from Haile Gerima creator of the video SANKOFA
Question: This regards a question about the movies I saw in my class, _______ ______________.
You know I have my handlers have brought me here to do. I'll do any work I'm asked to do.
Question: Where the actual site in the movie like location, where a slave was brought from there to America?
Oh, yes. Where I shot the film is called Cape Cos Castle. Fifteen minutes from Cope Cos Castle you see it in a distance, Elmina Castle. Elmina is the first castle the Portuguese put in place. The Castle where I shot is where I told you 8 Africans will die, 8 out of 10 will die before a ship comes to take them away. In a very airless, little holes, self defecating place.
Now if you walked there now, you will not come out alive. You will go through changes. The stench is still existing. More people are affected going there. We shot from them. In fact I didn't want to shoot in Elmina because it was so over-poweringly scary. I couldn't just, however many times I went back, I couldn't command, I couldn't just control the anatomy of the place. I just was overpowered. So, I went to Cape Cos where I felt I overpowered it, to shoot it. And I did a series of just anatomist, just to say where can I shoot this place? Cape Cos was better.
Now actors, he asked about actors didn't you?
First I want to ____________. Again, the role of black filmmakers is not really to just go around saying, "I'm a filmmaker." But there are booby traps for black filmmakers. It's not only white people who are going to make stereotype movies. We have now internalized it so much, we are now the best hosts of this virus and the stereotype. Whites don't have, in fact they are really scared to touch movies about blacks. "If I do this they complain." "I'll just got your own people to make your own movie." And that's what you have this bizarre hoodlum movies all over the place.
What you have here is the virus is now within black people. It's now in my system. And so, in every placement of camera, back and front, everywhere, you have to understand the booby trap history of stereotype cinema. And the way you illustrate characters. In the way you cast people. You have to constantly remind yourself, you are in the midst of a booby trap, a cultural booby trap legacy.
When I looked for actors, I said, I want actors who are not stars. That was number one. Everybody will tell you that is against Hollywood's formula. Forget the story. First, who is in it is the question in Hollywood. In fact an HBO woman, said to me, "So who is in it?" I say, "Nobody. People like me." Fly people. Flies make movies too. And the reason is this. I'll tell you this, because I feel any black person, I met many, many of them. Being in film, you always sit next to these guys. They go around, walking around saying they are stars, and there is some mental problem here, for me. One, from just a business pragmatic producing point of view, anybody that is a star is going to cost you more, not of their salary, just their ego trip. You have to have the biggest crane to bring them to life, to play parts.
And I felt an actor who goes around worrying about their position and their waistline, cannot play slavery. That's one. I could not find an actor, in fact there are many who knew me, who seemed to like Bush MaMa and other films who said, "I hope I can be in your movie." I just felt that there's more baggage to it. Yes, people want to be in exotically independent filmmaking, but they bring also the virus. And the virus is stardom. Yet, they don't even have the legitimacy to be stars. How many black people can really say they are stars, but they say they are stars. And they are mentioned when nine white actors are mentioned, they get mentioned. One would be, number three will be picked up. Not even name is important. Not even his skill is important.
In a racially texted place I don't think talent is in question. So the baggage is what my fear is, and so I didn't think they had the rage and anger. You know who I was looking for? I was looking for actors who are rejected from practicing their profession, like me. Outsiders.
When you are lonely, lonely people can get you out of a situation that the one's who are not lonely were really having it fun. They don't really know what lonely is, they've forgotten loneliness. You always have to know who can play slavery? Some people are too distant for it. But I think you can start from the personal oppression first, to understand slavery. When you can't connect to it.
So you go from your personal as a gender or whatever situation you have you bring that to the character as a seed to work from. So, I wanted rejected, outsider, talented black actors. But who are rejected or are not allowed to practice their profession by law. Those are my targets. And I looked for them. This was the basic prerequisite for me.
The other one is quilting black people. The booby trap of black, so-called black speaking patterns -- for a generation of yours now and I don't know how old you are but my Howard kids they would reincarnate Steph and Fetchit as something negative. Because they all feel now black people spoke like that all the time then. It's like white kids going to movies and archaeologically thinking that was life then and making it factual departing point. Which is happening. Professors are writing books grafting historical information from filmmakers. Filmmakers, where if some of them were in cocaine trip, really when they made the movie. And they are taken now as historical reference points. So black people do have this reference Steph and Fetch as a departing point as how to direct the melody of that period.
