Wanda’s Picks March 2021

Cicely Tyson, Ase!

by Wanda Sabir

Women hold up half the sky

Cicely Tyson, Ase!

Women’s History Day on March 8 and March, now International Women’s History Month, is a time to reflect on the folks who “hold up half the sky.” Imagine a world without women, the silent and silenced beings who make our worlds go round. There is no Malcolm X without Mrs. Louise Little, a Grenada native who met her husband at a UNIA conference in Canada. 

She taught her children how to resist with dignity. In a recent book talk at the Schomburg Center for African American History, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, where every day is an opportunity to celebrate Black History, three authors were in discussion about the life and legacy of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, “Our Black Prince.” The program, called “Mother Tongue: The Philosophy of Malcolm X,” featured Anna Malaika Tubbs, Dr. Michael Sawyer and moderator Dr. Imani Perry.

This discussion focused on Louise Little’s influence on her son – she whom he adored. As we listened to the scholars share their research, we learned that it was from his mother that Brother Malcolm acquired the quiet dignity we witnessed in his carriage. 

No pushover, Mrs. Little taught her children to stand their ground without fear. She and her eventual husband met at a UNIA conference in Canada. She covered these events for the Black press and so her work enabled the couple to travel.

Sunday, Feb. 21, 1965, was the anniversary of that awful day – Brother Malcolm gunned down in a hail of bullets at the Audubon Ballroom in New York as he spoke. The date once again falls on a Sunday, and for those who like numbers, 56 years later – 56 the inverse of “65” and the “21” 02.21.21.

In the San Francisco Bay Area the day was lovely, sunny and warm, not at all like the weather in New York or Texas or Chicago and elsewhere Americans are experiencing cold weather, with power outages and water and food shortages complicated by a pandemic and vaccine shortages.

So, I am thinking about our prince, the brilliant Brother Malcolm, who is central in Regina King’s “One Night in Miami”(2020). The film takes the historic event Feb. 25, 1964, where Brother Malcolm, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke are all in Miami to witness their friend Muhammad Ali’s (1942-2016) – then Cassius Clay – big fight against Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Championship. 

What happens after the fight when the men get together at Brother Malcom’s hotel for an improvisational after party complete with ice cream is off the record. However, Kemp Powers’ 2013 stage play, which he adapted for film in 2020, imagines these Black men with differing ideas of success simmering, boiling and occasionally whistling as judgment and accusation make space for truth.

What happens in that room literally changes the world – two of the men are ancestors less than a year later.

Black manhood frightens white dominance because this systemic inequality is not sustainable and, despite the fatalities, has not stopped our collective move forward economically or politically but has fueled and inspired African American cultural and spiritual momentum. I appreciated the vulnerability expressed by the men – that room a kind of limbo where if the curtains were drawn, the four could entertain another outcome than the one outside the door.

Violence was and is a legacy none could stop, like birthrights and inheritance or legacy DNA trackers. When secrets were shared, the bond between each grew tighter, so that once parted, they no longer walked alone. Malcolm, like Richard Wright, shared a pragmatism in art as a political tool. Sam Cooke was not in agreement initially yet eventually accepted.

All the men are successful public figures: athlete, musician, entrepreneur and religious and political leader make the imagined conversations a rare opportunity to see Black men speak honesty about what matters to them – as Malcolm looks out the hotel window and confirms he is being followed.

A Night in Miami” is a film about trust. It is a film that explores options only available in community. “We is we.”

“A Night in Miami” is also entertaining. Lots of laughter and Black man shenanigans juxtaposed with the more serious moments, such as 22-year-old Cassius praying with his friend before his bout while simultaneously not missing a hilarious beat when he claims victory in more ways than one. Today, Jim Brown, at 85, is the last man standing. 

A serious Malcolm X shares with Sam that he was on security at his concert one evening when the venue lost power. Malcolm watched amazed, he tells the men listening, as Sam, a consummate professional, sang acapella while the audience provided the rhythmic grounding – his point to Sam acknowledged and confirmed the artist’s leadership and ability to move his people. 

