Friday, May 11, 2012

Wanda's Picks May 11, 2012 Mother's Day Edition

We devote the first hour to a Shout out to the Black Mother. Guests are asked to tell us their mom's name. Question: Is she still alive? What do you love most about her? What lessons are you still living by? What is she most proud of that you have done? Mom's you can give a shout out to yourselves too (smile). Count your blessings on the air. You have only a minute or two though, depending on the response (smile).

We are then joined by Jennifer Baichwal, director, Payback, based on Margaret Atwood's visionary work, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. The film opens May 18, 2012 at Landmark's Lumiere in San Francisco and Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. The director will be skyped in for a Q&A. Should be exciting (smile).

The film, Payback, has so much to recommend it: its cinematography, the philosophical back story and of course the story irself inspired by award-winning writer Margaret Atwood's meditation on debt in a lecture, then book; however the film, director, Jennifer Baichwal takes the conversation further in her well-made document.

Her Payback adds visage to the concepts one tosses back and forth in one's brain as she thinks about what it means to owe something to someone she can never return. What does it mean to feel remorse yet know feeling sorry is really not only ludicrous in that it is a bit too late-better late than . . . sometimes better too late. . . is nonetheless not enough?

These are the sentiments of multiple individuals profiled in Payback, the film. Characters like Paul Muhammad, a drug addict, certainly a sick man, who feels remorse for the grief he has caused one of his burglary victims when he sobers up enough to face the consequences of his action, in a way that perhaps before escaped him. Is this enough to stop its repetition? Can he undo the harm? Will the victim or has the victim forgiven him?

He cannot return the Nazi Holocaust survivor's innocence, the safety she once felt in her home, in her neighborhood; he cannot stop the unsettling vision from torturing him. Will he be able to suffer this in his sobriety or will he escape into a drugged haze once more?

Other debts are those incurred by industrial tomato farmers in Florida who exploit their labor force, chaining them, sexually abusing and beating others, not to mention the numerous safety violations overlooked as profit becomes the steam peddling this train towards profit and more profit. Payback looks at one farmer who is open to change and the farm worker organization responsible for the Senate Hearings where farmers and labor are able to have an arbitrated conversation with positive results.

Debt is looked at from economic and moral dimensions. But this is not a film about money. When we think about the British Petroleum Oil Spill begins April 20, 2010 --so close to Earth Day, and the damage sustained in the gulf region to date, the debt owed to the countless wildlife residents of the wetlands destroyed and polluted, not to mention the aquatic livelihoods interrupted for generations to come, it is unfathomable. See

BP received a mere slap on the wrist, those affected by the spill and its equally toxic clean-up cover-up just another aspect of what one of the experts interviewed in Payback, Raj Patel, means when he talks about a free market that only benefits those with money. For the poor, the free market is not affordable. The trickle down effect, a capitalist notion means, that those on the bottom feel drizzle not cleansing rain. William Rees says capitalism is defunct as a system because human enterprise has maxed natural resources. The table is even and there is nothing left of the planet to exploit. We are the only species that "fills all habitats, takes all the resources and grows indefinitely."

Though BP cannot return the life lost in the spill, it can arbitrate further damages and from the outset it has not to date. Now the corporation is in the vacation resort business in Gulf region.

BP cut every corner it could during the pivotal first seven to eight days of the crisis two years ago. Casi Callaway of Mobile Baykeeper, a non-profit environmental group based in Mobile,
Alabama speaks about this in Payback. The cap in the loaded weapon was the permission to use chemical dispersment which made the oil sink to the ocean floor where it is presently, the waves coughing up chemical toxins which are in such small pieces, shorebirds and sea creatures die from their ingestion.

The company did everything wrong then and for some reason, this government, its regulatory bodies and departments allowed BP to orchestrate the clean-up mission and is still letting it call the shots. It is still drilling in the Gulf, believe it or not. Money certainly has a way of absolving guilt and by extension debt.

