The Assassination of the of the Conscious Black Filmmaker & The Sins of White Journalists – pt. 1
In 2015 I was invited to participate at a Discussion on Black Futurist Art, Ferguson, and Racism with other black educators, artists and independent arts advocates. Disappointed with the same old tired clichés about African-American existence in America and the struggle to combat racism effectively, I declared to everyone’s chagrin that “If Black lives matter then we should support our living artists.”
I was then – and remain now – a staunch believer in the fusion of radical activism and radical artistic expression, I wholly believe that the key to beginning any progressive step towards a better, deeper, and more fully realized humanity resides in the vision of the artist. It’s up to the activist to make the vision practical. But a lot of people don’t like to hear this or confront this because it puts a lot of responsibility at their feet, the naked truth is always hard to confront.
Black lives matter only when white people say they do. In America, Black lives are only mourned never celebrated. Our victimization has become fetishized, our willingness to take action against oppressive and Fascistic behavior has been reduced, and our culture – the defining qualities of our own folkways – has been given up, sold off and “shared” (that is how it is described) by the entire world. Our pain, suffering, and trauma has taken on such inter-stellar resonance that nobody actually responds to Black peoples oppression the way they should. While the Jews always retained control of their own horrifying memories, Blacks still in 2020 have to ask for permission. Permission to tell our own accounts, to share both acts and facts, and to illuminate our past torment.
Nowhere is this more obvious than when white journalists try to assert authority over the experience of Black suffrage and reshape it as a “morality play” for white mainstream audiences. This not only continues to imply that the “human experience” is NOT universal — unless relayed by a white person, specifically a white male — but that no one will care about America’s racist history or the trauma endured by Blacks unless White writers bring attention to it. It’s a catch 22 situation and a tradition as well.
Regardless of any good intention White journalists, patrons, teachers, critics and those manning the boat of ‘Cultural Importance’ have always appropriated and used the history, talents, art, folkways, and ideas of Black Americans — often developed in spite of their bondage and condition as political prisoners in the United States.
Pop culture is a perfect example and while I don’t have the wherewithal to go down the rabbit hole of the sordid history of Culture Vulture-ism in American popular entertainment and art (Al Jolson’s terrifyingly racist deification of Black-face performing, White pop acts co-opting Black rock & roll, MTV vaudeville acts like New Kids On the Block or Justin Timberlake – the list goes on and on) — it has to be stated that white journalists love a good “story” about racism that they can share because it not only puts them into a moral center they feel they can own it puts them in a position to make money off a political situation that their forebears have created. In a perverse way it is brilliant. Whites write books and make loads of money on the Lecture Circuit giving their two cents about racism and enacting a disingenuous concern; feigning outrage over the Terrorism and sadism their the founding fathers committed — all the while ignoring the philosophical, academic, artistic and political contributions Blacks have mined on the very same subjects. And while we look for allies, Fugazi White Liberals look for angles.
The establishment is venal not cause it is prejudiced against certain groups or exploits others or glorifies torture or hates women. It is corrupt because it rewards White people who steal “the Black man’s thunder” and those who peddle and hustle the underbelly of the American empire in the name of “social awareness” and history.
The racist paternalism inherent in publishing and academia actually leads the rest of the culture in this regard, it helps to dignify that maltreatment black musicians and screenwriters for example by trying to legitimize the spiritual grand larceny and cultural embezzlement that white journalists and historians gear up to commit. They are base cultural tourists who, under the guise of education, commit intellectual imperialism.
If America is a cultural melting pot (it is) and if the keys on the piano are black and white (it is) — than the majestic fusion of these differences can unite to celebrate their singular existences as well as their similarities and THIS is how we learn. But that is an idealized intercultural society whilst we live in a racist multicultural society that is mandated by the very people we all claim we hate – but who themselves happen to claim that they are our friends.
I can speak for myself, I don’t need a white man to do it for me.
Christopher Everett blew the lid off the history and story of the Wilmington holocaust in 2015 when his groundbreaking independent film Wilmington On Fire – a documentary – hit the streets and theaters after the most successful screening in the Cucalorus Film festival’s entire history. Since then the film has been taught in major universities, used as part of cultural-enrichment sensitivity training course for North Carolina police officers, was discussed by Congress in a hearing on reparations, Everett himself has become a well noted independent film guru, the founder of his own distribution/production company and something of a new wave folk hero in North Carolina. So how could this NY Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist (and graduate of North Carolina University) David Zucchino not know who Christopher Everett is or about Wilmington On Fire which came out nearly 5 years before Zucchino’s book Wilmington’s Lie was published?
How could mainstream publications and outlets pretend they don’t know who inspired Zucchino and what initiated the genesis of his desire to research the occurrences of 1898 in Wilmington?
Simple. Cause Everett’s Black (and conscious, which is always threatening to the establishment) he is easy to rationalize away. He is also a Black radical filmmaker who conscientiously views and uses cinema as a liberation tool. Period. And he knew that simply taking the lid off this part of history was revolutionary in itself. White people cannot have or accept Blacks who see truth not as a profession but as a calling — to ever be the at vanguard of mainstream education or knowledge or aesthetics; for a treason or sin to be understood it must be conveyed through a white man’s eyes. And mouth.
It is the same thinking, albeit a slightly different context no less insidious, that White music producers had when they stole Black music and rendered more “intelligent” and “safer” palpable soft-core pop versions of Black rhythm and blues songs for White Americans to consume. They live a xerox reality, not a doubled one as the oppressed do but a low grade facsimile of the ideas and feelings that were first uttered and created as a result of Black suffrage.
From Amazing Grace to Big Mama Thornton’s hollers to the way brass instruments were played to how the guitar became a tool of liberatory audio terrorism to nearly every recognized slang word of the past 90 years to fashion to sports — Blacks have ignited ideas before the white man ever conceived and later packaged and sold them. This includes our perspectives and realizations of history, our uncovering of truths.
Whites who cling to the Establishment – like the people of color who cherish it — are not willing to admit their crimes and for all I know they may not even see their crime. Blacks have been erased and ghettoized literally and figuratively in the USA for 400 years. I can’t expect 400 words or hours of my ranting to resolve this.
Christopher Everett hails from Laurinburg, NC and is a phenomenal filmmaker and film producer. A tenacious and conscientious producer, he doesn’t believe in the exploitative and wasteful capitalist approach to film production. I refer to him as my generation’s Roger Corman, although his cultural contribution will far exceed Corman’s. Time will prove me right. Because he does so much everyone think Everett has a lot of money. They seem to ignore the fact that he, like virtually every other peasant in the world (I use that term affectionately) – HAS to get up every morning and pay the rent. In addition to holding down a full-time job with Full Frame Festival in North Carolina (the first African-American ever to do so) he organizes different ideas and approaches to the world and to art; he tries to find new ways he and his artist friends can make a living, he tries to figure out trends and how to create ones, forging ideas upon other filmmakers and the general public whenever he has access to them. Like me, he is an outsider and loner by birth, unlike me — he is a Cinematic MC, an impresario of sorts. He is currently at work on two separate documentaries, a narrative; he produces art shows, cultural events; he works in conjugal with NY based filmmakers Brian Alessandro and Vagabond; he spent a whole year restoring and re-contextualizing my 2001 controversial drama As an Act of Protest — granting it new fresh screenings, introducing it to a whole new generation and enabling the film to be declared a “cult classic.” This got him into trouble (the movie, which is about the psychological effects of racism & police brutality and the Black impetus to revolt was literally banned by the Giuliani administration in 2002) but he never looked back. When I asked him why he wanted to do this, he took umbrage. “Come on man, your film is important, it needs to be seen and re-evaluated,” he remarked in his cool low-key Laurinburg drawl. And he painstakingly worked to transfer the original movie from its PAL European source to North American NTSC so that we could make DVDs. He used his own money and lost money on me several times. His belief in me, in cinema, in ideas, in wanting to help the Black community en masse is astounding and humbling. He works in the trenches cause that is where he is most comfortable and most honest. He deplores Hollywood hucksterism as much as he despises phony Academic intellectuals who make money off revisiting the pain incurred by Black Americans. These are part of the reasons why the Establishment will not accept or support him. And they are also part of the reason why the so-called independents and the “everyday Joes” don’t support him. Everyone is afraid.
