BLACK ART 3

INSIGHTS ON THE BLACK ARTS

(PART 3)

INSIGHTFUL THOUGHTS

from Haile Gerima creator of the video SANKOFA

 

In Ethiopia, what was the most saddest thing to me just going to Ethiopia, and I've been going several times, is that Ethiopians who are proud, are now losing it underneath them. Churches that used to have this paintings pre-birth of Europe as far as I'm concerned, is now being replaced by Anglo-Saxon god image and Mary's image. Young Ethiopian's reference of God, and so I was doing a film in an art museum where this deeply intellectual Ethiopian, young kids, high school kids, discussing a painting, and there were grown ups amongst them. We were looking at a painting that has a crucifixion idea in it and ended up, after a series of discussions, we ended up at a point where one person said, "No she couldn't be Mary." And I said, "Ho. Let's back up here. Why?" "She's like an Ethiopian, she couldn't be Mary." "What do you think Mary looks like?" I asked. He searched around, there was this woman from BBC, he located her and he said, "She would look like her."

Now I never grew up under Ethiopians like that. I grew up Ethiopians who made God in their image. The image of God in Ethiopia, when I grew up, was in the image of themselves. Which, I think, is very important to all human beings if they are religious. Some of you may not care. I don't care. Even if the devil is going to receive me when I leave, I really don't care about they -- I will not kill anybody for the image, but my kids, if they believe in God, it should look like them.


Now, I am Catholic, I am so shaky on Catholicism, so we have to watch out for it. In Ethiopia I was raised Catholic and my knee buckles, you might think I'm a strong person, but if Catholics walked I'd just be all over the place. In fact, my sisters will see a scene in San Kofa and when a scene comes, oh, my sisters bow. And they pray for me that God won't take me to hell.
Koreans that I met, who are Catholics, have God and Mary in their image. What a reclamation. I don't put down anybody's religion, but if you are worshiping, why is that whole Africa is worshiping an Anglo Saxon, blonde hair, blue eyed God and Mary?


How many people are from Ghana here? Anybody? Oh, it is not good that I should talk behind them, but... Go to Agra. How many people have been to Agra? Good. You guys can talk. The trucks, the paintings, the taxi drivers. I have taken pictures after pictures of God's image of what African's...in fact, one time when I was doing the film there was a T-shirt popular in Akra, in the front is an Anglo Saxon God, in the back is black, and it say's, "Get away from me devil" in the back. Now maybe you'll say, "So what?" Well, there's consequences. I don't think you'd drive the taxi right after you are not normal inside, because the governing power of human beings is their head. And I think people have to accept themselves first. If you live to become to want to be somebody underneath you are on shaky ground. And I think those of you who are very aware of race and its implication and complications could be sympathetic to that. And can see how dangerous this direction is.


So basically if we can go to question and answer I would be more relevant to you but this is in any case encapsulates to you the political battle in African cinema. As we talk with questions, some of you saying your ideas and views about it might help us more put light to the issue that I raised.
Question: This might be personal but how did you finance your films?


Well, I tried the lottery first. (Laughter) A lot of people in Europe said to me, "Hi, there I'll be in New York with a filmmaker." I say, "Let's stop. I want to buy a lottery." They say, "Hi, I'm ashamed of you. How can you buy a lottery?" I said to him, "All the grants I got or didn't get is a lottery." I don't think you can, all the judgement and panel, however serious they take themselves, I don't. When you get it, it's a lottery. When you lose it, it's a lottery. It's a better psychological position. Otherwise when you get it you get bigger and above everybody and when you don't get it, you collapse back to a point where you can't get up. And so basically my position is, "It's lottery, if it happens take it." And I have always been fortunate.