Four stories overlap and intertwine like a dance as we move between Northern Albania, the United States and Canada: what is revenge? How is it tied to debt? Revenge at its root means a debt to the soul, often exhibited in obsessive psychotic behavior. The Albanian feud where one neighbor shoots another for violating a property line--a bit of overkill, yet the neighbor survives and is not interested in rule of law, only revenge.

In one scene, the shooter sits on his sofa playing a guitar as he sings of reconciliation. It would be funny were life and death not at stake here. Why did the farmer get his semiautomatic rifle to solve the trespass issue? Why are words invoked now that the wound lies festering six-seven years later? The farmer has had to move away from his home. His family is barely surviving. The property he was willing to kill another over is lost to his family as long as the feud remains. Rule of Law is an option the feuding families reject as the abused neighbor recites a New Testament catechism, "love thine enemy" and "turn the other cheek," as he and his family state they do not settle disputes in court.

Another expert in the film calls this "Cycles of Personal Revenge." What I found amazing was neither of the two stories matched, so the viewer doesn't know who to believe. The facts are, a man was shot. The other is a baby was born. The wounded man does not admit striking his pregnant neighbor as she worked on her farm. Such an admission would give the woman's husband cause to get his rifle and shoot the aggressor.

Debt is a political memory. Reparation is a way to resolve debt, but seldom is the price agreed upon since true reparation is a long term process and resources are not invested for long term projects when short term solutions are favored by guilty parties like BP, so BP gets a pass.

Debt, we learn is not a fair system, because greed often motivates those who believe they are above the law, that human rights do not matter, that they--those with money and political power, possess a different operational manual. This is the reason why the farmers in Florida thought they could re institute slavery on their plantations. This is why oil companies like BP think they can cut safety corners and destroy habitats without consequences. This is why the judicial system needs to reevaluate what guilt means in a society that does not hold the mirror of penitence up to its own face and see how debt is not absolved when there is not system in place granting full citizen rights to those reentering our society once they return after being locked away.

The ones who pay are those who cannot afford to lose. Paul Muhammad does not have collateral, yet he keeps getting bills for a debt he will never accumulate enough wealth to pay. What about Conrad Black, another man with a criminal record? Juxtaposed with Muhammad, the two men have nothing in common, not the cells they are held in, not the length of sentence, not the stigma that follows them home one the cell door is opened. Justice and Freedom are just as intertwined as the notion of payment for one's wrong doings.

Payback, the film, is not without its victories or triumphs, one the farm worker deal in Florida, Lucas Benitez and Gerardo Reyes Chavez, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Jon Esformes, Pacific Tomato Growers, but just as thought provoking.

What if the emperor kept his same clothes and donated the wardrobe cost to undoing the huge ball of twine unraveling human relationships, those relationships compromised when people are valued not for their shared humanity, but for their net worth, the wealthy more valued and valuable than the poor?

This could be the program to alleviate debt once and for all, absolve guilt and even out the ground we all stand upon. Karen Armstrong, another scholar cited in the film speaks of Confucius who said to his students to discover what gives them pain and then consciously do not do this to others.

Forgiveness is a deal with a new reality, Armstrong says. It is the link between past and future. In the case of the Albanian families, they first have to realize that they have two different perspectives. In the case of BP, our government needs to force the company to continue to pay as its debt cannot be measured, thus beyond recompense.

The biggest criminals are rich and arrogant. Atwood represents the corporate mindset with what she calls, Ebenezer Scrooge Nouveau. This Scrooge doesn't care what he collects or manufactures as long as it makes money. If someone must die, he's cool as long it is a write off. When asked by the angel that fateful Christmas Eve which of his futures he'd like to visit, he visits one where the planet earth is in dire straights and will not support human life much longer.

The second visitation is to a more sustainable model of the planet, where mankind has finally learned to live in concert with the other species, treading more lightly and being a better global citizen. Scrooge is in a hemp suit and has canceled debts and set up micro-lending models for sustainable community development.