Cinematically, we all return with the two men to that memory with delight. We later see Cooke (1931-1964) on TV singing his latest work, “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1964), which is different from his previous work. He obviously heard Malcolm and gave the people what they needed to hear – not what they might want.

It’s the apex of the movement for Black life, the fight for human rights for Black Americans hitting a national and global audience, with Malcolm X’s call for justice to African nations and to the United Nations against the US government, a call that has yet to be answered or addressed in any real way. 

Great film, Sister Regina King. Brava! Here is a Variety interview with the featured cast: Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King, director at the Toronto Film Festival. Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FneK97Jz7V4

This film, released Christmas Day 2020, was perhaps a love song to Black men who are too often maligned in the media. Another recent series on Brother Malcolm I’d like to bring to your attention is “Who Killed Malcolm X,” a Netflix series released last year, Feb. 7, 2020, which follows intrepid sleuth Brother Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, who for 30 years pursued this cold case.

The recent deathbed confession of Ray Wood, NYPD undercover officer, is cause to revisit this series for those who might have missed it, given the call by the Shabazz family and attorney on their behalf to reopen the case.

Given the NYPD and FBI stealth involvement in the operations of Black organizations that spoke to Black Liberation, I am not shocked that Brother Malcolm was killed. However, the US government killed him – not any one person, even if the person had his hand on the trigger. It was a bigger plan. It’s always a bigger plan. 

Abdur-Rahman’s methodical attention to the details of the story and conviction of the three men ignores the innocence of two men who were innocent yet spent 20 years in prison. The FBI had records which would have exonerated the two men, while the NYPD had information gathered from its undercover agents like Wood. 

The two agencies were not sharing documents. However, the strategy was clear regarding Brother Malcolm’s influence: discredit, disrupt, discontinue.

The shooters – especially the shooter who fired the fatal shot – were working for the government, which means until there is transparency, there is no trust.

I watched all six episodes which, for a closet detective, were engaging as I watched the story unfold to its unfortunate conclusion. Muhammad, who lives in DC and is a tour guide, interviewed men who knew the five men identified at the ballroom as the shooters. The person in custody who gave the court the names also interviewed with Muhammad.

When Muhammad narrowed down the shooter responsible for firing the projectile that ended Brother Malcolm’s life, this person, whom Newark Mayor Baraka as well as Sen. Cory Booker knew was not investigated. The evidence collected was huge. It was as if a criminal turning his life around means he is not held accountable – which he should be.

The later Wood revelation explains why there was no security at the entrance to the ballroom. This is how five weapons came into the facility. The investigation, according to Muhammad, was sloppy, with the room left unsecured the evening of the murder. The podium was not even taken into custody as evidence. The room was mopped and used for a program the same evening.

The shooters – especially the shooter who fired the fatal shot – were working for the government, which means until there is transparency, there is no trust; even once there is transparency, the assault is so routine or habitual that even then I could never trust the government.

Just because I go along with the program does not mean I agree or support the program. If the government, specifically the FBI and NYPD, tell the public about this operation and if governments across the nation – New York, California, Louisiana, Texas etc. – tell of cases where innocent citizens were shot from orbit just because their narrative countered that of this racist nation and its leadership then and now, perhaps we might be able to mend this festering sore called democracy.

In the meantime, do not get lost in the distractions called facts or explanation – reading excuses or blaming the revolutionary. These false narratives are smoke screens that have nothing to do with the goals and objectives of the dominant class and culture, which has never upheld Black people or our welfare as a goal.

We are always on the menu.

When the Civil-Rights-meets-Black-Power Movement is raging across this nation, President Johnson comes to the throne – office – promising Dr. King and his dream team passage of the legislation Kennedy had on the table: voter rights and civil rights. The watered-down legislation passes and does little to change the circumstances of Black people.

Bobby Seale is gagged and hogtied in court, charged with inciting a riot at the Democratic National Convention. Before this case is dismissed, Chairman Fred Hampton is killed while in a drug-induced sleep. Chairman Bobby Seale says in court the next day that he was shot in the shoulder and then in the temple: “It was an execution.”

