photo Johnnie Burrell
In Black Hollywood Unchained, Ishmael Reed gathers an impressive group of scholars, critics, intellectuals, and artists to examine and respond to the contemporary portrayals of Blacks in films. Using the 2012 release of the film Django Unchained as the focal point of much of the discussion, these essays and reviews provide a critical perspective on the challenges facing filmmakers and actors when confronted with issues on race and the historical portrayal of African American characters. Reed also addresses the black community's perceptiveness as discerning and responsible consumers of film, theatre, art, and music.
On Sunday, July 3, contributing writers to the anthology Black Hollywood unChained, held a spirited discussion on the collection of essays edited by Ishmael Reed, Third World Press, Chicago. The discussion was facilitated by Justin Desmangles who questioned Ishmael Reed, Jesse Allen-Taylor,
Dr. Halifiu Osumare and Marvin X. It was sponsored by Before the Columbus Foundation and the African American Center of the San Francisco Public Library, and videoed for later broadcast by Johnnie Burrell of International Media TV.Com. It will air on July 9 and available on Youtube.
Justin Desmangles, Chair of Before Columbus Foundation, journalist, poet, posed questions to the authors based on their essays. We must await the video for an accurate narration of the event but one question was why must Hollywood continues writing our stories that they can only tell from the white supremacy mythological viewpoint. Jews would not let Nazis write their history, although it was noted Jews take the liberty to narrate North American African history or the white version of it that is nothing less than pure fantasy or stories from the white world of make believe. Jesse Allen-Tayor said Black actors are essentially whores who are pimped by producers and are so desperate for roles they will perform anything, no matter how demeaning and despicable.
Dr. Halifu Osumare explained when the book project began, it was focused on the film Django but evolved into a general discussion on the condition of Blacks in Hollywood. Halifu noted how director Tarantino used the Yoruba myth of Oshun to depict the Black woman as goddess, although she wasn't sure the director had knowledge of Yoruba mythology. She also appreciated how the woman was freed by her man and road to freedom on her own horse to show a certain level of independence yet in harmony with her man.
Marvin X said the story of an individual Black man saving his woman is noble but insufficient because we need stories of communal liberation rather than individual. Referring to his essay, Justin asked Marvin X about the traumatic slave syndrome of the oppressed as described in modern times by Dr. Frantz Fanon. Marvin X said, firstly, Elder Ed Howard, a founding member of Oakland's Afro-American Association, has called for us not to use the term slaves but rather say we were/are Africans caught in the American Slave System. Marvin X said we are still suffering from the traumatic stress of the American slave system. Upon emancipation, we had no therapy and still have none. Justin noted how the nine people were killed in the North Charleston church, South Carolina and what this says about how religion is used to pacify us to the degree we immediately ask forgiveness and mercy for the killer. Marvin replied that their mentality shows the degree of addiction to white supremacy religion. The Southern Blacks still live in fear, Marvin said. For example, when he finished writing How to Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy in Beaufort, South California and went to Staples for copies, the clerk asked where he was from? He told the Black sister, I'm from here, but she said no you're not. When he asked why she doubted him, she replied because we don't say White Supremacy down here, we know it but don't say it. This reveals a pervasive level of fear disguised as manners.
Jesse-Allen-Taylor would have none of putting down of the South. He's lived in South Carolina and is the author of a novel on South Carolina, Sugarie Rising, and he noted a unique town north of Charleston that had no Confederate statues and that there were people still resisting white supremacy.
Marvin said one of his last book tours through South Carolina his hosts told him to shut up and don't say nothing while you're here, and furthermore, we are not going to give you a book party or help you promote your book, just enjoy yourself and go on up the road. Marvin said he did as his hosts ordered which gave him time to visit the African Village in Sheldon, South Carolina. He noted the young Yoruba King's father was from Harlem and helped spread Yoruba culture throughout the United States. Halifu Osumare agreed the Yoruba King in South Carolina is highly respected, including a visit from the Oba of Ife, Nigeria. It was asked why don't more writers utilize African mythology in their work. Marvin recalled that in the play A Black Mass, Amiri Baraka utilized myths from Islam (the myth of Yakub) and Yoruba mythology. Baraka had studied the Yoruba religion as did many poets and writers during the Black Arts Movement. The founding Oba of Olatunji Village married Amiri and Amina Baraka.
Justin probed for more religious influences in North American African culture. Panelists replied the Catholic church has made ample use of Yoruba and Vudun in their services and even the Protestant religious community employ the Holy Ghost ritual similar to riding the god. Ishmael Reed noted how many writers have researched and studied Yoruba and Vudun myth-rituals in our culture, especially Katharyn Dunham. During the Q and A, videographer Ken Johnson stated he wished we would explain more of this mythology because he'd never heard of Yemanja or Oshun and would like to know.
Ishmael, whom we graciously acknowledge as one of our Master writers or griots ,who has overwhelming knowledge of European and African mythology, yet he admitted ignorance of African revolts against the slave system. Marvin told Ishmael and the audience to check out the History Channels documentary Slave Catchers and Resisters, also Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker.
Jesse Allen-Taylor said the truth is that there was almost daily resistance to the American Slave System. When the Roots and Neo-Roots films series came into the discussion, Halifu said the original Roots had the positive because for the first time many Blacks and Whites got some understanding of the American Holocaust, and this was a good thing. Marvin X replied, I don't want to see no more films about slavery, only resistance. "Show me Toussaint, Garbriel Prosser, Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey. If I go to one more movie about slavery, I might kill some white people." He quoted Amiri Baraka's Dutchman, in which the character Clay says, "If Bessie Smith had killed some white people, she wouldn't have needed to sing the Blues, she could have talked very straignt and plain about the world."
Ishmael Reed was asked about his review of the Broadway musical Hamilton. Ishmael said it was a scam, pure and simple. He said his research revealed Hamilton was a slave owner, not an abolitionist as the original text claimed. Hamilton had slaves and so did his wife. Thus Hamilton is a thousand dollar ticket scam and a reverse of the Black Arts Movement revolution. Hamilton put Black and minority actors in the costumes of the Slave Masters and it ain't even Halloween. Ishmael noted in his review that at least during the Black Arts Movement of the 60s, writers took the language of the master and flipped it, but in Hamilton they took the Hip Hop poetry and rap and put it in the mouth of the slave masters!
Ishmael mentioned that Malcolm X was less than truthful when he claimed it was in Mecca that he discovered blue-eyed devil Muslims who exercised true Islamic brotherhood. He noted Malcolm had met blue-eyed Muslims in New York at the United Nations, so his letter from Mecca is a sham and Marvin X agreed. As per Islamic brotherhood, Marvin X interjected, "My friends, including members of the Last Poets, made their pilgrimage to Mecca forced to ride in the back of the bus from Amman, Jordan to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, forced by white racist Turkish Muslims who were then made to pay a fee for disrespecting the Black Muslims from America. And just as 11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian American, 1PM Friday is the most segregated hour in Muslim America.
Left to Right: Justin Desmangles, Jesse Allen-Taylor, Dr. Halifu Osumare, Marvin X, Ishmael Reed
photo Johnnie Burrell