Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Black Revolution in Oakland at Lake Merritt
Marvin X is one of the co-founders of the National Black Arts Movement and Oakland Black Arts Movement Business District that extends along the 14th Street corridor from the Lower Bottoms to Lake Merritt and four blocks north and south. It was approved by the Oakland City Council on January 19, 2016. The BAMBD is part of the City of Oakland's Downtown Plan for the next 25 to 50 years.
Today, Sunday, May 20, 2018, I am proud Oakland Blacks occupied Lake Merritt in a return to our valiant, radical tradition as America's City of Resistance to racism and white supremacy, not to downplay other cities who resisted domestic colonialism during Jim Crow days, the Civil Rights era and the Black Power Movement. Oakland's Black Panther Party resisted with blood the abuses of America's white supremacy, although we ultimately suffered a military defeat by the USA military and intelligence agencies, COINTELPRO. Like Fallujah, the city of resistance in Iraq, . Black Oakland was devastated and Black bodies and minds were destroyed by political repression, in spite of three Black neo-colonial mayors, Lionel Wilsom, Elihu Harris and Ronald V. Dellums. America's drug war put the icing on the death of Black liberation in Oakland when Crack was introduced along with germ warfare in the form of STDs and HIV. In my play One Day in the Life, the preacher says, "Crack was worse than slavery. Didn't the slave love his Mama, his god, his woman and children? Not the Crack slave, the Crack slave is a dirty, funky slave...." AC, i. e., After Crack, the ensuing years further deteriorated our mental equilibrium and expedited the now pervasive gentrification, although it began with socalled redevelopment or Negro Removal, and ironically much of the removal was done by the black bourgeoisie administrators of redevelopment agencies. Ask Harlem who were the chief Negro leaders who expedited the gentrification of Harlem? Ask San Francisco, ask Oakland, ask Fresno and other cities where Negro removal was administrated by the black bourgeoisie! At least San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto apologized for destroying the cultural and economic vitality of the Fillmore. The Black bourgeoisie sings Silent Night! The road of Oakland's Black people or North American Africans now living in tents was paved long ago as I just described.
The blame for Black Oakland's woes are not totally the orchestration of former Mayor Jerry Brown, now Governor, and his mentee Mayor Libby Schaaf. FYI, I support Cat Brooks in the upcoming mayoral election. And since I have bi-coastal relations, I support the reelection of Ras Baraka in Newark, New Jersey.
As per Black Oakland and Bar-b-Que Becky, she may be the single spark that caused a prairie fire. Over the last years and months, people have asked me what shall we do, where do we go from here? I reminded them of the mantra we used to chant at high school football games, "Push 'em back, push 'em back, way back!"
On Sunday, Black Oakland pushed 'em back by standing up to sick white supremacy in the persona of a woman whom we suspect thought she was doing the right thang. But as we honor the birthday, May 22, of Sun Ra, our master philosopher, he taught me, "Marvin, you can be so right you wrong." So we say to Bar-B-Que Becky, "You so right you wrong! (See my letter Dear White Folks).
When the masses of Oakland's North American Africans occupied Lake Merritt, the day after Malcolm X's birthday, and the day after the Bay Area celebrated the transition of our revolutionary sister Kiilu Nathsha, we occupied our land. FYI, Lake Merritt is part of Oakland's Black Arts Movement Business District, established by the Oakland City Council, January 19, 2016. BAMBD extends from the 14th Street corridor of the Lower Bottom to Lakeorni Merritt, and four blocks north and south along 14th. Thus, Lake Merritt is park of the Black Arts Movement Business District and as per the future of the lake, we shall demand a voice in the planning and rules and regulations of Lake Merritt. Those who plan to make our presence at the Lake a regular affair, should understand the lake is already part of our turf and we should approach City of Oakland officials from a position of power and equity, especially since our BAMBD District is party of the City's Downtown Plan for the next 25 to 50 years.
I arrived late in the afternoon, still there were thousands of Blacks at the lake, bar-b-quin, drinkin', smokin', lovin', resistin', liberatin', they passed by me after I set up my Academy of da Corner Lake Merritt, Lakeshore and Hanover Streets, down the block from my apartment and near the spot where we dumped my brother's ashes. He lived up the street on Hanover, around the corner from me. A lifetime criminal, he wanted his remains in the Lake. He wanted no funeral and didn't want, "Nobody to say a mothafuckin thang about him." I loved my oldest brother, Ollie, one year older than myself, and missed him dearly since he spent most of his life incarcerated, from California Youth Authority to his tour throughout California's Department of Correctional centers of rehabilitation, Soledad, San Quentin, Folsom, et al., including Washington State's McNeil Island.
I am taking the same attitude as my brother: throw my ashes in Lake Merritt, and don't say a mothafuckin thang about me, after all, ain't no funeral or memorial service gonna help me! And ain't nobody bout to do the last rites I want: 100 naked black warriors with AK47s and 100 naked warrior queens with Ak47s marching and dancing from the Lower Bottom of 14th to Lake Merritt. Now chew on dat! Otherwise, don't say a mothafuckin' thang bout me.
]t appears we have liberated Lake Merritt, a space we could not occupy while growing up in West Oakland. As I remember, Blacks were only allowed at the lake on holidays like the 4th of July, otherwise, you might get your ass kicked by racist white boys. My brother informed me we were allowed a certain section of the lake. I didn't know that!
I made it down the street to the lake when I got a call the revolution was at the Lake. A day or two before, Dr. Nathan Hare had left me a voicemail that said, "Where is the revolutionary when the revolution needs him?"
