Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I went to an African Diaspora International Film Festival on Friday night

kind of on a whim. It was a meetup for my Black Film and Media Meetup group, but it didn't seem like very many people were going to the showing on Friday night, but Friday's showing was the only one I could make, so I decided to make EY proud and go by myself.  

I knew the general area that the festival was being held in, so I figured I'd just get off the metro and walk up the street until I found the address. It was definitely on the Chinatown side of the Chinatown/Gallery Place area (not that our Chinatown is *remotely* authentically Asian, by anyone's standards), but imagine my surprise when I realized that it was at the Goethe Institute, better known as the German Cultural Center.

...So that's how Diasporic we're talking, huh?

There were these delicious African meat pastry things that I had at an AKWAABA meeting once but don't know the name of, and the people standing around eating it at the pre-film reception were mostly Black, some white, some in African or African-inspired clotihng/jewelry, some in general office attire and/or jeans. There were like only two women with straightened hair, though, which I thought was an interesting commonality between the otherwise quite diverse-looking crowd.

I saw another girl sitting by herself, so I crossed the room to introduce myself to her and she became my buddy for the night. We talked about being new to DC, her job hunt, our blogs, and other getting-to-know-you stuff. She was pretty cool.

The film was called Lover's Rock. I was expecting some sort of romance story, I suppose, so was more than a little surprised when it turned out to be a documentary about a softer form of reggae music that was popular among Black Brits in the late 70s through early 90s. To be honest, when I realized this, I was expecting to be disappointed. To the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised by the film as a whole, but altogether intrigued by some specifics...

1) The Sus Laws: a series of litigation in England and Wales similar to many "stop-and-frisk" practices in the US, whereby the police had the power t"o stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824." (source) I couldn't listen to the musicians and producers talk about the fear Black men carried in them walking down the street in the late 70s without  seeing Trayvon Martin's face, without thinking about the fact that there have been more stop-and-frisks of Black men in NYC than the entire population of Black men in NYC in 2011. I don't know why this similarity surprised me--institutionalized racism is everywhere, duh--but perhaps due to the particularly police-brutality-rife time we're in, seeing these connections hit me deep. George Zimmerman is not the only man to automatically equate Blackness with suspiciousness. The US isn't the only place where "neutral" laws promote this kind of behavior among those supposedly protecting and serving.

2) The bombing of a sixteen year old Black girl's birthday party, which resulted in 9 deaths and upwards of 30 injuries. I couldn't set up a clearer parallel to the four little girls who lost their lives in the 16th Street church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement. Watching footage of the riots that began when the entire city of London protested police inaction on this case, I felt a surge of pride. Pride for a people and a place that are in no way my own...or are they? I felt pride, and at the same time a hint of dread, as I wondered if it would take another such tragedy to move us to action.

3) A major theme of the film was the expression and, in some ways, even creation of a Black British identity through this genre of music that was distinctly originally British and Black in the same way jazz is distinctly originally American and Black. And this is the part where I shocked myself with my US tunnel-vision. Black British identity isn't really a concept that I'd ever explored, perhaps that I'd ever even recognized as being a thing. One of the musicians talked about feeling like there were social spaces for either Black or British, as if the two were mutually exclusive, and all I heard was Du Bois writing "and one ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder" (The Souls of Black Folk, 3). I was instantly taken back to the first pages of the first book that I read in my first African-American studies class with my first Black teacher (the honorable Dr. Cornel West) and was surprised to find myself hearing myself in this man, just with different words. Double consciousness is diasporic.

4) The concept of dance as symbiotic, creating a tiny space of figure-8 hip movements wherein the rest of the room falls away, leaving the dancers in a world composed of nothing more than beat and bodies. The way you feel when you fit with the person you're dancing with. ...Brought back memories that made me catch my breath.

5) The first reggae song to break number 1 on the popular music charts in the US was British. It wasn't Bob Marley. It wasn't any Jamaican artist at all, despite the fact that generally our entire concept of reggae is as a Jamaican art. I've actively participated in the perpetuation of a single story I didn't even know I was oversimplifying. I think that the amount of times this happens in a life, in a week, in a day, would astound me.

6) This quote. "Whether you know about it or not, it's part of your memory." I saw myself in these young Black Brits. If they saw a documentary about my life and our times, I think they would see themselves in me. We are part of each other's memories. I think that's what the Diaspora means.  

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