I don’t care about White people who won’t take three seconds to consider my point of view here, I’m concerned with the Blacks who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and do nothing but make excuses for “well-intentioned” White academics, foolishly believing that these “good Caucasians” are actually trying to help bring awareness about racism. White Americans do not need to be told about their racism or their racist past. They know it like a lion knows its own roar.
There are and will be more people who defend Zucchino’s actions as there will always be those partial to ivory tower transgressions and those that love to mention The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as the “greatest American novel ever written.” Not cause they understand or appreciate the warnings and meanings implicit in the book because, simply, they want Black Americans to feel and see themselves as invisible. Once this is accomplished they can own your suffering, your ”narrative” as the zeitgeist prefers to say. There is no narrative because there was no author, only savagery and treachery that grows like a virus. Racism itself is a kind of virus, a poison. These words are the continued kindling in the search for an antidote.
What is important to remember here, however, is the racist patriarchal sense of entitlement and the gross indecency that the bourgeoisie display when itching for a new hustle. Of course what better way than to crib from the Black American community? Zucchino is well-heeled and rubs shoulders with all the right people in the Literary and Journalism world, I would bet too that he has never had to self publish or take a financial hit when considering what and where to publish. Conversely, Everett is a working-man, a proletariat filmmaker — he comes from a hard working North Carolina family that has has had its ups and downs like everybody else and he has known the face of poverty and struggle as an artist and cultural historian unlike Zucchino. Everett made Wilmington On Fire at great risk to his own personal health, I highly doubt Zucchino could say the same of his book-writing. Has Zucchino received death threats or ever been concerned about his family due to the truth he dared to disclose about American racism? I doubt it.
So let’s not be fooled. We as Black people need to stop begging for the White establishment and all the organizers of the Ivory Tower to notice or pay attention to us. We need to pay more attention to ourselves, we need constantly support ourselves. That in and of itself is the very first step towards a cultural renaissance, a step towards self-transformation. How does one ascertain the criterion of the cultural gatekeepers? It’s not who they promote. It is who they don’t.
White people see you clearly. That’s why they can delete you. One has to exist in order to be erased or moved or forgotten. To ignore is a verb. It is not passive. Like betrayal or murder it causes lacerations unseen that float out into the ether…someone always knows what you did. Why. And how.
And while ghosts may not stop Zucchino from continuing this sick charade, my words can at least act as a warning as a traffic sign might. However in Zucchino’s car — in the universe he drives in — “Deer Crossing” is synonymous with “Artist Expressing” or “Black Man Walking.” And in that world the sign prompts you to drive faster and not slow down.
So let’s just move on and cross Christopher Lamont Everett off the list. Another Black man killed. Who cares? Isn’t that why we exist anyway?
In 2017 I had the pleasure of meeting filmmaker Travis Pearson. His film “America Street” about two brothers Sota and Buck and the trauma experienced by formerly incarcerated Black Men who attempt to re-enter mainstream society haunted me and moved me in a way few modern movies do. Below is the original essay/review I wrote for the film’s DVD/Blu Ray release.
Diffused and muted on a wet Charleston day. That’s the abiding and earthy feeling of what Travis Pearson’s America Street most imbues in me when I think about it. That and the bittersweet horror of trying to “get back” home when home has become an abstract and ephemeral place, literally and metaphorically…
From the poor Southern vernacular and slang of Sota to the salt-of-the earth homilies of the Mother to the need for work and ‘the waltzing matilda’ having lunch under “America Street” sign to a random lesson on the 1739 Stoner Rebellion and the imagining of Harriet Tubman as an American Joan of Arc to the conception of Daddy Bucks — too poor to afford a ‘war’, although he’s a soldier nonetheless (if Chaplin’s Tramp and waif were a black and humorless 37-year old ex-con he’d be Bucks) Pearson’s beautiful neo-realist approach contains a rawness and honesty seldom seen in American pictures where exploitation is not the aim. Especially in films concerning black Americans and Southern or rural culture.
The film is not a tourist film for white audiences nor does it pander to its black audiences and that is why it succeeds as an honest portrait of the underdog, the maligned, and the heartbroken. It eschews all bourgeois patronizing of the working class and ex-convicts who try re-enter society (all too common in cinema) and the judicial problems of the black underclass because its director identifies with his characters. Pearson is an artist whose vision is genuine and unflinching as he makes you deal with cold hard realities. Even homosexuality is relayed in a way a far more courageous (and less stereotypical) than mainstream fare like Moonlight.
Like a shattered stained glass window, America Street is a mirror of a fractured society – one that wants to be whole but doesn’t have the resources to put itself back together again. A gritty, well-made drama with honest performances that seeks to celebrate and indict aspects of not only Charleston life but American society – America Street is replete with its hypocrisies, injustices, and confusion. When Bucks vocalizes it is like a yelp from the back of his throat that explodes. And that’s exactly what the film does: it’s explodes and does more than “pack a punch.” It makes you find both your heart and your mind. It entertains as well as enlightens. And that is all we can ask our artists who try to go into the places we choose to ignore.
— Dennis Leroy Kangalee
NYC April 28, 2018
You can learn more about Travis Pearson and Avidaya Films by visiting his Facebook account or Tumblr:
Like my own cinematic revolutionary attempt made in the turn of the century As an Act of Protest, Machetero sought to blow the mind like a grenade and rouse the ‘logic-of-the-soul’ as to the horrors, complexities and simplicities inherent in our human duties as a result of colonization and racism.
“Machetero is about terrorism and terrorists, how they are defined and by whom…It is a film about the cyclical nature of violence that is perpetuated by those who choose to oppress and those who no longer wish to be oppressed.” – Vagabond
The PAN-Latino/Indigenous and Black struggle and yearning for liberation are conjoined like Siamese Twins. We both share a Leftist view of the world from our inherent understandings of the Caribbean (we are both West Indians, my family largely from Trinidad – his from Puerto Rico) and while our direct influences and approaches have been different (I come from classical theater, Vagabond hails from the fine arts world), we share a view of the world and what love is through our appreciation of DIY punk ethos, rock & roll, and those who think way outside the established academic norms. We are also New York natives who tried to inject ourselves and our generation with the dust-mites from our & the previous generation’s approach to growing up and exploring the world around, both good and bad, and while we may have faltered to get our generation fully on board — our attempts have been righteously and fantastically executed. High quality cinema with no money; priceless ideas and talent…verve and conviction. That’s where Vagabond is coming from and he could not operate any other way.
“Success is getting someone else to believe in you. Not you believing in yourself.” – Vagabond
Over the years, I have come to learn a lot from Vagabond, and he is one of the few born in the bone filmmakers still in the trenches, trying to make sense of radicalism and meaning, the poetry in science fiction…and the immorality of mere “happiness.” He is a romantic and a film-addict. And like all addicts he simply seeks to reconcile himself with this urge to get his “fix”….so he can fix the mind.
