Selma Revisited: from Violent Racism to Reflective Compassion (part 1)

3 Producers of the film
Left to right, Producers of the Golen Globe Award-nominated film Selma:
Dede Gardner, Oprah Winfrey, and director Ava DuVernay. (photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI)

 The movie Selma, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay, opened on Christmas Day 2014 and rang in the New Year 2015 with domestic sales estimated at $1, 204,000 according to Box Office Mojo. Whereas there have been any number of films about the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. produced for television, Selma is the first major feature film on the great civil rights leader made for theatrical release.

The movie’s box office performance at the beginning of the year placed it at number 23 on Fandango’s list of “Top Box Office Movies,” and it currently stands at number 22. Both positions place it far behind “The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies” ruling at the time at number 1, and “Unbroken” at number 2.

However, Selma played during the first week of its release in only 19 select theaters. It is set to screen nation-wide on January 9, just in time for the 86th anniversary of Dr. King’s birth on January 15. In honor of the fact that the movie would not have been made without the definitive role played by the people of Selma, Alabama, in the past as well as in the present, Paramount Studios announced that residents will be allowed to view it for free until the end of January.

DuVernay has already won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association New Generation Award for the film and it has earned 4 African-American Film Critics Association Awards. It has also received 4 Golden Globe Award Nominations. In addition to DuVernay, the line-up of producers includes Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey, who also performs in a supporting role as Annie Lee Cooper. Paul Webb provided the screenplay and among the exceptional cast that brings it to life are David Oyelowo (as Martin Luther King Jr.), Carmen Ejogo (as Coretta Scott King), Cuba Gooding Jr., Giovanni Ribisi, Common, Tim Roth, and Allesandro Nivola.

Technology and the Struggle for Human Rights

The story of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery is now a well-known one for many important reasons. It is obviously vital for the place it holds in the story of African-Americans’ ongoing struggle for social and political equality in the United States, as it is for the place it occupies in America’s attempts in general to refine its practice of the concept of democracy. In addition, it dramatically demonstrates the role which the evolution of technology has played in struggles for human rights in the modern era.

For the full article by Aberjhani please click this link:
Selma revisited: from violent racism to reflective compassion (part 1 of 5) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

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Text and Meaning in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (part 2 of 3) | Aberjhani | Blog Post | Red Room

Advocates for racial and social equality march in Wasington D.C. (photo by Getty Images)
Protesters in Washington D.C. (photo by Getty Images)

“Most philosophers see the ship of state launched on the broad irresistible tide of democracy, with only delaying eddies here and there; others, looking closer, are more disturbed.” ––W.E.B. DuBois (from The Wisdom of W.E.B. DuBois)

Upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, President Lyndon B. Johnson shared, among others, these remarks:

We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings–not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin.”

In fact, race was only one of the issues the act addressed. It also confronted discrimination based on religion, gender, and national origins. Many would, and do, argue that President Johnson’s remarks are no longer applicable in the 21st century. Many would, and do, argue that the words of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 itself should no longer matter.

Yet they mattered enough to President Johnson that he reportedly signed it with 75 different pens, presenting one each to those who had supported the bill, including Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, Jr. The pens undoubtedly were intended to help commemorate the achievement but perhaps they also served to reinforce the commitment and accountability necessary to make the political gesture a functional democratic reality.

To read the full post by Aberjhani please click this link:
Text and Meaning in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (part 2 of 3) | Aberjhani | Blog Post | Red Room
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Dear James Baldwin (in lieu of) Dear Barack Obama

U.S. Postal Service tribute stamp featuring author James Baldwin

U.S. Postal Service tribute stamp featuring author James Baldwin

Dear Mr. Baldwin-

If I were not writing this letter to you as one of my favorite authors, I would probably be writing it to Barack Obama because there is a great deal about him which tends to remind me of a great deal about you. The sentence structures he employs in his memoir, Dreams from My Father , often curve in and out of passages that virtually sing with eloquence and yet, at times, shout with an unruly detachment  in defense of truths many people generally prefer not to hear. The first time I heard such courageous music pour from the pages of a book or witnessed syllables explode like miniature bombs of revelation was when I read your Notes of a Native Son, then later The Fire Next Time.

Your birthdays are very close too-his on August 4, only two days after yours. But he was born in 1961, just after you turned thirty-seven. In that same history-forging year when you published the book of essays titled Nobody Knows My Name, addressed members of CORE in Washington, D.C., met with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, traveled all the way to Israel and Istanbul, Turkey, and then, by the end of the year, completed what some still consider one of most controversial novels ever published in the North America: Another Country.

