Sunday, June 15, 2008

SFBFF Saturday, June 14

Saturday afternoon I arrived at the African American Art and Culture Complex in time to catch the end of a film about two rap artists who were pitted against one another by the industry which didn't care if they died in the fictitious turf war.

This was followed by the excellent film, Equinox. Then evening closed with two films about black in physical love. The first, which was a short, was abstract...sixties soundtrack, choreography and costumes. Serreal, the director, who said he was more interested in character, than story, told me not to worry about the bondage--it seems the protagonist has this thing for tying up and gagging people.

There was also a short, "Keys," about a child, whose mother was dying and she took him to live with her father. The mother was white, the kid black and the father angry at all black people since a black person killed his wife.

Yes, the kid was going to have problems...and he did, a little genious--he tuned the piano for his grandfather, who accused him of stealing when the child was merely trying to help.

The film I liked the most, though was Bakari's film, "Equinox." Not only did I love the beautiful shots of Oakland--it looks like another place...although I recognized, City Center, The Black New World, BART, of course, and a few other landmarks, I also knew cast members, one of them, BJ, (a former college student of mine).

The idea of a program that teaches boys to be men, is not new, but to take the program and follow a boy who is using what he learns to improve his life, make better choices and help his family, parents, little sister and cousin, also, made the lessons less abstract and practical. I liked the juxtaposition of girls whose fathers were raising them to be women, to girls whose fathers were, for whatever reason, impotent, like the protagonist's father (Achebe). His character was confined to a wheelchair, yet it was guilt that really confined him.

The manhood trainer said something really profound about "fear and guilt." He said that the birth of cool was the result of young men afraid to address their fears, doubts about their worth as human beings and the pain associated with such feeling, not to mention guilt. He said, the louder the music, the flasher the car, the more ostentatious the presentation, the deeper the hurt, shame or fear.

I was like wow. What was also cool--oops, was to see black men not afraid of black boys. The protagonist wasn't perfect, he misused his knowledge, was immature and made mistakes, but he had a support system which allowed him to reflect and come up with better responses and answers to the questions setting him off.

The program was also feeding the young man's mind. They had an expense account at Marcus Books and showed the mentee purchasing books like Stolen Legacy. Tools...the film was carefully scripted to show that given the right tools, our young people will make much better choices. Often the reason kids do what they do, is precisely because they can think their way out of the situation. They aren't thinking, just reacting and most importantly because they lack guidance-- there is no one in their lives paying close enough attention to help them. This is illustrated when the protagonist storms out the house to confront the men who kidnapped his siblings, a case of mistaken ID. The men thought they were hookers because of what they were wearing, even after they told them they weren't. He ran into the host of a poetry event, (played by President). The protagonist got into the van and the first thing the driver pulls out is a gun, which shocks the kid who says he hopes they don't have to use it. The driver says he'll take his lead.

The kid is clearly codependent, the violent nature of the parental interaction clear from the opening scenes, yet, the young man is thinking. He knows it isn't right as we see him check on his younger sister to see if the arguing and breakage downstairs in the home has awakened her before going downstairs or back into his room.

His father's inability to take charge of his home and demand respect, casts a shadow over the relationships between himself and his children. The only one who shows him any respect is his son, who tries to intercede on his father's behalf when his sister is inappropriate.

One doesn't often see how important the father is in his daughter's life, or look closely at dysfunctional African American families that are not poor. I don't know if the protagonist's mother worked, but the family lived in a nice home, and were able to adopt their son, when their biological son was killed.

I always like to see films that include valuable community resources such as the Leadership Excellence Academy, which was connected to the Boys-to-Men training. The elements of the training reminded me of scenes from the Malidome Some book, just as intense, especially the last task, where the boys had to stare into a candle while sitting in the lotus position.

The saying, "truth will set one free," took on new meaning here as a son was able to liberate his father from a situation which was killing him spiritually and physically.

"Equinox" was so powerful on a lot of levels. The character, Mrs. Toure, who taught history from an African Diaspora perspective. I wonder how many people in the audience on the eve of Independence Day, knew that the first casualty of war, was a black man, Crispus Attucks.

Alcoholism was explored as a disease that kills relationships. Instead of calling police, the protagonist's involvement in the Boys-to-Men program connected him to a web of services and people who could help him and his family. He didn't have to turn his adoptive mother into the police when he'd reached the end of his patience. The community rallied around this family to help it heal.

The film also looked at forgiveness and how we need to forgive each other and ourselves, because no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. This is what the journey is all about.

From the director of "Twisted," a very different film, the similarity is that once again the narrative is concerned about relationships; the key once again--trust. Bakari's "Equinox" is entertaining, as well as, educational. It is such a positive and hopeful film. It isn't condemning, even though it looks at psychosis in the black community, which if isn't addressed on a larger scale, a generation might be lost.

I saw writer and educator, Cheo Tiyhemba at the screening and he told me, The Mentoring Center, which was a key collaborator in the film project, is launching a compaign called 2025 (for the year). To find out more visit

(This is an edited draft 08/30/08 :-)

Note: I spoke to Bayaan Bakari, director of Equinox, this afternoon, before his three year old son woke up about his film and it's launch in Oakland as the opening film for The Oakland International Film Festival at the Grand Lake Theatre. Stay tuned for the details.


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