Machetero is a punk-rock-garage band-movie that Abel Ferrera might have drooled over in his youth if his punk sentiments were as blisteringly politically avant-garde as they may be ‘controversially’ social. In splendid rawness and just the right balance of stylistic panache, Vagabond moderates his work with a documentary sobriety and yet a “other-worldliness” presentation very much rooted in his own personal brand of science-fiction which has always had an enormous inspiration for him I feel, where as I have only looked upon sci-fi as a curiosity but never understood it in my bones. I come from Method Acting and drama and was a devotee of the Theater of the Absurd; he uses our ‘space oddities’ and the world’s political landscape as a towering backdrop; his externals are my internals. I use dialogue the way he visually creates atmosphere…perhaps we both meet somewhere in the middle where surrealism and radical ideas converge? He needs to make films, I need to write words. He opts for the moving image, whereas I want to halt or destroy it. He understands the pictorial, I relate to the textual. We both love sound. As traditionalists, he’d like Scorsese, I’d prefer Cassavetes. He can paint and draw, I am colorblind. But we both appreciate poetry, rawness and having guts verses having might. We are both for the underdog and no matter what despise Goliath.
With an excellent soundtrack and bold photography, the movie also features an outstanding cast: the always charismatic Isaach de Bankolé , the superbly honest Not4Prophet (of punk-band Ricanstruction) as well as gently Naturalist performances by Kelvin Fernandez and Dylcia Pagan that help to both round out and sharpen the film’s layered acting styles, given more complexity to the movie’s stylized neo-realism.
The movie was hailed by socially conscious artists such as Chuck D and Sam Greenlee. It has had international critic support and yet remains largely maligned and dismissed here at home, in NYC. I personally have known people who simply can’t get on board with our mode and style of filmmaking – and so our own artwork become ghettoized and blacklisted. Machetero is a victim of a whole other virus that we won’t get into at this very moment.
Machetero is one of the great films of the digital revolution and the cinematic one…and part of a movement that was largely missed. A defining film of my generation, it was the A side to my worthy B side of our shared “cinematic” single and sheds beautiful light and time and space on those profoundly disturbed by injustice and obsessed with fixing it.
Here is the Link to the insightful 2013 announcement when Machetero had finally received a dignified DIY screening in NYC’s Lower East Side:
How Terrence Nance’s 7 Minute Corporate Video Nearly Drove Me To Suicide
While there does seem to be a disturbing trend of butchering the spirit and art of some of the 20th century’s greatest African-American artists (Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis) – one can only wonder what the pathology of this is and who is pulling the strings. Or rather who is doing the bidding.
Like any good serf serving the Lord of the Manor, one must be mindful and take great care not to break the vow of bondage to the Great Masters who out of the great goodness of their heart provide land for the dutiful serf to live off and prosper from.
In Feudal England they said that a serf owned “only his belly”—even his clothes were the legal property of his lord—and yet the serfs had it even better than the slaves. On rare occasions, a well-to-do serf might even be able to buy his freedom. If he knew what to do with it. That could easily be applied to our Black ‘Hollywood Sharecroppers’ as Bill Gunn called them or simply as corporate bootlickers as they truly are, all suffering from Knee-Grown Celluloidis.
Never heard of it? It is a common disease that permeates most Black actors, screenwriters, producers, and directors in Hollywood and in the tentacles of the so-called ‘Independent Film’ world that claims it has nothing to do with Hollywood. Enabled by venal corporate sponsorship, the cretinous barnacles that grow out of this bizarre merger are usually movie directors and ‘media makers’ from a traditionally oppressed class (people of color, women, gays, etc) [notice how “Jews” are never formally included in this groups and yet are quick to acknowledge their history on the sick end of anti-Semitism] who willfully do everything in their power, using their tenuous and limited talent to uphold a point-of-view that is not only diametrically opposed to the subject they are commenting on and showing but also a perception that helps to keep them in bondage.
While there are many cases to discuss and though it would be beneficial to study the history and estimate the orbit of this mental disorder (which has gotten worse over the past 100 years despite the capitalist success of Blacks in Entertainment and Media) — I want to set my sights on that malignancy that has begun to erode consciousness, artistic progress, and even good entertainment: the 21st century ‘Media Content Maker’ as branded by the Facebook generation and the companies of the world that have followed suit in their mission to make the world believe that it is the Power and Privilege of the Company Man to incur filmmakers to make propaganda for their customers to consume or grant permission to express oneself in accordance with one’s brand or even to decide who and what is an “artist.” If Napoleon Bonaparte had indeed ordered his men to cut off the noses of the Egyptian sphinxes, today he would merely hire a colored movie director in fulfillment of his regiment’s diversity pledge and once branded a corporate content maker, the director would cinematically delete his own nose and stream the deadened cartilage live on Facebook. And he would get a handsome fee to do this. Because his next contract would be to turn the camera in on Toussaint L’Ouverture and were he to do that for Napoleon…well, he wouldn’t have had to muster a plan to arrest and betray L’Ouverture and no literal bloodshed would ever have been spilled. No Anglo-French blood anyway. Because then it would have gone two ways: either the Blacks would have been so brainwashed they would have let their colonized feet follow the orders of France…or these brother and sisters would have said to the Knee Grow With a Camera: “How dare you,” and proceeded to end his life. Revolutions, like decolonization, is hard business folks and it does not take place nicely or quietly. And there is always collateral damage. However in the west’s point of view, in the Empire’s chambers: it’s the conscious or the poor (take your pick) who are merely spoils of war.
I want to put the hypocrites, charlatans, sell-outs, betrayers, and Establishment Players in the cross hairs of my pen and allow my finger to not only twitch but get heavy. Or even lazy. As lazy would also define the artistic ambitions of these Black Filmmakers who consciously or unconsciously trounce and denigrate Black mythology, legends, achievements, culture and folk art for the Lord of the Manors dictating this imperial gastric tumor metastasizing over our lives: the racist spectacle of media, marketing, and movies.
Today we focus on Terrence Nance.
The director of The Oversimplification of Her Beauty and Swimming in Your Skin Again — makes self-consciously arty-films for white Liberals and their oiky-toiky white hipsters who love regarding such Black filmmakers as their “awesome” friends and love to dance with their Afros patronizing them in any way possible to ensure these Blacks don’t ever flex a conscious muscle or dignified stance to boor through their own well-preserved white gaze. Nance exists now in order to maintain and secure the frame around the lens that captures the white gaze, without which white Liberals would be a mess. Preening as they enable the “cool” Black director (“cool” is now code for not intimidating) into their fold, glad he is doing something “different from the Black gutter poets or avant-garde Leftists, he makes the white hipster milieu (Art for Art sake nonsense) as well as their corporate parents comfortable with meretricious and fetishized Black-body images and empty conversations about Black People. Because Black people exist solely on camera for the comfort of the grotesque white gaze and a Liberals checklist (dreadlocks-check, au-naturale naked sister-check, shot of brother’s high buttocks-and dragging feet-check, sexually ambivalent-check, nerdy brother-check, etc)
The man who is one of the MOST FUNDED “ARTISTIC” INDIE DIRECTORS of my generation is not only a hollow mask (it takes a lot to be a hollow mask) but a smug filmmaker who has done a great job exploiting his blackness, urbane milquetoast blackness, and everything having to do with “Blackness”– on the surface. He insists that to be artistic and intellectual is to poke fun at Black bodies/personas and not take them seriously – on behalf of white benefactors and worse…his colonized mind. He exists to bring “Blackness” to the dead white art crowd (the whites lost their own way a long long time ago – somewhere in between the demise of REM, their embracement of Harmony Korine and the rise of Spike Jonze), to the legitimate commercial marketing industry, and to Brand companies jonesin’ for the New Brooklyn, who missed out on Spike Lee (who branded himself anyway and therefore didn’t need anyone to do it for him) and would not know how to make heads or tails of Left-Wing Bushwick filmmaker Mtume Gant, fearful of a genuine artistic sister like Cauleen Smith, or who have never even heard of that old riddle wrapped up in an enigma in Xanadu’s lair Wendell B. Harris (still to this day the greatest unchampioned living American filmmaker of ANY COLOR)
Nance has no “politics” (which is the most dangerous form of political stance to take), he has no vision for cinema (not one person I have asked or spoken to can tell me what he is actually doing other than trivializing cinema and ‘Black’ identity), he has no angst (a filmmaker must be Apollonian in order to achieve his goal – patience and fortitude like a sculptor is necessary, but he must possess a gargantuan amount of emotional depth, he must contain Dionysian impulses within him – because THAT is what moves us and stuns us), and simply he has nothing to say.