Breonna Taylor, execution. Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, execution. George Floyd, execution.

‘Walter Mosley: 30 Years of Easy Rawlins’

The Schomburg Center closes its monthlong series of author talks with “Walter Mosley: Between the Lines, Online: 30 Years of Easy Rawlins” Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, 6:30-8 p.m. Register now at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/between-the-lines-30-years-of-easy-rawlins-with-walter-mosley-and-friends-registration-134334725781. ASL interpretation and real-time (CART) captioning available upon request.

For over 30 years, readers have voraciously consumed Walter Mosley’s 15-book series and films based on the series starring Denzel Washington. The Schomburg Center presented a monthlong series of author talks with “Walter Mosley: Between the Lines, Online: 30 Years of Easy Rawlins.”

Walter Mosley’s infamous detective Easy Rawlins is back in “Blood Grove” with a new mystery to solve on the sun-soaked streets of Southern California.

In 1990, Walter Mosley introduced Easy Rawlins in his debut novel “Devil in a Blue Dress.” Ezekiel “Easy” Porterhouse Rawlins is an unlicensed private investigator turned hard-boiled detective always willing to do what it takes to get things done in the racially charged, dark underbelly of Los Angeles. 

For over 30 years, readers have voraciously consumed the 15-book series and films based on the series starring Denzel Washington. Join us as we welcome back award-winning novelist Walter Mosley to discuss his latest Easy Rawlins’ novel “Blood Grove” and hear readings from some of the series’ favorites.

This program will be streamed on Livestream.com. You must register with your email address in order to receive the link to participate. Please check your email shortly before the discussion to receive the link. Captions for this event will be provided.

Get the book: Readers everywhere who wish to pre-order the book can do so online at The Schomburg Shop. A limited number of signed copies will be available. All proceeds benefit The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

About the author: Walter Mosley is one of the most versatile and admired writers in America. He is the author of more than 60 critically acclaimed books that cover a wide range of ideas, genres and forms, including fiction – literary, mystery and science fiction – political monographs, writing guides like “Elements of Fiction,” a memoir in paintings and a young adult novel called “47.” His work has been translated into 25 languages. Read more at https://www.waltermosley.com/bio/

Oakland Theatre Project, formerly Ubuntu

Oakland Theater Project presents its world premiere of “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, co-created by John Wilkins, Lisa Ramirez and Michael Socrates Moran, March 12 – Apr. 18 with previews on Friday, March 12, and Saturday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is Sunday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. Performances are on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through April 18, all at 7:30 p.m.

Oakland Theater Project presents “Binding Ties: 16th Street Train Station,” beginning its 2021 season with a site-specific work created by Dr. Stephanie Anne Johnson and Michael Copeland Sydnor in 1991, set and performed on the historic site at the 16th Street train station along Wood Street from Seventh over to 17th, where patrons enter the fenced off train station looking nothing like the slides that illustrate the work. The play serves to illustrate West Oakland’s Black past and the need to invest in Black life for the present and future of the neighborhood amid rapid gentrification.

Tickets: $25-$50 online with additional pay-what-you-can tickets available; no door sales, online only at oaklandtheaterproject.org/waste-land.

Also at OTP is “Binding Ties: The 16th Street Train Station,” through March 7.

“Binding Ties: 16th Street Train Station” at the Oakland Theater Project (formerly Ubuntu) begins its 2021 season with a site-specific work created by Dr. Stephanie Anne Johnson and Michael Copeland Sydnor in 1991. 

“Binding Ties” was created by Dr. Stephanie Anne Johnson, pictured here, and Michael Copeland Sydnor in 1991.

In the reprise, Johnson works alone, and Copeland Sydnor is now deceased. Folks jokingly speak about the disappeared Black people; however, Wood Street from Seventh over to 17th, where patrons enter the fenced off train station, looks nothing like the slides that illustrate the work, not to mention the people in the townhouses and condos – these new neighbors who are not descendants of Pullman porters or maids who cleaned the passenger cars in silk uniforms. They had to pay for themselves. 