Mr. Obama reminds me of you also because he could have easily chosen for himself and his family a fairly quiet life in which he might have enjoyed the comforts of substantial earnings and the respect of his peers minus the constant public jabs he now endures while working, seemingly unceasingly, on behalf on his countrymen. By the same token, you in 1954 could have elected to enjoy a nonstop bohemian party in Paris, France-hanging out with mega-diva Josephine Baker, fellow author Chester Himes, and the disturbingly brilliant artist Beauford Delaney– instead of returning home to be spat upon while dodging rocks and bullets as you marched beside Martin Luther King Jr. and many thousands more to confirm, with spilled blood and weeping souls, our country’s commitment to the ideals of Democracy.  Through essays, plays, and novels, you wrestled as naked as naked gets with the operational dynamics of race relations, sexual identity, and social imbalances as you witnessed them. Such a quintessential artist-activist did you become that it was impossible to ignore you.

President Obama appears to me have elevated and implemented the artist-activist concept to the role of empowered servant-leader, as creative in his vision of the world’s possibilities as you were in yours, and as dedicated to the battle to help humanity liberate itself from the collective fears, prejudices, and ignorance that has yet to contribute anything of functional value to the world community. He is also impossible to ignore; so much so, in fact, that an entire new would-be political party/movement has formed to generate automatic negative criticisms of his every move or spoken word, whether instinctively brushing aside a fly or placing his well-traveled feet atop his desk. And you know what else? He said his favorite novelist is your old friend, Toni Morrison , and that he is particularly fond of The Song of Solomon, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorites as well.

Speaking of Ms. Morrison, I recall your description of her (in the late 1970s I believe it was) as “This rather elegant matron with quite serious intentions.” You had already been resting in peace for six years when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, but I had no doubt that on that day you, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and a gang of others were all slurping celestial champagne and dancing to the glorious boom of Mahalia Jackson’s gospel-anointed voice.

Sorry, I kind of got off track. I wanted to say the reason I’m writing this letter to you today instead of to Barack Obama is because, for some reason, last night I was thinking about my own literary works and suddenly recalled your statement that you wanted mostly, “to be an honest man and a good writer.” And then today I received an email from the folks at Red Room suggesting members consider writing a letter to a favorite author, living or deceased. Just like that, you popped into my head and I heard myself talking with you, somewhat similar to the time I was writing my novel, Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World, and got stuck somewhere about halfway through it. I saw you in a dream when you said, “Shit baby, you slamming those keys like I used to! Don’t stop now, it’s getting better than you know.” The dream-I always remember it because you were dressed like a guru with long strings of colorful Mardi gras-like beads around your neck– dissolved my writer’s block and I pushed on to the novel’s completion.

Author James Baldwin getting the job done. (UPI file photo)

During the four years I was stationed with the Air Force in England, you were still alive, and I was tempted every pay day to spend the rent money and car payment on a ticket to fly or float across the English Channel and see if I could track you down in the village of St. Paul de Vence. I was always proud of myself when I resisted the temptation, even while I shook like a junkie hungry for a fix in the worst way, and placed the endangered funds in my wife’s hands.  I told myself I would get there at some point, and clearly had no way of knowing that less than a year after getting out of the Air Force, I would be in Florida, collecting unemployment checks and working on a book, when the news would hit that you had died from stomach cancer. I didn’t get pissed about never having spent the rent money to visit your home in France. I simply got drunk and read random passages from your books.

Once, I came across a response from Maya Angelou to critics who compared your works in fiction unfavorably to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Angelou said there was no question that Invisible Man is a masterpiece but she held you in great esteem because you “did the work and produced the books.” At the time, Invisible Man was Ellison’s only published novel and would remain so for the rest of his life.  By the time of your death, you would have published some eight novels, at least as many volumes of nonfiction, four plays, and a collection of poetry.

Despite stones aimed at your head, guns pointed at your heart, or nooses tied with hopes of hanging you burning from one of them, it was just like Angelou said: you got the work done in a fantastically and indisputably admirable manner. And the fact that Mr. Obama is currently your homeland’s president demonstrates that none of your words or works, on or off the page, were produced in vain. This letter comes to say Thank You for the example provided, and to acknowledge that although I cannot confirm any definitive results at this point, I continue trying very hard to get the work done because you proved it is not only possible, but worth the aggravating labor required, worth the numbing anguish so often endured, and worth the miraculous joy that sometimes-just sometimes-follows in the end.

by Aberjhani
©June 2010

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