Terrence Nance has nothing to say. And it’s not just him. It’s 90 percent of our artists – high or low, famous or underground – having absolutely nothing to say about anything. The creative act, the impulse to make a film, to do anything artistic must come from an act of risk and fear of what might happen if I tell the truth. Period. No risk, there can be no attempt at consummating an incredible relationship. Therefore he can’t even break your heart because you can’t invest in him emotionally or intellectually anyway. What he can do, however, is disrespect, toy, and laugh at you.
A balloon has more contained virtue than any of Nance’s films.
And it is time we start to speak out, debate against, and challenge these assumptions that are being wielded and tossed off like yesterday’s prophylactic or a Poland Spring bottle cap — they’re thrown about and simply accepted. We know its trash and we accept it. Shit has more use – at least it can rejuvenate a patch of grass.
Terrence Nance may be more pernicious than the Hollywood Establishment’s patronization of Barry Jenkins (a talented filmmaker whose trajectory I am nervous about) and could be on par with the dangerous lauding of Jordan Peele’s ‘Buzzfeed’ backward- thinking of Get Out – but it is probably more in sync with the sinister rise of Lin Manuel’s Great Racial Cross Dressing of the Great White Way as both Nance and Manuel are the recipients of not only corporate America’s money but the torrid desire of white liberals who want to make sure that no racial progress, development, truth or artistry will be promoted or get through to the mainstream window without capitulating to the great demands put upon them. In short: No ‘colored’ filmmaker with any personal vision, radical politics, or new aesthetic sensibility (could you imagine a combination of ALL THREE) will ever be money or support to preach the poetry of his soul.
He or she will however be given every opportunity to humiliate, desecrate, and gleefully piss over any conscious Black ideas or sentiments. Even better if you’re willing to pervert the legacy of a great Black popular artist. This is not an opinion. This is a fact. I no longer have opinions as I am an inauthentic man living in an inauthentic time.
As a Nowhere Man you become more and more consumed by the ineptitude of those around you, the betrayal of the avant-garde, the failure my own generation was part of – our conscientious decision to make sure we did NOT surpass even the tepidity of Spike’s films or incorporate the artistic anarchism of Robert Townsend or merely the dramatic flair of the Hughes Brothers. All at one point mainstream filmmakers! There was a time when these cats at least for a moment enabled the young Black director who wished to find his feet in the sand of this awful desert we wander through, finding our way…
It is a fact that the Emperor has no clothes. But it is also a fact that there is no Emperor. Why this need for an emperor in the first place is disturbing. In the arts the Kings announce themselves. Corporate America and film festivals do not do it for you. However, I am deluding myself. Because nowadays they do!
There is shameful acceptance and complicity in our cultural and spiritual demise. The goal of 21st century Neo Liberalism and American Media is to not just homogenize a whole new generation of artists (we did that one ourselves) it is to pimp blackness and reap the benefits of all the Johns who come in to visit the brothel. There are certain things though that not even a Madame would permit.
The meretriciousness of Nance’s films is one of them.
But if Tribeca, AT&T (would you trust anything connected to AT&T?) and Atlantic Rethink say he is worth it – than by God, he must be!
Jimi Could Have Fallen is a 7-minute insult.
With its slinky Black-bourgeois hipsterism and self-satisfied faux ‘modern’ ballet routines, shock-a-jock avant-garde winking, terrible music and horribly re-created pseudo-psychedelic music (the Partridge family could have done a better job making an acid rock soundtrack) and absolutely ridiculous song referencing (Jimi in a literal ‘purple haze’ in one inane sequence), the video looks like a joke about an avant-garde freak and is handled with such a knowing tongue-in-cheek manner that everything about Hendrix, his music, and Seattle go under…In essence, this is 7 minutes of comic-book masturbation in service of an even more absurd contract with Seattle Visit. And while masturbation may feel good, it does not produce life. Nor does it pretend to.
What’s incredible is that the video simply fails in its own commercial goal: to incur tourists to visit. Now, I don’t know much about tourism except for the fact that I despise tourists and everything they have come to represent. (But so did Jacques Tati.)
Why he didn’t just show: “This is where Jimi Hendrix first played guitar” and then flash to where Tom Hanks yearned for Meg Ryan then show us “This is where Quincy Jones first played in the college band” (Seattle University) then cut to show where the City Council convene (majority of which are women by the way!) and then cut to where Bill Gates launched Microsoft—you get the point. That kind of kitsch would have made sense for a tourism video.
Jimi Could Have Fallen is something else. Like his prior work Swimming in My Skin, it is much more inane, sinister, and troubling.
The video seems to cynically purport through its unabashedly snarky Candyland approach that no one would even want to visit Seattle unless they had a mindset of a five-year old. If a five-year old were to watch the video, I could see how the notion of clamoring out to some back alley in hopes of finding a guitar in a garbage can might turn him on. And then he could traipse around with it – with his hipster dad saying “Oh, cool, little Marcus- isn’t this, like, awesome??” and the mother would take photos to text back to her friends in Portland (who thought they were in Williamsburg) and they’d even eat donuts and skip around foolishly like mad-dogs who’d gotten shot with a poisonous dart, getting delirious. So he might be successful if he’s trying to coerce that five-year old boy and his ironic hipster parents. Outside of that I am a bit lost. For not even a group of single women out to take Seattle by storm would be convinced nor would some retiree in Denver who is looking for a bit of a change since his wife has passed and wants to seek out the progressive changes and left-leaning iconography of Seattle – from its initial history of disgraceful treatment of Indians and Asians to tech companies to grunge music and self publishing to the vanguard of LBGTQ movements. Nance should have just done a simple tourist trap commercial. When I first heard about this nonsense, that’s what I thought it was. So I didn’t care. When a filmmaker I profoundly respect demanded I watch it (he didn’t tell me Nance made it or I would have avoided it all together) because it was centered around Jimi Hendrix I took a perverse interest. And then I got scared cause I knew what would soon follow.
If the Osmond’s had been Black and mated with members of the Monkees TV show and were locked in a dungeon with underage Black poseurs from the suburbs who dream of being in fashion magazines and were doused with innocuous ironic white bread marginalia and were written up into a script by Wes Anderson — you would have Jimi Could Have Fallen. (What’s worse, Anderson would have done it better – ARGHHHH!!!!)
Terrence Nance’s cinematic slaughtering of Jimi Hendrix alone should have OUTRAGED all the Black people who believe that Black lives matter. But I suppose the electric son of Seattle does not. And anyway (ahem) they’re too busy using their new credit cards.