After the call, I packed propaganda to distribute, along with my books and the books of Drs. Nathan and Julia Hare.
The brother who called me told me the lake was full of us and smoke from bar-b-que and marijuana. He said Lakeshore Ave. was jammed with traffic and I should not drive down to the area. Ignoring his advice, I packed my car and proceeded to the lake. Soon as I arrived at Hanover and Lakeshore, a friend of mine was departing so I told him hold up, I want his space. He did so, and I parked next to another hustler friend who was selling plants. Since it was after four o'clock, he told me he had made his money and was packing up. But while doing so, he observed me asking for donations as I passede out my Movement Newspaper and copies of Dr. Hare's The Black Agenda. My plant selling friend observed me "take" a twenty dollar donation from a brother, simply by asking for it. He was mystified when the brother handed me a twenty dollar bill, but the brother said he was blessing me because it was Ramadan and he knew he was going to receive a greater blessing!
Manhood Training at Lake Merritt
We never know what the the Creator of the Universe has for us. Some think our mission in life is to make money, but Master Teacher Joseph Campbell has taught us to follow our own bliss, our mission and purpose. I went to the lake to do propaganda and seek donations as I most often do in the community. The day before I was at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival doing my usual. Writers often live in solitude in order to do their work. But I realized long ago that after living in my imagination, I needed to touch down with reality or with people on the ground, thus my Academy of da Corner allows me to come out of my imagination and deal with the reality of my people. And it is a wretched reality. On the first of this month, I returned to my Academy of da Corner at Oakland's 14th and Broadway. I had been absent for months, so the people had missed me and showered me with donations. I wish you knew how beautiful Black people are. For years, I've given out credit for books to those without money. I have never kept a record, but 99% of our people pay me without me saying one word. This is the beauty of our people, and you need to know this. At 14th and Broadway and gaelsewhere coast to coast, when I am vending on the street and tell the brothers/and sisters to pull up their pants, they do so without hesitation or comment. Of course the one per cent is a devil and responds, "Nigga, you ain't ma daddy, so don't tell me a motherfuckin thang." the
Ok, today at the lake I am doing my thang: selling and giving out free literature, my Movement Newspaper and the works of Drs. Julia and Nathan Hare, that Dr. Hare instructed me to do. Whatever you can get is fine with me, Marvin."
Most often, I am up the block on Lakeshore Avenue since it is a Yuppie and Buppie gathering of North American Africans and multiculturals, mostly especially integrated folks. I deal with all people, no matter my Black Nationalist leanings, after all, my family is a United Nations, and I will say no more because they don't appreciate me talking about them and when I come into the room at family gatherings, they tell each other to shut up, Marvin is here and you know he will have us in his books. Everybody feels this way about me. Professional friends inform me from the outset, "Marvin, this conversation is off the record.":
At the lake, I was blessed to serve the people. Mao said don't be among the people and don't do propaganda work, i.e., spread the truth. Before I tell you of my mission at Lake Merritt, I must tell you what happened a few days before at my usual Academy of da Corner on Lakeshore, next to Peet's Coffee and Trader Joe's.
Marvin X executes Manhood Training at Lake Merritt and along Lakeshore Avenue
As a teacher of Black history, culture, art and literature for half a century, a few days ago, I received the shock of my teaching career, from the street to the academy. I was devastated by the ignorance of a young man who asked me if Marcus Garvey was an NBA player.
I was so hurt I could not reveal my pain to the young man. I gave him a nano lecture on Garvey, the millions who joined his movement, the flag, red, black and green, he created after hearing the white racist song "Everybody got a flag, cept a Coon." The Red, Black and Green flag (Red for the blood we've shed worldwide under White racist colonialism and white supremacy mythology, from Africa to the Americas; Black for the Aboriginal peoples of Africa and the World; Green for the land of Africa, Motherland, but the world is the Black Man's Land. We are the Aboriginal Asiatic Black Man and Woman of the earth, god and goddess, according to the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. His Message to the Black Man is Black Studies 101 for the Hood.
For the sake of conversation, let us say the level of our people's ignorance is mild, moderate and severe. The young man said he had been in prison. Some men take advantage of prison, some do not. Surely if he was in prison and connected with conscious brothers, he would have known Marcus Garvey was not an NBA player but one of the greatest Black leaders of all times, teaching Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism, ,"Africans for Africans, those at home and those abroad; one god, one aim, one destiny."
Manhood Training at the Lake
As I was vending, many people came by who knew me. A sister parked in front of me and when she got out with her girlfriend, she recognized me and made me remember she was in my play One Day in the Life at Oakland's Uhuru House when she was 13, that was 1996. She went on with her girl but when she came back to her car, I let her know I remembered her. Yes, she portrayed my daughter in my play and her father made me agree that she could be in the play only if I secured her return home after performance, which I did. But one night she jumped in a van full of niggas and didn't return home til 5 in the morning. Her father blamed me and took her out of my play. She was astonished I remembered the events of her 13 year old escapades.
Another sister came by who informed me she was the daughter of people who had worked with me at the time Sun Ra worked with me. Her parents helped me transport the Sun Ra Arkestra from point to point. They were alcoholics but down with the cause. When Sun Ra performed they danced in their drunkenness until Mama's wig fell off on the dance floor. I informed the sister that I was in regular contact with one of her siblings although she was not sure who he was, but when I said he was in Oklahoma, she acknowledged she had relatives in that state.