In my research, Africans came quilting from different parts of the African origin, including West Indians, who doing rebellion for example I discovered. West Indian rebellions will be banished to the Americas, instead of destroying property, you can't lynch all of them, for punishment you lynch ten, for example during Denmark __________ uprising, and then they banished in South Carolina, they banished the rest that suspected involved. Out of the state including the West Indies. I have met people who from banished Maroons in Cuba who are from America, descended from Americans. In fact, one of them, I wanted him to play the part but I couldn't just economically pull it. And so, the Blue Field Black People in Nicaragua are banished Maroons once upon a time who are speaking English in the middle of a Spanish place. To me these are like, it shows you the quilt of black people.
The humanization comes from not pigeon holing them in the Steph and Fetchit tradition. That was the prerequisites of the kind of actors I'm looking for, the kind of quilt I wanted to quilt from the speaking to the physical appearance. And also what they bring. The other department. _________________ will know him. He didn't act before. So I'm fortunate only two people like this, you guys. He is a philosopher. I mean this is a philosopher. After Bob Marley, he is it. A barefoot philosopher. And what happens. Now this guy, I just need to direct him and there. But most of the time he identified with the part. Waited for me over four years as I -- he cancelled many summer concerts to play the part, because he knew there was something in this movie for all of us.
Question: I think the question I want to ask is kind of theoretical but you can answer it using your imagination if you don't mind. That is, how do you see Africans in the Diaspora improving their communication across borders beyond cinema, yet cinema but also, radio, television, theater. How do you see us being able to escalate and improve the quality of the communication that we're able to share across these borders?
Let me start from the particular of like inner cities. Basically, for black people, once upon a time, up to 1948 who owned over a 1000 theaters across the country out of rage, not self segregation, but forced insulting circumstances forced black people from Philadelphia, Baltimore to California to own theaters of their own where they had race movies. Independent filmmakers over 300 came and died and _______________ the longest, till '48. Lincoln Motion Picture, Nobel Johnson, George Johnson, from California. When you think about who is dying in black community now? What are these kids? What are their particular, specific, particularities of kids dying in the black community? Most of them are hyper.
To be in the creative world and hyper is normal as far as I'm concerned, otherwise you got to take me out and shoot me. I can't be even sitting if you want, I have to move around and I'm like any hyper kid condemned in South Chicago to be hyper and dysfunctional. Energy. And when you contain the energy of a people, when the energy of a people has no cultural outlet, self destruction is the next motion. That's what we see in the black communities.
From my own personal experience I see kids who can't be turned around by the traditional success of a saxophone player, who was maybe a nuisance to some elderly people but deflected a kid from something to wanting to be a trumpet player or saxophone player, a drummer, a poet, a dramatist. And now a filmmaker. Since Spike Lee a lot of black kids want to be filmmakers. I see at Howard. But what is waiting for them is going to be shocking to their system and they will have to face that.
What I'm trying to say here, the absence, the boarded up theaters, boarded up cultural centers, the fact the little kid, Peanut, my next door neighbor, has no play to go to, to be part. Is not hearing as a drummer. When I even came to this country, in Chicago you would go to the black community, you would hear a musician, everywhere, who was practicing. They don't exist now in the community. There's nothing culturally that will embrace me and you are normal, come this way. Your poetry is good, write one more time. This nurturing cultural extended family is destructed, as far as I'm concerned and it systematically has happened to a point where now, it's a total disfiguration of life, where parents feel hopeless about what's happening.
So, to me culture has it's healing aspect of it. It's where you find yourself. The other part of it is the most fundamental one is the fact that black people int his country, for example, are share croppers culturally speaking in culture. Black people in America are cultural cotton pickers in America. They do not own the copyright of anything including their uttered voice as a result of the whip they were whipped. All the scream and uttering and poetry and tap dance and cultural activity is owned by the dominant ethnic group, white people. I'm not saying to say there's any thing but to show you how abnormal it is for a people not own their cultural output.
Now, when people talk about reparation I say to black people at Howard, I say the first thing should be black people buying back all the copyrights of ____________ and Billy Holiday, as..
I buy Billy Holiday records, all of a sudden I'm into CD, I have like. You can put just my Billy Holiday to be $1,000. For me to want to use the scream of our little Franklin in ________ _________ and still I'm paying arms and legs when she is uttering a memory transmitted from the whip through the gospel, blues into jazz. I can't use it and I'm paying to this day is obscene. It's obscene and unacceptable and has some curse with it, in a sense of black people. Once you mortgage your culture and pass it to your next generation you have a dead generation coming up. And I call the coming generations are going to be ashes because no cultural resistance struggle is passed down from generation to generation at least on the cultural level. And the Maroons have passed, even jazz is a Maroon cultural expression is now owned in the plantation system.
On one hand Nike has black people, you know black people in America they feed, they shelter, but they don't nurture the minds of their children, intellectually or culturally. Now, what is happening. Gap there. Black parents think by feeding, by buying all this Nike plantation shoe...
Thanks for reading all the above. If you did I am sure you will agree it was quite an insightful lecture.
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