The video makes a mockery out of the musical legacy and journey Hendrix went on and the complicated inner landscape he tried to show us. Hendrix was a true poet of music. He was humble, shy, and deep thinking. His music was profound, galvanizing, and wistful. All we learn or are led to believe from watching Nance’s 7 minute burp is that Hendrix was a kooky, loosey-goosey brother who was a little different and didn’t take life serious at all and even had a blast joining the army cause he was a paratrooper and soared through the sky. The film ends with this image and of course is a subtle nod to the United States armed forces. Who can be the last to claim brother Jimi away from his tortured Black psychedelic self, the Jimi who played guitar the way Parker blew on his saxophone, the Jimi who made sonic-powered blues and set his guitar on fire offering it up to the Gods. Townsend destroyed his guitar, Hendrix sacrificed his. That’s deep. That’s Jimi. Maybe that’s a part of Seattle too. But that’s not this little film.
If Nance wanted to cinematically destroy a Black life why not take a stab at Barack Obama — a 5-minute portrait of a pathological Black American Corporate Killer playing the drones as well (if not better) than Hendrix played guitar could have been worthwhile.
Why do we allow Blacks to kill on behalf of the United States of America, why do we enable and support corporate killing of women and children? Why do we get titillated at the idea of a drone but have no interest in finding out truly why Paul Mooney was banned from the Apollo, why Ralph Ellison rejected Henry Dumas’ literary advances, why –?? Oh wait, you will say, this was a SEATTLE TOURIST PROJECT! Yes, right. So in that case I ask the obvious:
Terrence, why not make a short honoring Chief Seattle?
Or better the connection between Hendrix and Native Americans?
Oh no, once you do that you’re fucked. You would get caught in a web that inextricably linked your funders to the DAPL perhaps. (Does it matter? WE ARE ALL IN COLLUSION). But I suppose Seattle Visit wouldn’t appreciate that as they may be comfortable having paternally recognized their Indians legacy and Chief Seattle and what-not but they’re not interested in actual people’s lives or meaning unless it makes them money. Good money. “Happy money.” (What’s sick is that in NYC while the African Burial Ground got deleted from our modern urban history New York made a ton of money off the deaths of people in 9/11 and happily sells this to tourists. They actually consider this to be “happy money.”)
If I was asked to make a film for Visit Seattle, I would start with Chief Seattle and perhaps the history of the Suquamish Tribe and end with Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” over re-creations of Seattle’s anti-Chinese riots of 1885 and we’d see Starbucks coffee exploding in all four corners of the screen. What, you don’t think that would help tourism? Trust me, if Starbucks financed my tour of the locations of the Seattle Anti-Chinese Riots of 1885 and at each location of the riot there were a Starbucks plaque — believe me, SOMEONE would make money and TONS of tourists would come. But I suppose my understanding of people and business and what they want is different from Nance’s. Which is why I can only carve words as Nance can only belch images instilled in him by a banker.
For only an unimaginative person could really imply that Jimi was an alien (they say that about the ancient Egyptians too), not of this earth and therefore just some cool aberration of humanity, his work is “cool” but not real or secular and has no gravity, a little too naively weird and baroque for its own good cause it’s just so freaking “out there” and sixties, yeah…This ignorant and pervasive maligning attitude is why Hendrix is easily an accepted marginal Black cultural figure. But hey if artists like Hendrix, Michael, and Prince were in fact from outer space – believe me a cat like Jimi didn’t fall from the sky. Bowie may have fallen, but Jimi was pushed. Cause no cosmic Brother would even play around up there knowing that he might fall. No one would want to fall into our solar system or onto this planet. Look around yourself. Would you want to be here if you didn’t have to be? _
The corporate tour is 7 minutes. But it felt like 7 days. Probably cause I kept pausing it every 9 seconds. By 4:14 I began to get nauseas. And I felt a suicidal relapse might be imminent. (I immediately called a filmmaker comrade and told him to please stay on the phone with me as I sweated through the remaining 3 minutes of this tourist tail-watching. He said he would but he didn’t have time for my ‘gentrified minds’ antics as he was playing chess and I quickly began to get very jealous. I need a hobby. Badly.)
From the silly twists and dumb dancing to the geeky-tones of a bad flashback sequence from a TV show (making the triteness of That 70’s Show seem almost poetic by comparison, in fact I found myself looking for Ashton Kutcher somewhere in the frames) to the constant unwillingness to celebrate Hendrix’s soulful rock musicianship – recasting his guitar prowess in the guise of a Brady Bunch Blues song due to his Wonder Bread donut fixation (are you fucking kidding me?); Nance does what I never thought possible: he de-funks Jimi.
Yes. That’s right.
He removes every funky, fantastic, down-home psychedelic impulse (Jimi was mind-expanding before he ever heard of LSD), and humble mischief associated with Jimi. He becomes as white men who run banks want him to become: fey, weak, goofy…tame.
Could you imagine Sly Stone or James Brown or Michael Jackson de-funked?? I often think it’s glad most of our phenomenons are gone because we have reached a point where nothing means anything any more. And it’s sad and excruciating to endure. It’s getting harder to get up everyday and face this world that believes “nothing matters anyway.” Or “It’s a just tourist flick, relax.”
I don’t think I can relax about this. Because this is a social disease, it is becoming an epidemic. I don’t know the solution as I am far too gone in my own hell to even propose a re-evaluation of the diagnosis. But the symptoms are plain and clear: remove depth, depoliticize Blackness, make us corny and ironic and make us as enchanting as Mickey Mouse. But do not – DO NOT – infer Black consciousness (which is not the same as political beliefs by the way, folks) and DO NOT add dignity.
The problem here is a cultural one and one that resides within the test and context of values and trust. White folks who grant arts money need to trust that you will put THEIR values and THEIR mission on screen. Most of us don’t think about it this way because we have been so colonized. So naturally what we feel is “theirs” is also “ours” and we have no problem accepting this. And they can tell by the way you walk, talk, and look. I don’t mean your facial characteristics; I use look as a verb – as in how you actually aim your eyes when they address you. If the eyes dilate, you’re good to go. You don’t even have to say anything. They’ll trust you immediately and give you the satchel of money to make your next atrocity on the screen.
We complain about Chicago but Black people kill Black people every day in so many other ways. We do it unnecessarily, and we do it at the behest of an Order That Demands We Become Even Greater At Subjugating Ourselves Than They Could.
I don’t believe in murder, but I do believe in revenge.
And I believe in defense. And I certainly believe in punishment. God knows I have learned my own lessons by smashing into walls. And I stand now as one for Nance and all who follow him. And if they don’t stop, there is always another option. Or, as scientists say, you don’t disprove your opponents. You simply wait for them to die.
However I may die well before Nance. Because if I continue to be subjected to such toxic cinematic energy and such colonized coonery passing off as cinema or the creativity of an “important” filmmaker – I may extricate myself all together.
I’m an old soldier in an even older war. And I have given up so many things, waved far too many flags for Black people in all aspects of society and all tiers of the establishment to understand that the arts and consciousness are in dire straits; I have done my part and I can die with a clean conscience. I only wonder what the charlatans think when they go home. How, Brother Nance, do you sleep at night?
Angry? I’m infuriated. Which is one of the only two reasons one should pick up a pen in the first place.