Things have happened for me. It takes time, but it does happen. Now this new film, "_____________" asking me, what I did was I tried in this country for 9 years, back and forth, all grants from American Playhouse to PBS, CBB, et cetera. Then I got Germany, German television, British television, Italian non-commercial outfit, and Ghana and (Brookinfaso) equipment, money, resources. We put a very creative package together. It took us a long time but that's how we did the movie. But you should always try a lottery. Don't put down a lottery. Because if you get $5 million you could do five African films. (Laughter)
Question: Could you speak a little bit more about ________________ and the _______________ _______________________.

Speaking about cultural significance and the innovation of African ______________________.
Well you know when I first came, I was earlier at lunch telling people that I was shocked to find the African race here. I say now, progressively African race, at that time it was Negro-Americans. These people were presented in my subconscious or conscious level as people that were bred in this continent as slaves. So I had this whole idea of a slave race. And didn't come from Africa, basically. Now that could be the shame, the denial _______________, the psychological trip, but that is my fortress. When I first came, I said this people are not Africans. And I was quick to say I'm African and denounce them not Africans. I used all the tricks that every African used to intimidate African Americans in Chicago. But as I went into, you know, first I wanted to study acting. Here I am, it is very dangerous when you bring a cultural person, you know, when you wake up it's a different situation.

Here I am, in a theater department where it had African students and African Americans and we were for white students in the theater, we were spear carriers. And some of us felt -- I mean the black Americans should carry spears but, you know, I'm Ethiopian. I've been playing parts in Ethiopia, in my father's play. Even if you did Shakespeare you had a better tradition, you're not a background but let's face it, Native Americans and African Americans are backgrounds of American theater, by and large. And here I was confronted, denying them, because I don't want to be in their position. I have to be separate nation. In parties, and the loneliness time, in the theater I went to the Goodman School of Drama, there were black actors that I still befriended them, one of them is the guy who is in Ashes and Embers, another is Sister _______________, she is in Dallas now, and Lenard and two Nigerians. The two Nigerians and me just, even though Ethiopians and Nigerians can't get it together, at least against African Americans we got a united front going.

So we African's we don't play slaves and things. So, it was all this battle psychological, social battle going on and now fundamentally in the theater being just a background challenged me. Here I was writing plays at home for my high school or my pre-high school, I was in my father's plays and here I am now a background. And it creates certain alienation in me.



All the false propaganda, USIS, Peace Corps America, just start slapping left and right. Then, because I'm not from the nobility like some of friends maybe, I'm kidding they are not, but I was doing gardening to go to school and in gardening I get also some slappings. Because it's a racially textured country. And I never knew apartheid and here it is. I couldn't take some of the things I experienced. So, the more I was slapped around the more I gravitated to this earlier slapped people. And just the affinity after, we just pulled toward to each other. Then we talked about white people together. I start to talk like this from them now.

Then the whole Black Power Movement is going, and I have my hair everywhere. (Laughter) Basically it is just like a kid. Attacked and now I'm out to defend myself to say I'm human. I think that connected me to Black America. Then I said, "Ah, this is what's happening, they are just saying historically as they are badgered by being Africans. They always said, "I'm human."" "No, I'm human." They are a closed society. From the years of badgering they have closed. So I gravitated towards that camp because that camp was capable of defending me. Then in their defense, I started to develop as I utttered my first poems in film, they embraced me. When I made the movie, I just made for school exercise, but Black people were so hungry -- in Oakland they saw my movie and they thought it was a miracle movie and hugged me and cried and wrote poems about me.

And I said, "They are claiming me. They are claiming me. They are claiming me." Basically, this is a very important background for me. And _________________ has a lot to do with everything I'm telling you now. Because that is when I started working. As I was doing other movies I was really reflexing my cinematic muscle to attack this larger monster out of me. An obsession of sort. That's when I started connecting -- I said, "Ah," I'm a volunteer, I took TWA, but really, and I started to try, "How about if I was taken? The way they have come." And I wanted to study. "How about if they smashed my memory? At least attempted?" "How about if they took my name, my religion, my local place? How come if I couldn't say I'm from Ethiopia?"