Manhood Training at the Lake
After thousands of people passed my table at the lake, including Theo with his Samba Funk band who shouted out to me as he passed toward the main area, a young man stopped when I shouted at him as he passed on his bike. He turned around and came to my Academy. He was a young man who stopped at my Academy of da Corner at 14th and Broadway and the Berkeley Flea Market. Sincee he hadn't seen me in awhile, he wanted to know what I had new. When I showed him my recent pamphlet Notes on da Nigga Debate, he wanted a copy but didn't have cash, so we exchanged my book for marijuana, although I don't really do marijuana these days, after smoking it 24/7 during the 60s. We began to talk on sexual matters. When I told him I had given up sex because I didn't like to use rubbers, also, I had stopped hooking up with prostitutes because most often I didn't get a nut but for sure I got an STD and was tired of getting shots in my ass for STDs. He was shocked I would rather be celebrate than use a rubber, yet he told me when he lied to the girls he was using a rubber, he didn't hear back from them.
I told him maybe they got pregnant and hated him for getting the pregnant. I told him even though I was married, my wife/wives didn't find it necessary to tell me they had an abortion.
Our manhood training conversation went on and when he saw my pamphlet Mythology of Pussy and Dick, he traded me more weed because he really wanted to read it. He told me he liked those big ladies but I informed him I like "chicken wings" but to each his own, if he liked breasts and thighs.
Then the conversation went deeper. When he told me of the women in his life, I asked him did he know them, did he know their families, did he know the DNA of the women he was about to deposit his sperm? I told him he needed to know this, otherwise, after the nut, then what? He needed to know where he was depositing his seed. I told him he needed to know a background of the women he met before he had sex with them. I said, look, brother, some of these girls are from families of dope dealers, murderers, pimps, ho's, robbers, you need to know. I told him Chile and other cultures, your friends do a search for you of the person you want to hook up with, then bring you back the information so you can make a decision.
The conversation went on but I felt I was doing my duty as an elder. Lastly, I told him of my experience in the Crack house and how I contracted multiple diseases, including Lock Jaw and a perianal abscess, not from vaginal sex but oral sex. When I asked the nurses how I might have contracted it, they said they did not know but it could have been from the girl's saliva infecting a hair follicle. I told him he should make the girl and himself get a certificate from the health department before they have sex.
Massive anti-racism party in park where woman called police on blackr family’s BBQ
This might just be the perfect way to hit back at racismut
There was a massive amount of food at the protest party held in Oakland, California.
Tuesday 22 May 2018celebit
Hundreds of people have gathered for a massive anti-racism party in the park where a white woman called the police on a black family’s barbecue.e
Footage showed music playing as people sat on the grass, danced and ate and drank together at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California.
It came weeks after officers were called to the area because a black family were enjoying a BBQ.
The unidentified woman, who wore sunglasses, was confronted by a friend of the family who accused her of harassing them.
Party at spot where police called on black family's barbecue
Since then, an image of the woman talking on the phone with a concerned expression on her face has evolved into a meme known as ‘BBQ Becky’.
But her suspected racially motivated actions against a group of black people just trying to have a good time has brought the community together in a heartwarming way.
The video of the protest party was posted on Twitter by Carvell Wallace, who wrote: ‘Two weeks ago today a white woman tried to call the police on about eight black folks barbecuing.
‘Today in that same spot this was the scene.’
The clip has been watched nearly three million times, with many people online celebrating the occasion.
Debbie Teashon wrote: ‘What parks are for! To be used to celebrate! What a celebration, YAY!’
And Comelia Shawnae added: ‘It’s so diverse at that! All the different smells!! All types of seasonings!! All the food!! All the togetherness!! I love it!!!!’
But beyond the happy scenes is a disturbing trend of harassment of law-abiding black Americans.
Police were called because a student at Yale University fell asleep in a common room, while a group of black woman were met by officers as they checked out of an Airbnb house where they had been staying.
How Boots Riley Infiltrated Hollywood
The cult indie rapper smuggled his radical anticapitalism into his biting new film ‘Sorry to Bother You.’
Boots Riley at Little Bistro in Oakland, Calif., in April.
By Jonah Weiner
May 22, 2018 - nytimes.com
hen Boots Riley was done writing the screenplay for his comedy, he figured he needed several name actors and a budget of a few million dollars to actually get it made. He spent decades working as a community organizer, activist and as the frontman of a leftist hip-hop group called the Coup. Riley knew a killer pitch would be necessary: “Trying to get somebody to read your script and you’re a musician?” he asked. “That’s the last person whose script you’re gonna read!”
So he honed a spiel consisting of “various levels.” Level 1 was 23 words long, and on a recent afternoon, in a coffee shop in Riley’s hometown, Oakland, Calif., he recited it to me more or less exactly as he recited it over the years to potential actors, producers, investors and advice-givers:
“It’s an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing. It’s called ‘Sorry to Bother You.’ ”
Riley interrupted himself: “So it’s all those things, then — telemarketing. People usually laugh right there. ‘O.K., tell me more. ...’ ”
At which point he would take them to Level 2:
“Cassius Green is a black telemarketer with self-esteem issues and existential angst who discovers a magical way to make his voice sound like it’s overdubbed by a white actor.”
Riley let that premise sink in, then moved to Level 3:
“This catapults him up the ladder of telemarketing success, to the upper echelon of telemarketers, who sell weapons of mass destruction and slave labor via cold calling. In order to do this, he has to betray his friends who are organizing a telemarketers’ union.”
Who, at this point, could resist knowing more? And who, having heard the rest — the coke-snorting billionaire bad guy, the climactic battle, the many dystopian flights of fancy — could resist helping Riley get the thing up on screen? The answer was: plenty of people. “I wasn’t getting many responses,” he recalls.