But I will play the Capitalist game with you, I will humor you and ask the gentle reader:
If my writing in front of you is less worthy than Mr. Nance’s 7 minutes of video – if my argument and response to Nance’s nonsensical corporate video doesn’t merit such outrage or possesses less worth than Nance’s exploitation and silliness than I will stand corrected. I would not only offer a retraction and public apology, I’d fall on my goddamned sword!
And remember at one time millions of Seattle’s indigenous Original Peoples lived, breathed, fought, created, and had their own lives some 4,000 years before the white man and then the colonized Knee-Grows with cameras messed it all up. Just keep that in the back of your mind.
And ask: In all honesty Terrence, would you have done this to Kurt Kobain? (Courtney Love would never allow it, that’s why – and while he may live long with his disease, having Courtney Love on your back would surely number your days) Hell if you wanted to desecrate a Seattle musician – why not show Kenny G? You could have extinguished his cultural importance instead of maligning Jimi Hendrix’s spirit! But I suppose the brand company would not want that huh? No, Jimi is much sexier than Kenny G could ever have been. And there’s nothing to defang, for Kenny G had no venom or soul in his music. So how can we take the most radical, theatrical, innately musical, and mind-expanding musician of the 20th century and water him down even more?
As if it wasn’t bad enough that we (Black people) turned our backs on Jimi once before huh?
Artaud asked us to reconsider who killed Van Gogh. That his suicide was a political one implemented by the forces of society – that it was a kind of dual homicide. We could say the same about Jimi Hendrix – an accidental overdose is an oxymoron. All drug takers and even the heaviest junkie knows what will kill him. Or if it could. I’m not gonna speculate on Jimi’s death wish (if he had one) but I know the brother was leaving a phase of his life and trying to enter a new one musically. And I know there’s no way Jimi ever got over having to leave America (“Black” America) to become himself in Britain (“White” England). Miles Davis was the visionary who knew Hendrix had to be collaborated with – he knew the brother was beyond genius. But it was too late.
And now it is too late again. From John Ridley’s abominable movie on Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin still wakes up in cold sweats from having participated in that) to Nance’s cute corporate Hallmark cartoon on Jimi falling from the sky…All for a tourist board.
“We steered away from traditional travel videos because we wanted to create content that people could watch in their everyday lives, or when they’re seeking entertainment,” states Ali Daniels, VP of marketing at Visit Seattle. “We want them to go to the Space Needle, but also to see how we make amazing whiskey here.” Hm. That says it all. Something tourists could watch when seeking entertainment. Because Jimi was all about entertainment, right? Just another geek for the freaks at the end of the day. All the better that he is dead. Cause everyone knows there’s no better way to get someone to visit a place than to promote the fact that a wild-Black-outlaw artist is dead.
Just remember it was an African-American Indian-man, an artist who had to leave his home to get recognition, and a heavy drug user whose life is being advertised for a Tourist Board’s City campaign. It’s pitifully hilarious. In fact we should be thanking the barbiturate makers and dealers for Hendrix having a way out to begin with! And if he HADN’T overdosed – Nance would not have made this shameful corporate crime. If that is not sick I don’t know what is. Except for Terrence Nance buying into this foolishness. A conspiracy he offered his soul to be part of, but there was no Faustus knock at the door or a convincing Cassius looking over his shoulder.
I’m angry cause Nance does this on purpose. If he is as untalented as his films prove to be than he would not be getting all this funding. It is all by strange design. He gets funding cause he’s willing to go along with someone else’s agenda. He allows this and knowingly creating meretricious works and corporate commercials that have about as much soul as a dollar bill. In fact, a dollar has more blood on it. Terrence should know this. He’s receiving enough of them.
Aime Cesaire wrote, “Beware…of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator.” I assume Guy Debord would have agreed. Well brothers and sisters who dare to hold on to your consciousness and sanity: Welcome to the 21st century Society of the Spectacle! Tucked within our living breathing pages of Brave New World is a new flock of House Slaves deliberately and proudly wearing their status as corporate provocateurs as a badge of courage, pinning their Capitalist diplomas upon the lens caps of their movie cameras. Terrence Nance is a Master of Ceremonies at the new big top carnival, he sets up the tent and cracks his whip hoping to seduce all the Mr. Jones’ into America’s “post-racial” Neo Liberal-Ballad of a Thin Man-freakism. I can only imagine what will happen when the Royal London Hospital Museum hire him to help tourists come view the Elephant Man’s bones. Good thing it’s only a replica they have on public display. Maybe then Nance will feel more comfortable when not dealing…with the real thing.
A slightly different version of this essay first appeared on Shoot to Kill.
A meditation on Christopher Everett’s extraordinary debut film about an 1898 massacre that rocked America
Christopher Everett’s debut film “Wilmington on Fire” is a stunning documentary about the racist massacre that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina at the end of the 19th century when a mob of whites burned down Black businesses in downtown Wilmington and either killed or exiled its Black citizens, threatening death to some of the Black property owners if they even thought about returning. With a passionate cast of interviewees, Wolly McNair’s arresting visual reproductions of some of the events, a stellar soundtrack produced by Sean ‘Oneson’ Washington, and a jam-packed history and humanities lesson in a sobering 90 minutes, this is a wholly personal and consciousness-expanding documentary told in a direct, unpretentious, and intimate way about a genocidal act whose impact still reverberates today…
Malcolm X used to bemoan Black America’s pathological loyalty to the Democratic Party. This perverse agreement to remain supportive of the Democrats was sealed of course with President Johnson’s skillful passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the landmark piece of legislation that deemed discrimination of any kind illegal in the USA. What is most ironic, of course, beyond the fact that since then non-Black immigrants have actually used the gains of that bill and the Civil Rights movement in general – to benefit their own stance, corroborate white racism, and ascend the ladder within America culture. Oppressed people of any stripe are always quick to forget that they are quite often the beneficiaries of another people’s suffering. (Johnny Cochrane interestingly makes note of this in his autobiography Journey to Justice when he describes how the former LA community of west of Main Street went from being a Japanese-American middle-class neighborhood to a New Black Middle-Class enclave post WW2).
I struggle to understand Jews who do not see the actions of Israel as being evil and draconian in terms of how they regard and oppress the Arabs and Africans of the occupied territory once known purely as Palestine. Do we all suffer from our own selective memory, our own bludgeoning “cops in the head”, our own mangled perception of what is right, wrong, and how we benefit or not or fit in or not?
What leaves a bad taste in my mouth is the heralding of Lyndon Johnson and his “progressive” administration for putting forth the Civil Rights Act, blah blah blah…Johnson was a politician, not a moralist. He would have sold his own mother if it had meant power. Despite his obvious support of the Civil Rights Act he was staunchly racist and a serious cartoon example of a “good old boy” white Southern cracker. His recorded conversations reveal how natural it was for him to refer to blacks as “Niggers” constantly in conversations held in the oval office (you can hear these recordings on YouTube). Jim Garrison, who charged the United States government in a coup d’état against President Kennedy implied that Johnson himself was even marginally involved in the JFK assassination, so what on earth would convince people he cared about Black people simply because he patronized us and realized he was already in a losing battle…America had to make legislative changes in the 1960’s – the pressure was too much to bear as we the far left was gaining major strides in this country and throughout the world and a Black men protecting himself at all costs against the cruelty and hate of his government would not go unheeded. It is pressure and resistance that always creates legal changes and it either hits you in the wallet or in the head. The dollar or the bullet.