All these things are just the stream imaginations that just erupted within my system. And so, from there going to UCLA -- I know a lot of people, you know and you talk about multiculturalism and all this, but I'll tell you something, when I went to film school initially also added more fuel, and I looked to the left, a Native American, I looked to the right it's African American, there's all these third world people trying to hold hands in a very hostile, it's not an aggressive white hostility, the environment as we walked tip-toeing into the film school said to us, "You illegal alien filmmaker, what you doing here?" Nobody said it. It's not spoken. Nothing. But you start to have all this delusion in you. And you so, you hold hands to survive because you have this state of mind. I'm not going to attribute it towards blame. I'm just saying.

Then we start to create a third world film huddling corner. Because of the hostility. How does the hostility come about? You take a film history class, at UCLA especially, the American film history class from silent to talking. You take Horror Film History class, you take Cowboy Film History class, you take all the different genre of classes, European, Russian, French, you take a single actor class, you take a single director class, and every time you looking trying to find reference because all human beings, it's very complex, like Israeli's, Jews about Israel, that's a very powerful reference of years ago. Israel next year to Israel is no joke. It's a very profound anchor. That is part and parcel of being human. You can't belittle it, you can't discourage it, you can't close your eye and make it evaporate. It is there.

And here I am now looking for a black person in movies. May West will be there, and then I'll see the African descendent looking for rabbit feet for May West to have her love life go right. Then I turn right, I see Casablanca and white kids are looking at this, Ingrid Bergman, Bogart and then we say, "Play it again Sam. Play it again Sam." What is he all about? Want to defend him. But what is he? Who does he love? Does he have sex? Why is he in the story? Is it just to carry his piano all the way to Africa? And not even skate once he got to Africa? So you have all this fantasy and confrontation with western cinema.

And then, it's silently said to you, "you had no history, you had no background, you never made a movie, that's why you are illegal. That's why you are illegitimate. That's why you have to apologize. That's why you have to posture. With broken back, apologizing every minute as you bumped, the legitimate entitled filmmakers in the hallways and lobbies." And it was understood. When we were in competition white kids didn't take us seriously as competition. When we won they cried. They cried bad, "How could you win? This Ethiopian crazy guy, how could he win?" They all cried together. One time in acting class, acting school when I wouldn't say the name of the award, but when I won this award, they just cried and the whole class, I felt so legitimate, they all cried and the teacher was going around hugging them and saying, "Yeah, this foreigner took it! The most illegal alien of all comes and takes it."

So, you have all this environmental race polluted texts. Intended, unintended it's not my job, but I'm not going to say I created it. It's there with a poster with the glorification of -- you know, you go walk plantation owners streets named after, you got to react - this is Jefferson, where is Harriet Tubman? To me is not multiculturalism, it's true history is to put her next to him. Then you get the mortgage and mortgaged. At not time in this seriously respectable university, at no time did they teach us that there was a black cinema movement from 1910 to 1948. By Americans. African Americans. Now, people would wonder, "Why do you call yourself African American?" Well, listen if the teacher felt you are not American, when he or she taught American film history class and neglected a major chapter in independent filmmaking, 1910 to 1948, doing what I am doing now, did it better then, with less resources, yet they are not in history class. And you always have been.

And one day you made a mistake, did the wrong turn, you found and saw (__________________) movie. From then on all the teachers are liars. That teacher betrayed me. That teacher lied to me. He didn't teach me about black people. Well, he doesn't consider them Americans because they are Africans. What is the point? And so you go into this betrayed person. The school betrayed you, the university betrayed you, it glorifies itself, it's objective, it's still objective, it's still standard. It's a universal truth. It's beauty, esthetics and ugliness is a universal thing. What we have to all adapt all the planet has to adapt, their narrative, the ______________ narrative and also the three-act things that is killing cinema is universal and standard. Even the French are memorizing it now. And you know your retreating, working again as creatively trying to not destroy yourself but to come up with. And __________________ was evolving out of this betrayal. Wanting to anchor yourself from a past, discovering past knowledge, even as the film Betrayal all the books I read at the time by well meaningful writers, there was no mention of African rebelling against slavery except Nat Turner which is court case they couldn't burn down. Then Mark Vessy, _______________, and Gabriel.

