Category Archives: Film

We Are Not (Yet) Free

mandelaLast month I went to go see the new film about Nelson Mandela. It was a powerful film and ver much impacted me, but not in the way I expected. I actually left the theater seething with anger. Now I would never say or do anything to dishonor the legacy and memory of the great Mandela. He was a master activist and spiritualist and is now a legend.  However, I think we are kidding ourselves if we sit back in light of this film and has passing and proclaim that justice has been served. Justice has not yet been served.

Did you know that in the US  there are political prisoners in our jails?  Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and numerous other activists have been targeted for being effective, outspoken, mobilizing forces for justice in their communities. Until they are free, we are not free and until then I refuse to participate in celebrations that proclaim racism and injustice as things of the past.  Instead I am going to use this time to write about two political prisoners who, in my mind at least, are indisputable heroes.  I feel just sick that they are both still in prison after decades of being wrongfully imprisoned and having both now become movement grandfathers.  They are both people of color from marginalized and oppressed communities who stand on the right side of history.

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia was an outspoken activist and radio personality that called out the police sponsored oppression against the Move 9 community in Philadelphia in the early 1980’s. He was framed for murder, convicted to death row and has grown old in jail. A movement to free Mumia has been working tirelessly for decades to free him from incarceration. He is an incredible writer, poet and visionary. I had the honor or working on his campaign back in the late 1990’s. We organized a 24/7 drum in at SCI Green, where he was then on death row. He sent us a written message that he could hear our drumming and felt our solidarity. I wish I could say that I’ve worked full time and tirelessly on his campaign since then, but that would be a lie. I had the choice to work on other things and I did. Mumia doesn’t have choice in his life and this pains me, though I will never know the kind of despair and captivity that he must feel. He is no longer on death row, but he still lives behind bars. Until Mumia is free, we are not free.

Leonard Peltier
Leonard is an Lakota Native American activist from the American Indian Movement.  He was framed for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Incident and he’s been imprisoned for decades. He is a grandfather, a painter and dear gentle soul. I had the good fortune to speak to him on the phone at Leonard Peltier Defense Committee headquarters in the late 1990’s.  I simply cannot believe he has not been pardoned by now and it only serves as a testimony that the systemic oppression that was dismantling movements for change in the 1970’s is still alive and at work.  I carry such a love for this grandfather in my heart and a prayer that today or someday very soon that he will get to go home. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering he has encountered behind bars.

So if you are reading this, please take it upon yourself to lend your voice to the campaigns to free these amazing activists. And know that we live in a society where activists like Nelson Mandela live behind bars for simply calling for a better and more just world. Until they are free, we are not free.


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My Response to 12 Years a Slave is to Listen

I recently went to see 12 Years A Slave.  While I was deeply impacted by this film and had thought I would blog my response to it, I’ve decided not to. Instead, I’ve decided to listen to the responses coming from women of color. There’s a time to listen and hold one’s tongue and I think, for me and maybe for other white folks, this is one of those times.

Enuma  Enuma Okoro “Why I Would Not See 12 Years A Slave with a White Person.”
“I’m not a racist. But I do have a race problem. I finally owned up to it as I was anticipating seeing 12 Years a Slave. In the weeks leading up to its opening in my state of North Carolina, I tried to think of whom among my friends I could see this film with. I have a number of racially and ethnically diverse friends and acquaintances who would love to see it, and yet, I knew I could only see this movie alone or with another dark-skinned person.”

wanzo_1  Rebecca Wanzo 12 Years a Slave and the Problem of (Black) Suffering”
“Looking away has become a national pastime — from the poor, the sick, and the civilians killed by war and drones. It is unclear to me what kinds of representations of suffering can always escape condemnation as sentimental, or manipulative, or “suffering porn.” But when we disparage 12 Years a Slave for trying to capture the essence of pain in chattel slavery, we are disavowing people whose pain can never totally be represented. There are, of course, other stories about slavery and black people that can and should be told. But that does not lessen the importance of this one.”


Agunda  Agunda Okayo “The Women of 12 Years a Slave”
“Undoubtedly, 12 Years a Slave is a film written and directed by men though produced by Dede Gardner, president Plan B Entertainment, who approached McQueen after seeing his film Hunger. Taking a cue from the overt empathy of Solomon Northup, the chief author of this narrative, the film succeeds in eliciting compassion for the many women and men who bore the burden of a life in physical and spiritual chains.”



CC  Christena Cleveland “How Feeling Each Other’s Pain Changes Everything”“This is why films like 12 Years A Slave are so important. Christians of all colors must listen to each other’s stories, learn of each other’s pain and take up each other’s causes. One important step is to gather in culturally diverse groups to watch films like 12 Years A Slave (and other films that highlight various cultural histories/experiences), and create spaces for us to discuss topics like slavery’s enduring legacy of inequality in the U.S. In doing so, we begin the process of expanding our sense of self to include people who are culturally different than us and allowing our souls to be pierced with the irons of the unjust experiences of our brothers and “sisters.”



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