Are we “a virus in shoes” as the late great Bill Hicks once proclaimed? I think we are. Whether we are killing animals or each other, Man is interminably doomed and his shameful celebration of malevolence only continues to prove that while there may not be a god – there is certainly a devil. And he weaves and works his way through the actions of human beings in a way that is profoundly shocking and mysterious. Why? Because, supposedly, everything is all about money. Or the subjugation of one group over another. Throughout history and psychology, all things, all of our spiritual carbon footprints could be whittled down to either of these causes, often both, as Capitalism is a complex duet of both avarice and racism. We are pathetic.
Let’s get back to the checkered past and moral confusion of the Democrats. What a fascinating and morbid history our political parties have purely in terms of their formation, definitions, and self-preservation. For it was on November 10, 1898, North Carolina Democrats enabled a White Mob to engage in a massacre that left at least 100 Blacks dead (the exact number is somewhere between 60 and in the hundreds – the records are murky about this for obvious reasons). For some reason, it was the political affiliation alone that stood out to me when learning this information in Christopher Everett’s new and revealing documentary Wilmington On Fire.
First of all, I had no clue that Wilmington was at one point one of the most cosmopolitan centers in all of the USA, in fact one of the biggest and most economically inspired cities in the world before 1898.Wilmington On Fire does a fantastic job relaying all of this information. It was one of the most diverse cities with (yes!) black-owned and white-owned shops side by side in downtown Wilmington. The Black middle class was so successful, some even had their own butlers and pianos. This puts a whole new twist on the 19th-century Black life, doesn’t it? In fact, what most of us can’t admit: there were more powerfully linked and healthier connections amongst black businessmen and their communities well before the official rise and fall of Jim Crow segregation laws in the USA. This warrants serious rumination.
Obviously this kind of “renaissance” and “progress” of humanity offended racists and white supremacists to their very core, many of which were staunch members and supporters of the Democratic Party. Republicans back then still had the air of liberalism attached to their party.
But meanings and their associations’ change and context – always context! – will always be the end all-be all. Still, it is no less alarming that Americans have a skewered view of the past, identities, and supposed meanings. Perhaps if we regarded political parties as complicated as we have begun to regard our sexual identities or proclivities we may see that there is more to “politics” than meets the eye; more to the values of a political party than its typically regarded associations.
Does it not amuse you that Hollywood actor Wendell Pierce insanely defends the likes of Hilary Clinton and the Democrats legacy? While once again context is vital here, had the actor done this to a Trump supporter, I wouldn’t even mention it. I would casually admire the act for what it’s worth, shrugging off yet another ploy and performance from our nation’s true capital: the throes of Hollyweird.
Even if an actor of Pierce’s modest-stature (commercially speaking) is so disgruntled by a Bernard Sanders supporter or another candidate – he should take time to remember that political parties mean, essentially, nothing. Pierce should spend time putting weight or interest behind Christopher Everett’s excellent movie opposed to paying the state $1,000 bail as a result of his fractious encounter with a Sanders supporter.
About the infamous 1898 massacre of Wilmington’s black businesses and citizens, Christopher Everett’s directorial debut is an unpretentious, direct, and minimalist portrait of the coup d’état created by the white North Carolina Democratic Party in an attempt to broker the lives and future of Wilmington and eventually the entire state – ensuring the legacy and rebirth of a rekindled and acknowledged form of legally sanctioned racism, 35 years after the civil war and the USA’s official outlaw of slavery. As Dr. Umar Johnson fluently explains, after the Civil War in 1865 – a cloud hung over the Ex-Confederate Southern white men who couldn’t bring themselves to accept the fact that they had lost a war – not to President Lincoln or the Yankees up North but to their own former slaves! We forget or choose not to remember that Black Americans fought against some of their former slave owners as Union soldiers. And the Union never would have won the Civil War had it not been for the Black soldiers who fought for themselves… and on behalf of the Union.
In retaliation and exasperation, white supremacists who governed the Democratic Party in North Carolina sought to retaliate and officially install a racist system that had been supposedly eradicated some 30 years prior as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederates’ dream to restore White unity and Black servitude reached such a grizzled mania that an impassioned yet calculated plot to excise the Black businesses and citizens of Wilmington completely. Independent researcher Kent Chatfield shows us copies of WB McKoy’s pamphlet of 1897, The White Government Union a constitution and bylaws created by the North Carolina Democratic Party whose sole aim was to instill white supremacy government.
The film opens with Ness Lee’s powerful track, “Voice of The Regular People” produced by Illastrate with sampled echoes of Curtis Mayfield’s inimitable falsetto heard wailing, “I’m going to war to find my brother!” is well used here and the closing number of the film has one of the best uses of anthemic protest music that I can think of in any movie since Children of Men’s closing with John Lennon’s “Free The People.” The closing number by James Diallo (produced by Michael ‘Sarkastix’ Harris) in this case is the original and haunting, “It’s a Massacre” – a moody atmospheric poetic hip hop tune that is as defiant and soulful as the film itself. The rest of the music is sparsely and confidently scored by Matthew Head.
We learn in Wilmington On Fire that the White Government Union was a more urbane and far more treacherous terrorist organization than its backyard cousin the Ku Klux Klan for example. These were men who were out for blood, had serious connections and money, and were not going to stop until they removed all Black power-brokers, cultural influence, and existence in Wilmington, North Carolina. The White Government Union’s de-facto militias – known as the “redshirts” – once again, unlike the Klan did not hide their faces and acted like savage storm-troopers upon the African-American community and, as the Nazis did, acted in accordance with some of the most strategic and wicked propaganda put forth by white racists in Wilmington in order to stir up hate and fear against the Blacks. Their vile use of rape as a fear tactic and as a way to protect the white purity of the white woman is on par with the mechanisms later used by the Nazis in the 1930’s. Who knows? I imagine Hitler and his henchmen being the history fanatics that they were no doubt impressed and inspired by the methods used by the White Government Union.
Wilmington On Fire was made to enlighten, inform, and arouse interest in not only a slice of American history but also a deeply troubling event that has been swept under the carpet and seldom mentioned. A touchstone of racism and quite honestly one of the multitudinous events that has occurred to Black people in North America alone that helps make-up the Black Holocaust – a stream of harrowing events that Western academics and historians continually downplay in favor of the gargantuan numbers involved in the Jewish Holocaust in the confines of Nazi death-camps. Still, if it were a numbers game they would lose. According to SE Anderson, somewhere between 15 and 60 million Black lives were destroyed as a result of the transatlantic slave trade alone. And the horror continues to this day. Each isolated act of terror makes up another patchwork in the terrible mighty quilt known as Modern Culture As Created by the Anglo in What Is Now Known as The United States of America.
Yet, many African-Americans still find it hard to reconcile their past in this country alone. Randall Robinson in his excellent book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks mentions his exasperation via a casual discussion he had with author Walter Mosley with Blacks’ seeming unwillingness to acknowledge their tortured past by downplaying and literally disabling the commercial business of such well-intentioned films like Beloved based on the Toni Morrison classic. Because it deals with slavery they ignored it. That’s probably even truer for the greater mainstream’s embarrassing avoidance of the entire work of genius Haile Gerima. And while pop culture has embraced a Disney-fied, eroticized, and gleefully sanitized “ANTEBELLUM SLAVE & SOUTHERN CIVIL RIGHTS” movie genre (Miss Burning to Clara’s Heart to The Help to 12 Years a Slave, etc) – most of the serious art films or documentaries go unnoticed or un-appreciated because of their innate passion or style or singular vision. Sometimes it’s because of all three – whether it’s serious protest dramas like Nothing But a Man or later radical Black-helmed pictures like Sam Greenlee & Ivan Dixon’s TheSpook Who Sat By The Door – there’s always a distinct difference in the independent filmmaker’s vision and those seeking to exploit, pander, or simply fulfill a Liberal-checklist of obligations for some media company to fulfill. This must always be taken into account when you watch any film, especially a documentary: Ask, “Is this necessary?” And then ask, “Would this director be willing to suffer for giving us this information?”