Riley has a sly grin, a slight build and a large afro. To comb it, he carries around a kitchen utensil called an angel-food-cake cutter — designed to slice delicate desserts, it does double-duty as a pick and fits comfortably in his back pocket. He furrows his brow frequently while talking to people, and if this is disconcerting at first, it turns out to be essential to his charisma, because it shows he’s actually listening to what you’re saying: Many entertainers are expert at connecting with crowds and much less adept in one-on-one interactions, but Riley takes visible pleasure in conversation.
He is also a veteran hustler, and when it looked as if “Sorry to Bother You” might never materialize, it wasn’t for lack of enterprise. At one point Riley sneaked into a private dinner at the Napa Valley Film Festival to get his script to Viggo Mortensen, with whom Riley shared an acquaintance. (Mortensen passed on participating.) He wrote to an email address belonging to the wife of Colin Firth, because the actor once approached Riley at a party rapping some Coup lyrics. (Firth said he couldn’t do the movie, either.) But Riley, who is 47, had invested too much time to give up, and there were flashes of support. The comedian David Cross, who performed alongside Riley years ago at a fund-raiser for Palestinian medical services, read the script and told Riley to count him in. Further encouragement came from Patton Oswalt, who made a similar commitment, and the author Dave Eggers, who gave the script a look and, after calling it one of the best unproduced screenplays he’d ever read, published it with McSweeney’s as a book in December 2014.
In late 2015, this gradual accumulation of boosters finally yielded funding, and more actors circled the project. Jordan Peele considered starring as Cassius for a time, then Donald Glover did, until Glover’s “Atlanta” co-star, the captivatingly droll Lakeith Stanfield, signed on as Cassius for good. Over 28 days last summer, Riley shot the movie around Oakland and Berkeley, completing a cut in time for Sundance, where Annapurna — the prestige picture house behind films by Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Kathryn Bigelow — bought its distribution rights for seven figures. The buzz surrounding the film was excellent, if echoey: Vice called it the “most bonkers movie” at the festival; Vanity Fair called it “a bonkers social satire”; Slate called it a “feverish, bonkers satire.”
“Sorry to Bother You” comes out in wide release in July. The film is visually ingenious and funny, yet grounded by pointed arguments about the obstacles to black success in America, the power of strikes and the soul-draining predations of capitalism. A self-described communist since his teens, Riley has said he aims “to help build a mass movement that can use withholding of labor as a strategy for social change.” That credo suffuses “Sorry to Bother You” and, notwithstanding the delay in getting it made, the film’s timing could hardly be better. In Hollywood, two recent blockbusters by black directors — Peele’s horror hit “Get Out” and Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” — staged nuanced readings of race within fantastical scenarios. Fresh anxieties about the precariousness of work and the increasingly precarious place of the worker have, meanwhile, permeated the cultural mainstream, from mounting critiques of the so-called gig economy to the teachers’ strikes enjoying popular support nationwide to Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” a Hollywood vision of the future that features characters who become indentured servants to rapacious tech overlords.
Culture is not a substitute for direct political action, of course, but as Riley has put it, “it tills the soil and gets people ready” — and he has spent his life tilling the soil. While “Sorry to Bother You” may register as a thoroughly Trump-era artifact, its concerns have long been with him. He wrote it toward the end of Barack Obama’s first term, back when many liberals, he says, simply “turned a blind eye to real problems.” The film didn’t need to change from one president to the next, because “the system hasn’t changed.”
He knew, of course, that talking about soil and systems wouldn’t make for very enticing marketing copy. When I mentioned the avalanche of bonkerses used to describe “Sorry to Bother You” at Sundance, Riley replied: “It’s better than people going in thinking that it’s a ‘message’ movie, because no one wants to see that — I don’t want to see that! And because the truth is, every movie is a message movie. It’s just that most movies have messages that are in lock step with the status quo.”
Walking around Oakland with Boots Riley is an exercise in not getting very far very quickly. These days he shares a house with his partner — an eccentric Bay Area musician called Gabby La La — and their child. (He has three more children from earlier relationships.) But he has lived and made art all over the city, and when we sought a place to grab lunch uptown one day, the dozen or so people who stopped him to say hello included a burly white 50-something guy wearing a construction vest on a mountain bike; a black OnTrac deliveryman; a Mexican-American musician; and a Zimbabwean immigrant named Terry wearing a Tesla cap. Sometimes Riley simply smiled and made a peace sign; more often he chatted people up at length.
Riley connects with others easily, on the street and in his art — he has been writing rhymes about radical politics long enough to know how to frame ideas in punchy, compelling language. It’s a skill at the intersection of activism and art-making, which is where he sits. In high school, when he still went by his given name, Ray, he acted in student plays and danced at talent shows. (During a senior trip, where he wore a pair of brown Florsheim boots, his schoolmates gave him his nickname.) He also joined the Progressive Labor Party, at 15, and worked to unionize California farmworkers, linking up with “Mexican dudes who came to the Central Valley with the purpose of fomenting revolution, doing work in the fields — the literal fields. They had a vision that wasn’t new, but it was new to me, about how you could create a mass radical movement step by step.”
