has a gig and his name is on the marquee that the police will not take offense at a Black man seeing a white woman to a taxi, then standing on the corner smoking a cigarette like he owns the corner, if not the block and the street. Davis’s head is smashed and then he is arrested, thrown into the patrol car and taken to the precinct and booked.

One wonders just a short while after Cicely Tyson is given the Presidential Medal why this story, why now. I wonder how many wives Miles had and what their collective story would say about privilege and sex and race. When the power dividends get parceled out, Black women are still on the lower rung.

Hard to believe when rumor would have it that she is on top.

Miles lives in a swanky house filled with art and space for music. He is dabbling with ideas, his fans anxious for something new. It’s been three years and his record label is also pulling at the bit. Davis is alone and lonely. He is riding a white cloud, falling off just in time for it to crash – when he is annoyed by the doorbell.

With a temper that is legendary, he punches a reporter who says his label sent him to write a story and so begins the adventure, which is a crime story with a bit of love thrown in. We don’t know much about the beautiful dancer; no one even says that the person driving Miles when they first meet is Max Roach. The white guys are bigger than life, the Black guys with talent, underdogs. Those who know who these creative geniuses are know because we know, not because the script is clear.

Gangsters don’t know what they are getting into when they decide to mess with Miles. He is fearless limping with a gun into offices where he demands money. He is beyond cool and Don Cheadle has tapped into Miles DNA. If you blink, you think, yeah, that’s him. I kept having to check to see what date Davis died. I look at Cheadle and think, is that Miles?

I didn’t know that Cheadle could blow, yet he held his own with alumni Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and younger musicians, Esperanza Spaulding and Gary Clark Jr. Dressed in red, dark shades, elegant and cool, Cheadle’s Miles was superb. I especially loved the framing of the closing moments of Miles the film. Artistically, the film looks and sounds lush, with a depth fitting such a storied score and life – Miles Dewey Davis III.

Cheadle’s Davis didn’t say much. His vocabulary is his silences. Observant, his boxing bag, which hangs in his study – I wondered if its presence was new. Davis seemed always ready to knock an opponent out – his enemy, hubris, similar to Macbeth’s, imagined, yet real, a presence so great he seems to never feel safe. Surrounded by enemies, trust centered in fear, it is hard for Cheadle’s Miles to be still, to want to be still – his character is kinetic motion, like atoms fired up ready to explode. The man is constantly moving.

So Miles’s tape is stolen and perhaps this is a metaphor for something larger – he loses something really central to his life. I don’t know if he grows any wiser because of it – he still beats his wives – but for a moment he is able to recapture the muse before she slips away completely. And for this, the world, even Mrs. Davis, seems to forgive him.

I am not certain about all that. I do not know if I would be as lenient towards a man who took my life and trashed it.

Impulsive and medicated … Davis hallucinates. His hip is deteriorating and he is on pain meds. Maybe this was why he was forgiven? The medication just exasperated a situation his personality seemed inclined to exploit.

You be the judge.

Directed by Don Cheadle, written by Cheadle and Steven Baigelman, “Miles Ahead” (100 minutes) a Sony Pictures Classics release, is MPAA rated R for strong language throughout, drug use, some sexuality and nudity and brief violence. It opens April 8 at Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco and April 15 in other Bay Area theatres.

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.