Documentaries, like narrative movies, do have a point-of-view. And because they are not dramas or crafted fictions – it does not mean that they are less entertaining and/or less subjective. All truth in art is beauty and contains a POV. It is not the events being reported that is debatable. That is fact. But the HOW they are being related is where the truth of a subject comes into play.
Ken Burns’ obnoxious and smug documentaries and explorations of American life are often comfy and bold history lessons. He gives us tons of FACTS…but no genuine HEART. His movies are ultimately shallow and soulless despite their technical perfection. His speakers themselves come off indulgent and sanctimonious. Burns’ clean and sterile mannered PBS approach may have helped to kill and generalize the documentary in the past 25 years but it also helped to usher in a legion of filmmakers trying to reclaim power and truth from the establishment – each in their own way.
By contrast, Everett’s “talking heads” comprise a wonderful cast of characters, if you will. From the nervy and dutifully concerned Kent Chatfield (a brilliant researcher whose rational deductions and drove of information would make Oliver Stone weep; as a white youth he grew up hearing older men recount their passed down recollections of how whites massacred blacks in 1898) to the regal Dr. Lewin Manly (a beautifully grave man who reminds one of Thurgood Marshall and is a direct descendant of Wilmington’s Black newspaper mogul, Alex Manly, whose Daily Record printing press was arguably the main target in the massacre) to compassionate and dynamic community activists like Daawud Muhammad. But all those interviewed come off extremely intelligent and understandably concerned about the effects of this horrible event and its aftermath 118 years later…
If film can be an art and a weapon – the documentary is an often thrilling and deadly weapon in the arsenal, at times a best kept secret. For all documentaries seek to make its audience confront something. If narrative directors infused their scripts with this lesson – how much more dynamic and dangerous dramatic pictures would be!
And yet documentaries have become a particular and strange new pornography in our culture. It has become obvious to me that over the past decade a large number of filmmakers who fancy themselves as “progressive” and “Liberal-loving” humane freedom fighters have invested a great deal of time, energy, and money in making documentaries – but not truly advocating any direct social change. They are carefully crafted movies that give facts and tons of information about terrible events or current happenings – and yet don’t actually implore their audiences to do anything. It is not necessary for a film to scream its message to its audience, quite often even the most graphic documentary doesn’t have to do that…and yet it doesn’t hurt if a documentary is a bit forward and incendiary even to its own viewer. Wilmington On Fire toes this line – it is up front about how it feels and how its director regards his subject.
And what I like most about it – is that it is a “simple” American story. By focusing in on his own state’s history and legacy, Everett combines the ideal Pete Seeger coaxed us to consider: think globally, but act locally.
You don’t have to go all the way to Iraq to collect data on terrorism – often all you need to do is investigate your own state or cities history. The United States was founded upon terrorism: where have we all been?
Film As Resistance
“Yes, I’m for the compensation for the victims and ancestors of this riot mainly because our ancestors fought long and hard for what they had – to be taken away from them because of color…In some form or fashion, they (the state of North Carolina) should compensate.”
– Faye Chaplin, great granddaughter of victim Thomas C. Miller
When George Zimmerman recently auctioned off the 9mm pistol he used to kill Trayvon Martin in no less a cold-blooded way– the overall reaction was simply “Oh, he’s nuts. Ignore him. Just another American story.” And while that is quite true, our tacit agreement with the racist establishment and the “American Way of Life” is one that is rapidly beginning to drown us all – it is corroding any sense of sanity we have for one reason only. It provides no closure.
What kind of closure? A closure that results in the killing of one’s oppression (be it person or system), the slaying of one’s dragon in order for us to be as Joseph Campbell famously declared the hero of our own life.
The bloodbath that occurred in Wilmington 1898 – the men and women and children fighting for their lives literally as a result of a racist attack bears spiritual resemblance to all that follows later in the 20th century from the wrongly-accused-of-rape-Scottsboro Boys to Emmett Till to the fire hoses on blacks in Mississippi to lynchings (take your pick) to Rudolph Giuliani’s reign of terror on Black men in NYC in the 1990s to the bizarrely perfunctory executions of Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland. And in all this – one must ask where the resistance lies. Why do we take it? And do we truly feel that man will change and if so how long must we wait?
Perhaps Beckett was right: the absurdity of waiting for anything to happen is our biggest tragic quality. We wait. And we wait. And we believe the waiting will remove the pain.
Throughout all this waiting is the argument for reparations paid to the descendants of the victims of this atrocity. Descendants such as Faye Chaplin, whose great-great grandfather was Thomas Miller – a generous and successful entrepreneur in Wilmington who not only worked well paid jobs but ran his own businesses. Chaplin estimates the property, money, and legacy destroyed could easily amount to millions. And while she is probably right the moral conundrum that Wilmington On Fire presents is not the reparations debate – although that is a central problem and something I myself would like to see. The centerpiece however is, as independent researcher Kent Chatfield proclaims clearly, that the state of North Carolina was involved in a massive coup and act of terrorism that to this day they have not widely conceded, admitted, acknowledged and taken steps towards restitution. Why? Because the same white racism that the North Carolina democrats employed and enabled with venal glee in 1898 is the very same racism and mode of thinking that governs not only North Carolina, but our entire society today. Racism and its tactics may have grown more sophisticated and clever, but its results and impact are the same and, quite possibly, even more dangerous today – in a world where it is becoming less clear as to who or what exactly can help you fight injustice and precisely…what that even means. Look at how we reacted to a force majeure like Hurricane Katrina. Would our collective response had been any different if we knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it had been choreographed on purpose?
No, sometimes pure straight resistance does. Why no one has cracked and tried to kill the psychotic Zimmermans or launch a full-on offensive upon Police stations or even judicial offices that govern and enable the egregious racism, the devilish actions of the sociopaths that swear allegiance to the false gods and hateful order of this country – is beyond me. Resistance comes in many shades.
The making of this film is Everett’s own act of resistance, his own rebellion. His own artistic defiance: I am making this film whether you want me to or not and I am not doing it to get into Sundance or for a distribution deal or for a glitzy write-up in the Times. I’m doing it because I have to.
His elegantly minimalist approach to filmmaking serves him well.
So do we learn from the past? I don’t know. I can’t honestly say yes, but the work of any artist is always an affirming one, is always hopeful – because the act of creation is always positive proof that something can be learned and digested from our sins. One is not driven to make write a book or compose a song purely for the hell of it unless they are cynical craftsmen looking to cash-in on a trend perhaps or the latest cause. But a filmmaker disclosing painful truths, like the great muckrakers of the past, or the crusading shaman is akin to the African griots who are desperately trying to heal and put forth knowledge.
I commend Christopher Everett and encourage everyone to see Wilmington On Fire and then see how it may apply it to their own lives. And if you don’t know, then I suggest you watch it again.-
The award-winning documentary will be screening in the following cities next week below.
Pittsboro, NC: Hosted by the Chatham County Democratic Party Date:June 24, 2017 Time:12:30pm Admission: Free and open to the public Location: Pittsboro Roadhouse & General Store (39 West St., Pittsboro, NC 27312) Facebook Event Page
Brooklyn, NY: Weeksville Freedom Film Festival Date:June 24, 2017 Time:2:30pm Tickets:Eventbrite Location: Weeksville Heritage Center (158 Buffalo Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11213) Facebook Event Page