Scrooge wakes up, relieved it was all a dream, but dreams have a way of staying with us long after our eyes open. Payback is the kind of film that serves as a warning. Debt is a mental construct. Perhaps we need to count things differently. Perhaps a better attitude is to think about how much we owe the planet and the community and live a life of service as we give back the opportunities to others we have been so fortunate to experience.

The answer is to pay it forward, since nothing we have of any value belongs to us. It might be bottled and packaged and sold to us, but none of us owns anything. The notion of riches is not how much money we have in the bank, rather it is what we experience when we think about the air we breathe, the earth that holds, keeps and sustains us, and the water we drink.

Debt is what we owe the kitten who forgives us when we forget her meal or lock her out of doors. It is the kindness of others when we least expect it; this is what matters most, more than who owes whom what.

Don't miss this lovely meditation on a topic most reflect on all too often. Where else except among the human species would one find businesses that make their living negotiating and collecting debt?

Visit and

We close with a conversation with Eleanor Jacobs, "Lena Younger" in Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun, May 12-27, 2012, directed by L. Peter Callender, Artistic Director, African American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco at the Burial Clay Theater at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco. Visit or call (800) 838-3006.

The title is based on the Langston Hughes (1902-19670 poem, "Harlem."

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

When one looks at this poem and thinks about Lorraine Hansberry's characters, specifically Walter Lee Younger Jr., one sees a man who has dreams he thinks his father's insurance money will be instrumental in fulfilling, yet he fails to realize that the first step to success is a one's attitude.

As dreams are born and revived, hooked to life support and strangled, all within this carefully wrought drama, Lena Younger, Big Mama, carefully balances the energy in the tiny apartment. She somehow maintains a truce between siblings, kid-sister Beneatha and Walter Lee, as she juggles options. How does one stretch a limited finite resource when its seams are already strained?

In this literally tight knit black family is also daughter-in-law Ruth and Walter and Ruth's son, Travis.

Friends come in and out of the house shaping and impacting both Beneatha and Walter Lee, negatively and positively Lena's two children, who just want a chance at what all American citizens are supposed to have by right--a decent place to live, education for their families, and work that sustains them emotionally, economically and spiritually. But in 1950s' Chicago, Illinois on the Southside, racism and discrimination is something playwright Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930-Jan. 12, 1965) knew well from personal experience as her family was targeted violently when her dad moved his family into neighborhoods previously reserved for whites only. Cross burnings and objects were thrown through the Hansberry's windows, one almost injuring the young woman, who spoke about how she would also go with his dad to visit clients who rented from him. She met families like the Youngers on these visits and we meet denizens of her world in her work, Raisin in the Sun, one of the most celebrated.

It is Lena (Mama) fostered by what her man Walter Lee Sr. sacrificed daily to put bread on her table, who looks for a home for her family where they will have room to move around and breathe, a place where they wouldn't have to share the toilet with other neighbors and her grandson could have his own room.

She has a vision, yet she is willing to give up her dream if the cost is her son's spirit. What great love! I can hardly wait to see what AASC does with this amazing work under the direction of L. Peter Callender May 12-27, 2012 at the Burial Clay theater, 762 Fulton Street, in San Francisco.

We are so lucky here in the San Francisco Bay Area where not 1 but 2 Lorraine Hansberry plays are up at the same time, Raisin in the Sun and Hansberry's To Be Young Gifted and Black at Multi-Ethnic Theatre on Gough Street in San Francisco. Nina Simone wrote a song with the same title. The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, also in San Francisco closes its season this weekend, Saturday, May 12, 2012, with Blues for an Alabama Sky, by Pearl Cleage, directed by Michele Shay. Visit Listen to the wonderful conversation with cast members last week: Tobie Windham, Joshua L. Green and Leilani Drakeford.

The music featured this show comes from Sweet Honey in the Rocks 25th Anniversary recording (1998): "Forever Love," "Greed," "Hope" and "Battered Earth."



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