His conviction, forged in the P.L.P., is that as long as politicians are beholden to big-money “puppeteers,” the best strategy for change is to bypass the puppets and directly threaten the string-pullers’ economic interests, through work stoppages — the one radical act, perhaps, that entrenched power can’t co-opt. “It affected me because it wasn’t this vague notion of ‘change the world,’ ” he said of his time among the farmworkers. “It was, ‘Here’s a way things can happen.’ ” After that he became an advocate for Palestinian rights and a prominent member of the Occupy movement, helping Oakland residents to protest home foreclosures. In the wake of the Ferguson protests and amid the rise of Black Lives Matter, Riley, in an interview with “Democracy Now!” disputed the notion that “all you need to do is get your voice in the streets and things will change,” describing mere attempts to “shame power into action” as ineffectual. Rather, he argued that demonstrators should “combine social movements with the ability to withhold our labor” in order to “give social movements teeth.”
ne of Riley’s influences in revolutionary thinking was his father. As a San Francisco State student in the 1960s, Walter Riley was an anti-Vietnam War activist; in 1968 he drove a Muni bus around the city and helped establish a rank-and-file caucus of fellow drivers. He later volunteered as a housing-and-welfare-rights advocate in Chicago, where Boots was born, then as an auto-industry organizer in Detroit. By the time Boots was 13, they were back in Oakland, where Walter, deciding that he could do good as a civil rights and criminal-defense lawyer, went to law school and started a practice.
In 1989 Boots enrolled at San Francisco State himself, studying film. “I did shorts, but they were style exercises, very abstract, figuring it out,” he recalled. “And I was making music to go in the films.” Outside class, he joined anti-racist protests. “White supremacists said they were going to take back the Bay Area,” he told me. “They had the ‘Aryan Woodstock’ in Napa, and they’d have rallies in Union Square, with cops surrounding these Nazis.” Riley and his cohort liked to lob soda cans over the police officer’s heads, aiming for those within — a technique he pays homage to in “Sorry to Bother You.”
Riley worked part time for U.P.S., a Teamster job at which he met two aspiring rappers, Spice 1 (Robert Green Jr.), who became a prominent gangsta rapper in the ’90s, and E-roc (Eric Davis). “We’d rap in the bellies of planes we were loading up at Oakland airport,” Riley recalled. He and Davis founded the Coup with the East Bay DJ Pam the Funkstress, and when they landed a record deal, Riley quit school. (Pam died last year at 51.)
Looking back on the Coup’s first album, the brash “Kill My Landlord” (1993), Riley dismissed it as “a pamphlet on tape,” criticizing what he saw as its leaden pileup of leftist lingo. His assessment may be overly harsh, but Riley’s point was to underscore a subsequent broadening in his artistic approach that tracks through to “Sorry to Bother You”: “I moved to trying to talk to folks who don’t identify with those politics.”
He went on to fill his songs with cleverly loaded wordplay (“I slang rocks, but Palestinian style”) and set galvanizing slogans (“We got hella people, they got helicopters”) to freewheeling funk. Many of Riley’s most beloved verses unfold as vivid, frequently comic narratives. For “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish,” from 1994, he assumed the voice of a pickpocket who, posing as a waiter to hunt wealthy marks at an Oakland gala, overhears a developer pitch the mayor on a conspiracy to turn low-income housing into condos. “Ain’t no one player that could beat this lunacy,” the narrator concludes, realizing just how small-fry his own thievery is by comparison: “Ain’t no hustler on the street could do a whole community.” Even as the Coup took off on the indie circuit and landed videos on MTV and BET, Riley remained an activist. During a four-year hiatus between the group’s second and third albums, he phone-banked for nonprofits — a miserable experience that he tapped when it came time to write his movie.
One of the Coup’s best-known moments was a result of wild chance. In September 2001, the group gained notoriety for an eerily coincidental cover for its album “Party Music” — designed months earlier — in which Riley and Pam stand before a Photoshopped World Trade Center, holding up drumsticks and a bass-tuner as if they are detonators, as the towers explode behind them. (This cover, intended as a metaphorical blow against capitalism, was changed against his wishes after the Sept. 11 attacks.) Riley became an outspoken guest on shows like “Democracy Now!” and “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher, unflagging in what you might call his blanket bipartisan disdain for politicians. Asked by RT America in 2011, for example, about whether Barack Obama represented a “real change” from his predecessors, Riley replied, “It’s really like we just got a black manager at McDonald’s, and all the workers at McDonald’s are happy, thinking that everything’s gonna be different, but no, you still gotta get your ass in front of that cash register and you’re still gonna have to sweep and mop the floors just as hard — and you’re gonna still get paid the exact same amount, although you got a new, handsome, black manager.”
During our walk through Oakland, we passed a tiny vintage clothing store called Regina’s Door, and its owner, Regina Evans, a congenial woman in a headwrap, emerged to hug Riley. In addition to selling clothes, the shop offers financial support and “creative arts healing” to survivors of sex trafficking and provides a venue for Evans’s plays, which Riley has attended. She gave Riley a happy update on one of the women she helps support, then let him know about a new play she would be mounting soon in Berkeley. “It’s very weird and different, about a slave who kills herself and rebuilds her life with two spirits she can’t really see but knows are there,” Evans said. “Writing it, I came to a standstill and got scared: ‘I don’t think this is gonna work.’ Then I started reading your movie reviews, and everyone’s saying, ‘It’s crazy but it’s awesome.’ I said, ‘Well, Boots wrote a crazy script,’ and I started writing again.”
“That’s beautiful,” Riley said, nodding.
Much of “Sorry to Bother You” seems outlandish — on its surface. The film has a charmingly handmade ambience of hyperreality: puppetry, stop-motion animation and dozens of little offbeat details, like Cassius’ broken windshield wipers, which he must operate by yanking a piece of string. Dave Eggers sees the movie as carrying forward a tradition of “dirty surrealism, where it’s not about perfect special effects, it’s about the rawness of the subconscious. Your dreams don’t have high production values! Your nightmares are rough. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry have done such incredible work in that realm, but until Boots, it’s been a while since anyone else has.”