We hear one character talk about her shift which allowed her to get her children ready for school in the morning, even if it meant they were alone much of the night – 3 p.m. to midnight.

There is an actor on the ground who opens the play and then acts as a translator between scene changes.

The score competes lovingly with the narration, text from the historic characters whom we come to know and care about.

A house manager with a cool light saber points to an usher just ahead once we drive in who escorts cars to designated parking spots. The guides show up again afterward to help us file out without incident. There are no concessions, but if you have to go to the toilet, there is a port-a-potty on the premises. I think we were told the play would be an hour, but it was a bit longer the evening I attended.

From inside their cars, the audience is watching the film projected onto the old train station walls.

After being escorted to a parking spot, patrons turn their radio dial to the frequency where the theatre sound lives. If you don’t have a radio in your car like me, make sure you have an app on your phone before you leave home or a portable radio.

The VIP tickets are parked center stage, while the regular patrons – $25-$35 donation – are to the side of the larger façade at the front of the station. One of the characters in a projection speaks about how the white patrons act like the Black men are pieces of furniture. We hear of the work by CL Dellums and A. Phillip Randolph who eventually help organize the first Black union after the first March on Washington. 

“Binding Ties” is an ancestor tale. Though the men and women whose livelihood was tied to West Oakland are gone, their stories are a part of the archives in the Oakland History Room, the Bancroft Library and so many books. 

There is something to be said about historic preservation and the integrity of sacred spaces consecrated by Black labor, Black love and Black life; however, the empty space behind the walls the images are projected on speak to the erasure of Black people from the Oakland landscape. Land trusts is one way of securing permanence, but the best way to secure space for Black people in places like West Oakland is for municipalities and citizen constituency to understand and value a Black presence.

There are no tickets sold at the OTP performance, so get your tickets in advance. The shows are at 7:30 p.m., gates open at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. There are limited pay-what-you-can tickets: $5, $10, $15 or $20 per vehicle. General admission is $25, $30 or $35 per vehicle with priority tickets. Reserved priority parking is $50 per vehicle. Visit https://oaklandtheaterproject.org/binding-ties.

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Co-presented by the city of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission and the Offices of Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, “Stories of Solidarity” is a virtual town hall conversation and concert led by Oakland’s Asian Pacific Islander and Black artists standing together.

This is a free event. Land acknowledgement ritual is by Calina Lawrence. Performances are by Greer Nakadegawa-Lee, 2020 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, Kev Choice, Tao Shi, Olafemi “Bankh” Akintunde, Howard Wiley, Terisa Siagatonu and more.

The event will be streamed live here and via Council President Nikki Bas: https://www.facebook.com/Nikki4Oakland

So, join the organizers Thursday, Feb. 25, 5-6:30 p.m., as they continue the deep tradition of Oakland Asian Pacific Islander and Black artists coming together across dividing lines to create a cultural response to racism rooted in power, healing and solidarity.

This event is sponsored in partnership with Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), AYPAL, Red Bay Coffee, Oakland Public Library’s Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program, Life is Living, Oakland Rising, The Oakland Post, Piano Black Tea Co., Alkalin Rye, House of Sato, Civic Design Studio and Good Good Eatz.

Diamano Coura West African Dance Company

Congratulations to Diamano Coura West African Dance Company for its National Heritage Fellowship. Thursday, March 3, these Oakland-based World Arts West community members will be featured in “The Culture of America: A Cross-Country Visit with the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows.” 

On March 4, 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PST, this virtual trip across the country will take viewers into the homes and communities where the 2020 National Heritage Fellows live and create. Click this link for the event info and to watch the preview: https://www.arts.gov/honors/heritage?utm_source=San+Francisco+Ethnic+Dance+Festival+Newsletter&utm_campaign=cc0734ec41-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_10_02_42_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_62db2160c8-cc0734ec41-268734809.

Bay View Arts and Culture 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 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.