And here I am I made another left turn and I found the history of Maroons from North Carolina, independent African warring, anti-slave movements, pre-progressive whites waking up to the fact. Fighting for their freedom, which negated free me concepts that __________ would always pushed on black people. Please free me. Yo, I can't free myself, please free me. The key, always that somebody Lincoln or a Quaker. Lies. Something that challenged me. How can all this population submit? And I was initially deformed myself and I was writing about bad white people. Trying to show how evil they were. Because when you think in victim concept you try to find the evil.


To find Maroons from South Carolina, North Carolina, in some place joined up with Native Americans, from Florida, Louisiana, joined the Spanish, made a treaty. A white archeologist woman is digging a castle now in San________, Florida. What is this castle. This Maroons was called Fort Negro, it was on a map, nobody knew where the place was, now they are digging it out of the earth. All the materials they used. Archaeologists are digging all these artifacts out of Maroons who fought like hell and Maroons that later scattered to Surinam, Cuba, Martinque, even joined as soldiers with Bolivar for the freedom of Latin America. I went all the way to Venezuela to see this village where they all -- who descended from this history, live. So, what you do here is -- here I was writing a script to show how evil white people were in slaving black people, but I discovered the resistance that was more a healing.

That the fact that black people fought back was important. And eleven year old kid in Baltimore came up to me, hugged me and said, "Thank you for making a film and showing me my people at least fought back." And I said to him, "Well, your parents should start it in front of the cereal boxes with the shackle being placed, located there." Because history of this type only is a boost for forward movement, it's not something to be ashamed of, its not something to deny, its not something to trip guilt over, it has it's healing value as more important than postponing it. And so this is the landscape that ______________ was made under.
Question: Could you speak a little bit of ______________ and the role it has played or has not played in the advancement of African cinema?


Well, the problem with _____________ initially was an idea invented by filmmakers which was very important, but gradually it outlived its initial conceptual power. Where it is now really just pepper tiger. I don't think it is relevant as far as I'm concerned. Because any African cinema organization that is not directly involved on concrete distribution, production, including challenging African governments to establish cinema policy is not an African film organization. It's like a trade union that doesn't speak for the workers. For me it is just as good to parade all over Europe, to speak. Now the new president is my friend. I fought for him to be president. My good friend, my closest friend, he helped me do a lot of things.

But my position in 1985 was that they be housed at the OEU budgets that African's after South Africa need to fight, to coin a platform on cultural battle. Where now the new colonial battle is not gun but culturally. That if Africans now from armed struggle to cultural struggle do not enter, and if cinema can not play a leadership role we've lost the war. It doesn't matter if Mozambique is free, if Zimbabwe is free, even South Africa will be a tragic future because without cultural revolution all this earned freedom is at stake as far as I'm concerned. So the role of OAU should have been now converting towards advancing the battle on the cultural fronts. No African countries need guns now. Nobody needs guns in African.

African countries need more cultural nurturing across the board. The schools to be re-examined. The fact that we mis-educate, we transgrafted American educational system and French educational system, British educational system, dump it on our cultural psyche is a tragic commentary on education. So culturally, holistic cultural revolution should be our new platform. But no, we still, effectively like OAU and __________ is really ineffectively talking about something that is not tangible to me as a practicing filmmaker. For me, I want my voice to be on a higher platform, to fight. Because African filmmakers if they are weak in each country then OAU will be our base to attack all the African countries from oppressing and not coming up with a serious platform on cinema. And, you know, and giving us the equal screen time with Hollywood films and Indian films. Let's have all of us be there and let African's decide what movie speaks about themselves, their own essence.

CONTINUED IN PART 4

Ras Jahaziel
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