In Riley’s hands, these fantastical elements have a clear dramatic purpose. Cassius’ ability to speak with a “white voice” (provided by David Cross) is a way to poke fun at perceptions and performances of racial identity. The film’s central villain, a company with the innocuous name of Worry Free, signs laborers to unpaid lifetime contracts in exchange for a guarantee of meals and glammed-up prison-style housing — bunk beds crammed beneath chandeliers. Worry Free’s scheme seems a touch less far-fetched when considered alongside old company-owned mining towns, Foxconn City in Shenzhen or even tech campuses with their free amenities and napping pods, meant to blur the line between work and life and extract more value from employees in the name of providing perks. Eggers, a longtime San Franciscan, said: “When I read Boots’s script, I’d just published ‘The Circle’ ” — a 2013 dystopian novel set in Silicon Valley — “and it struck me that we were both picking up on changes we’ve seen in the Bay Area. There’s this strangely sinister cast to life here sometimes, where it’s still idyllic and free and open but also there’s a sense of consolidation of power, of wealth and of control that was never part of the Bay before.”
Cassius begins the movie broke and aimless, renting a room from his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews), who is facing imminent foreclosure. When the telemarketing firm rewards Cassius’ supernatural cold-calling prowess with promotions and praise, these represent a concrete means to save Sergio’s house and the first time in Cassius’s adult life that people in power have told him he’s good at something — even if that something turns out to be shilling for weapons manufacturers and Worry Free (whose sarong-sporting chief executive is played with slick, winking malevolence by Armie Hammer). Cassius comes to see his striking co-workers and his radical artist girlfriend, Detroit (a transfixing Tessa Thompson), as impediments to the blossoming of his own excellence, but Riley and Stanfield make it compellingly tough to dismiss his motivations here as merely selling out. “Boots and I wanted to make sure he was relatable,” Stanfield told me, “a normal guy in an otherworldly situation that actually has a lot in common with real-world situations.”
Among the questions the movie raises is whether black success within capitalism is something to reflexively celebrate or whether the success of individuals who belong to an exploited class serves to ratify and consolidate — rather than thwart or ameliorate — the system doing the exploiting. Discussing this question, Riley used the example of the resolutely capitalist Jay-Z: “When people listen to Jay-Z, they’re working all day or trying to work and pay their bills, and what they hear is someone who’s free. Who doesn’t have to worry about the electricity. But all we’re taught is that those who are rich deserve to be rich because they worked harder than the rest of us or they’re smarter. And this may be true of some of those folks, but there are definitely very poor people who are very smart and work hard. It’s just that this system can only have a few people on the top. So Jay-Z is saying: ‘You can do this, too, I’m trying to give you game,’ and it ends up explaining poverty as a system of bad choices. Yes, maybe you can make better choices and be the crab that gets out of the bucket — but that’ll be at the expense of all the other crabs in the bucket.”
In the past, Riley has criticized Hollywood as abidingly reactionary in the stories it tells about black people: “All these movies — whether it’s ‘Menace II Society’ or ‘Boyz N the Hood’ — the moral is ‘Move some place else and everything’s better,’ ” he has said. “And the message is always ‘We’re destroying ourselves,’ and there’s no mention of anything systematic.” At one point, drinking coffee on stools in an uptown cafe, I brought up “Black Panther.” Riley told me that he admires Ryan Coogler and considers him “a mentor,” but his praise for that film came with an asterisk: “It was great — for a superhero movie. One of the best I’ve seen. But I have a problem with superheroes in general, because, politically, superheroes are cops. Superheroes work with the government to uphold the law. And who do the laws work for?” Riley answered this question with a smirk. “Put it like this: We all love bank robbers, because we know that in the two sides of that equation, the robbers are the ones to root for, not the banks. Only in superhero movies and the news do they try to make us think we’re against the bank robbers!”
Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson in “Sorry to Bother You.”
I asked Riley if, when shopping the film, he ever deployed his own version of a white voice. He said no, then elaborated. “Everybody feels like they’re the exception,” he went on. “There’s a story I tell, which was told to me by Tom Morello,” who was the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, with whom Riley formed a side project several years ago. “Rage were going to shoot a music video for one of their songs, Michael Moore directed it and the idea was they were gonna show up on Wall Street and play loud in the middle of the day, and when the cops came, and when Wall Street people came and yelled at them, even if it got shut down, that would be the video. So they get there, they play the song one time. Tumbleweeds. Play it again. Nothing’s happening — a couple cops talking into their radios. They play it a third time and start hearing a rumble. ‘Are they sending SWAT in?’ And then, from around the corner, they see hundreds of people in business clothes coming closer, chanting ‘Suits! For! Rage!’ They’re fans!” (In the finished video, for the song “Sleep Now in the Fire,” a few men in trading-floor jackets rock out in the crowd.)
Transgressive gestures have a dispiriting way of being absorbed by the forces they’re intended to transgress, and so I initially took this story to illustrate how Rage Against the Machine had been revealed, in this moment, as insufficiently radical. But for Riley, it conveyed an altogether different point, one that reflected the baseline faith in other people that a lifelong activist must sustain in order to keep going: “It turns out that Rage have hundreds of fans on Wall Street who are totally into what they’re saying, and who felt like they were against the system, too, but this was just what they had to do because the system wasn’t going anywhere. And that’s what most of us feel. That we’re only doing what we’re doing because there’s no way to change things.”
