Sunday, October 18, 2009

OIFF: Everyday Black Man, The Servant of the Blues and Town Biz

Both these films tackled themes of fatherhood, community, violence, forgiveness and rehabilitation. Is rehabilitation really possible? Does stop the violence really mean stop the violence? What does it mean to have the mild mannered produce grocer go into the booth and come out swinging?

In Town Biz there is fratricide as well as mass murder--the perpetrators all black. Women are degraded and participate in the degradation. The gang leader is an angry man whose life possibly could have taken an entirely different direction if his father hadn't abandoned him. Town Biz is the profile of a man whose life is built on sand.

The protagonist has turned his back on crime and criminal behavior. His children and wife live in a gated community away from "the town" where he did his "business." They know nothing of the place where his father was a feared man, nor do his children know of the dangers or the rise of movements to address the police brutality and criminal behavior in the streets.

When his children get caught up in the streets--prostitution and drugs, he sets out to save them, but the method he chooses ends up destroying all he built, which makes one ask the question, is change possible or is it true, one generally reaches back to the familiar when one's back is against the wall, even if this behavior does more long term damage than good?

In Everyday Black Man, the protagonist is so full of guilt he thinks feeding his daughter's body is enough to satisfy her soul. She thinks she is an orphan, her dad the typical absentee father lore of the ghetto.

She doesn't know that he has been in her life for most of her childhood, certainly young adulthood and when she looses her grandmother, his secret friend and mother-in-law, he still decides to hide and not step up and reveal his identity. One person at the screening called him a coward--I certainly see why. I would add to cowardice fear, fear of rejection, fear of not being enough, fear that he would cause more damage than good, but this self-absorption makes Everyday Black Man make irreversible errors.

Innocent people suffer and die because he stays silent and then his attempt to correct the error reverses all the good he'd achieved in the past...he ends up just like the villain.

This is the dilemma in both films. How can one do good when the vehicle for change is death and destruction?

Everyday Black Man served 20 years in prison. This is why he wasn't present with his daughter when he mother died, but as soon as he is released he comes back. There are so many opportunities for him to come clean, to tell her what happened and why. Despite the lovely cinematography in this film and Town Biz, I cannot forget the snapped neck or the bullet filled bodies, especially when a sister kills her brother--shoots him before she even knows him. It's a crazy world --life is not valued by anyone--and all around characters are rethinking the gun and its use to resolve differences...however, no one puts it down.

The female characters in Town Biz are either gangsters or bimbos, victims or perpetrators of violence. Children are being raped and kidnapped as the gangs are taking over the town for their illegal bizness. The protagonist's new wife buries her head in the sand and when she comes up for air, her world has run away with her children and man.

If she would have lived in the real world instead of the fantasy she desired, then perhaps some of the events and situations might have been avoided, because the life she and her husband lived was a lie.

Everyday Black Man's life was also a lie, which is probably why he was so susceptible to deception. I guess deceit weakens one's lie detection radar? His business is struggling --he gives away more than he sells and along comes a young man--clean cut, committed to the uplift of the black community....

What I liked least about Black Man was the use of the Nation of Islam image as the the cover for drug dealing...instead of pies going out of the expanded grocery, now grocery/bakery, there were drugs being distributed from Black Man's store.

I could just see patrons driving down MLK Jr. Way afterwards thinking when they see the brothers in bow ties and suits selling newspapers and pies in those same pink boxes: I wonder if they also deal drugs?

I could also see people crossing MLK at Stanford thinking that it was a good thing Your Black Muslim Bakery was gone, that what happened to Yusef Bey's empire is what was reflected on the screen.

The director of Black Man is a woman and the story was something she'd been working on for over 20 years her friend said, yet, what does this story do to the black community? What is the purpose of such a story? Doesn't the damage committed by the perpetuation of negative stereotypes without resolution do more damage than good?

It would have been a different story, but the cheers which went up when the villain's neck was snapped, was sickening.

What about the silence that greeted the mass murder of the youth who refused the protagonist's offer to leave the gang and try another way? Guns facing them --if the idea was redemption why was did the scenario look so similar? It was the same story, the more powerful gang in control, not peaceful alternatives--guns are not symbols of peace.

As October 22 approaches, a day when we look at the victims of police violence, we need to look, black people need to look at the high incidence of violence we perpetuate on each other. I am not certain if it outnumbers that of the police, but we certainly need to address this issue which is at pandemic proportions. Such questions were addressed recently at a town hall in Oakland last weekend: What does a safe community look like? What needs to be in place for community members to feel safe? The forum was hosted by All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Visit for an interview with Dorsey Blake and Hamdiyah Cook.

Artists have a huge responsibility regarding the images they produce,especially filmmakers. Like the liquor store owner who is responsible for what happens when his customers drink alcohol and act irresponsibly, the same is true for artists whose work does more harm than good...when one can track the behavior back to images that condone aberrant behavior and activity.

Townbiz, directed by Mario Bobino, and Everyday Black Man, directed by Carmen, are films which raise questions about ethics and art--if people want to get paid, then is it okay to participate in fratricide, to kill a few innocent minds on one's climb to the top?

Earl Crudup's Servant of the Blues, directed by James Brooks, was so over the top, one didn't take the violence seriously, but again, characters' commit suicide, are drug addicted, and there is even sexual exploitation...the bottom line, keeping Velma's club open and avoiding the clutches of a gang.

More later.

Other films in the OIFF which would have been great to show in the same program: Imagine Peace, Soundtrack of Revolution, The Trust, Youth Jail Chronicles, and Sealed Letter (and perhaps other shorts) would have balanced the imagery and without discussion, which I felt was too hurried or rushed given the volatile subject matter introduced at the screenings. I did not want to see another film right after wards. A panel would have been really appropriate for Townbiz. The talk back after Everyday Black Man was significant. The film just left a bad taste on one's tongue. Do I recommend the film? Certainly with a disclaimer like the tobacco label: Do not watch alone, do not let your children watch alone, for audiences over 15 years old.

More later. I've got to run. Look for a conversation on the air with cast and the directors from both films.


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