One mid-April morning, Riley was overseeing the construction of a fake gate on the vast grounds of Spring Mansion, a 12,000-square-foot, 106-year-old residence in the Berkeley Hills. He squatted down and peered up through its black metal bars at the mansion, framing a shot. It was Sunday, and he and a small crew had assembled to shoot pickup footage to stitch into “Sorry to Bother You.” In the film, Spring Mansion stands in for the home of Armie Hammer’s chief executive, and at one point Cassius arrives at the gated entrance, enters a code into a keypad and walks through. This tiny but critical moment was indistinct in the current cut, because Riley ran out of time on the day of filming and had to shoot the sequence elsewhere. At test screenings, audiences consistently flagged this as confusing, and so Annapurna agreed to rent out the mansion for one more day.
Wealth in the East Bay has historically concentrated itself in the hills. Today, despite some fast-gentrifying exceptions, the general rule still holds: The flatter the land, the poorer the people living on it. Spring Mansion — named for its original owner, the mining and real estate tycoon John Hopkins Spring — was a universe away from the Oakland flats, where Riley grew up and shot most of the film. Modeled on Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s Achilleion Palace, the mansion sits ostentatiously on three acres, with balustraded terraces and a view, through palm trees, out to San Francisco Bay. The place is currently uninhabited, sitting on the market with a $7.5 million asking price, but for the next 12-odd hours, a plutocrat’s palace would become a communist’s playground.
Something about this situation seemed to make Riley a touch uneasy — or, at least, to strike him as grimly amusing. Part of his decision to shoot “Sorry to Bother You” in his hometown was his knowledge that he could call in favors, make handshake deals and save money. He enlisted friends as extras and used other friends’ artwork to decorate scenes. That spirit of community-abetted thriftiness extended all the way to the film’s Oakland premiere on April 12, where Riley wore a vintage three-piece suit that Regina Evans had given him gratis, “stuffed into a trash bag with a bunch of other suits,” he said. Riley had gravitated toward Spring Mansion in the first place because a local musician he knew once shot a video there for peanuts, and Riley figured he could finesse a similar deal. “But then line producers and location scouts insist on getting involved, and it’s out of your hands,” he said. Today’s reshoot would result in maybe five seconds of new film. Considering this, Riley chuckled and shook his head. The footage was necessary, but “if we’d been able to get to this when we were first here,” he said, “it would have taken 10 minutes instead of a whole day and, like, $100,000.”
Lakeith Stanfield flew up from Los Angeles and was driven straight to the mansion. Crew members had erected their temporary gate on the patio, marking the spot where Stanfield was to stand, consult his phone and enter the code. “I love how non-actory Keith is,” Riley told me. “He doesn’t learn all his lines until right before, so you get this sense that he’s actually figuring out what he’s going to say in the moment.”
“Hello, beautiful people,” Stanfield said, greeting the crew as he walked on set.
“777-9311,” Riley sang to him — the title of a 1982 track by the Time and, for no reason other than his love for the song, the code he wanted Stanfield to type in.
Boots’s directing style, Tessa Thompson later told me, fosters a spirit of exploration: “He did this really cool thing with me and Lakeith, where he had us do takes of scenes, but without using any words. He said, ‘I heard Spike Jonze does this, let’s try it!’ — I loved that he said he’d borrowed it from someone he respected. On the one hand he has this chutzpah and confidence, but he also has the ability to be humble and trust other people to know things that he doesn’t.”
After a few takes at the mansion, Riley broke in and altered Stanfield’s pacing a bit, to give himself options in the editing room. “Ay, check this out,” he said. It was a phrase I heard him utter several times that day — a rhetorical device that made instructions sound like shared discoveries. “This time, try starting out of frame, then walking in,” he went on. “I’ll cue you.” They shot the keypad sequence a few more times, then moved the camera around to the other side of the fence to capture Stanfield head-on.
I asked Riley whether Annapurna had given him any larger notes about the movie, expressed concerns beyond the level of logistical snags. He said no, but did mention a bit of test-screening feedback the executives passed along about the movie’s final moments, which “unsettled” some viewers. That reaction was fine by him: Riley ends the film on a note of volatility, introducing disconcerting new information in the closing seconds and then leaving this, and one of the film’s major antagonisms, unresolved.
When it came to endings, though, Riley emphasized that unresolved was not the same thing as unhappy. “It’s never all the way good or all the way bad,” he said, “as long as the fight is going on.”
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Dear White folks:
Don't say nothing to Black people, about Black people, or for Black people, leave us the fuck alone. Work on your own White asses. Don't tell us nothing, don't sell us nothing. We don't want or need your advice. Don't butt into our conversations or our activities. Leave us alone. If you see us violating the law, go the other way. You have violated our human rights for 400 years, leave us the fuck alone. Whenever you want, you violate any law you want, Federal, State and local. You violate the laws of Nature, you have fucked up the earth, the seas, rivers, the air, babies, women, men, animals, trees, crops. You are the number one arms merchant of the world, the number one peace breaker, you have military bases in 150 nations to insure the robbery of their resources and labor. You have three million Constitutional slaves in your jails and prisons, most are poor, mentally ill and drug addicted, leave us alone. You flood our communities with drugs, alcohol, poor food, guns, mis-education, and police murder under the color of law, leave us alone!
cover photo Alicia Mayo
cover design Adam Turner
cover design Adam Turner
By Nathan Hare
With the return of “white nationalism” to the international stage and the White House and new threats of nuclear war, the black revolutionary occupies a crucial position in society today. Yet a black revolutionary of historic promise can live among us almost unknown on the radar screen, even when his name is as conspicuous as Marvin X (who may be the last to wear an X in public view since the assassination of Malcolm X).
This semblance of anonymity is due in part to the fact that the black revolutionary is liable to live a part of his or her life incognito, and many become adept at moving in and out of both public and private places sight unseen. For instance, I didn’t know until I read Marvin X’s “Notes of Artistic Freedom Fighter” that when he put on a memorial service for his comrade and Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, 1998, he was unaware that Eldridge’s ex, Kathleen Cleaver, had traveled from the East Coast and slipped into the auditorium of the church with her daughter Joju. As one of the invited speakers I had noticed her curiosity when I remarked that I had been aware of Eldridge before she was (he and I /had had articles in the Negro History Bulletin in the spring of 1962) and had met her before Eldridge did, when I was introduced to her while she was working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Tuskegee institute, but luckily for Eldridge I was happily married to the woman who years later would escort Kathleen around San Francisco in what I recall as a failed search for a black lawyer to take his case when he returned from exile in France.
Like many other persons across this promised land, I also thought I knew Marvin X. I can clearly recall seeing him walk into the offices of The Black Scholar Magazine, then in Sausalito, with a manuscript we published in the early 1970s. However, his reputation had preceded him. For one thing, then California Governor Ronald Reagan had publicly issued a directive to college administrators at UCLA and Fresno State University to get Angela Davis and Marvin X off the campuses and keep them off. The Fresno Bee Newspaper quoted Reagan as he entered the State College Board of Trustees meeting in his capacity as president of the board, "I want Marvin X off campus by any means necessary!"
Over the years I continued to encounter him: when he organized the First National Black Men’s Conference, 1980, Oakland Auditorium, that drew over a thousand black men (without benefit of media coverage) to pay their way into a conference aimed at getting black men to rise again. I was a member of his Board of Directors. I also attended a number of other conferences he organized, such as the Kings and Queens of Black Consciousness, San Francisco State University, 2001, and the San Francisco Black Radical Book Fair, 2004, as well as productions of his successful play, “One Day in the Life,” with a scene of his last meeting with his friend, Black Panther Party co-founder, Dr. Huey P. Newton, in a West Oakland Crack house.
I will never forget the time he recruited me and the seasoned psychiatric social worker, Suzette Celeste, MSW, MPA, to put on weekly nighttime workshops in black consciousness and strategies for “overcoming the addiction to white supremacy.” On many a night I marveled to see him and his aides branch out fearlessly into the gloom of the Tenderloin streets of San Francisco and bring back unwary street people and the homeless to participate in our sessions, along with a sparse coterie of the black bourgeoisie who didn’t turn around or break and run on seeing the dim stairway to the dungeon-like basement of the white Catholic church.
But when I received and read Marvin’s manuscript, I called and told him that he had really paid his dues to the cause of black freedom but regretfully had not yet received his righteous dues.
As if to anticipate my impression, the designer of the book cover has a silhouetted image of Marvin, though you wouldn’t recognize him if you weren’t told, in spite of the flood lights beaming down on him from above like rays directly from high Heaven, as if spotlighting the fact that Marvin ‘s day has come.
You tell me why one of the blackest men to walk this earth, in both complexion and consciousness, is dressed in a white suit and wearing a white hat; but that is as white as it gets, and inside the book is black to the bone, a rare and readable compendium of Marvin’s unsurpassed struggle for black freedom and artistic recognition.
Black revolutionaries wondering what black people should do now can jump into this book and so can the Uncle Tom: the functional toms find new roles for the uncle tom who longs for freedom but prefers to dance to the tune of the piper; the pathological tom, whose malady is epidemic today, as well as the Aunt Tomasinas, can be enlightened and endarkened according to their taste in this literary and readable smorgasbord.
“Notes of Artistic Freedom Fighter Marvin X” is a diary and a compendium, a textbook for revolutionary example and experience, a guide for change makers, a textbook for Black Studies and community action, including city planners who will profit from his proposals and experiences in his collaboration with the mayor and officials of Oakland to commercialize and energize the inner city, with a Black Arts Movement Business District (BAMBD) that could be the greatest black cultural and economic boon since the Harlem Renaissance. No longer just talk and get-tough rhetoric, his current project is cultural economics, Oakland’s Black Arts Movement Business District, an urban model evolving in real time in the heart of downtown Oakland, where people like Governor Jerry Brown once tried their hand before they turned and fled back into the claws of the status quo.
I can’t say everything is in this book, just that it reflects the fact that Marvin, for all he has done on the merry-go-round of black social change, is still in the process of becoming.
Readers from the dope dealer to the dope addict to the progressive elite, the Pan African internationalist, the amateur anthropologist, the blacker than thou, the try to be black, the blacker-than-thous, the try to be white (who go to sleep at night and dream they will wake up white) and other wannabes; in other words from the Nouveau Black to the petit bourgeois noir and bourgie coconuts, “Notes of Artistic Freedom Fighter Marvin X” is a fountainhead of wisdom, with a fistful of freedom nuggets and rare guidance in resisting oppression or/and work to build a new and better day.
Dr. Nathan Hare
Dr. Nathan Hare, Father of Black and Ethnic Studies, with his student, Marvin X
photo Adam Turner
Notes of Artistic Freedom Fighter Marvin X
Introduction by Dr. Nathan Hare
Black Bird Press, Oakland, July, 2018
limited edition, signed
Pre-publication discount price $19.95
To pay by credit card, call 510-575-7148
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