End Black History Month
When I got the preview DVD for “More Than a Month,” the first thought in my mind was “This Shukree Tilghman just wants to start an argument and get some attention. Yeah, Shukree’s got the down and relevant name; but he’s also in that generation that’s reaped the benefits of the struggle. He doesn’t appreciate the history behind the history of Black History Month.”
Well, I was wrong. And I took the bait. But I hung in there. And look at me now. I just used the same strategy on this blog. Baiting the reader in with anger and controversy. It sells. But if you’ve gotten this far, you may not be the one who will judge this documentary by its promotion. And I’m not sure if “spoiler alert” applies.
“More Than a Month” is a very thoughtful documentary from the perspective of a filmmaker who was not born during the Civil Rights movement or got the first copies of Survey Graphic’s “New Negro” special edition hot off the press. “More Than a Month” poses the question with some context about Black History Month without coming to a definitive conclusion. And that’s okay. The final word may be “both/and.” The title says it all – key word MORE. For Shukree the question is when will the history of the African American experience be American history.
When Shukree came to town to screen the documentary at National Geographic this week (he’ll be back February 26 – see info below) I asked him if the “bait and switch” promotion may be doing the film a disservice in getting the message out and losing audience as a result.
Maybe they like that image of Shukree wearing the “End Black History Month” sandwich board. Or not. Both/and. There’s a lot of push back when you come out strong with “End Black History Month.” People go into fight mode and that’s humorously enacted in the documentary. There may be audience dismissing the film altogether. Identity issues are very sensitive issues. “Who tells who’s history” is part of a broader power struggle, and Shukree gives some thought to that as well. But for the brave souls who’ve shown up at the previews, they’ve given “More Than a Month” an enthusiastic thumbs up. Some still question; some ponder the questions. A few still point out what the film doesn’t say. But word-of-mouth is going to be the ticket; not the sandwich board.
Of course, I’m in Washington, DC the birthplace of Negro History week that became Black History Month thanks to the work of Carter G. Woodson whose home on 9th Street near the Shiloh Baptist Church is a national landmark. “More Than a Month” gives Woodson his due for a new generation – praise but let’s not get too serious. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the organization that was originally founded by Woodson looks forward to having his home become a museum. The National Park Service is holding the required community meeting 6 PM, February 22, three days before the ASALH annual Black History Month luncheon, four days before Shukree takes the stage again to discuss “More Than a Month.” The museum status is still up for discussion as is Black History Month.
Somehow it becomes apparent that without Carter G. Woodson’s effort to bring black history into the fold of American history and emphasize its value, there probably wouldn’t be commemorative months for women, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Poets, Asian and Pacific Islanders, jazz music. We may all stand on Woodson’s shoulders. I imagine it would be history as usual told from a single perspective. As one parent noted in the film, how can mommy compete with a text book? I had this experience in grade school when I told my father all Black people were slaves before emancipation and he said “Not in my family.” I didn’t believe him. I found out, years later and through the “proper channels” dad was right about his lineage that included “free people of color” and others. Those stories rarely make it into a public school textbook. Woodson’s story and motivation may be similar to his contemporary Arturo Alfonso Schomburg who faced the same resistance in his native Puerto Rico to lifting up the contributions and value of peoples of African decent to the world. He too started a collection which became the foundation for what is now the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
This week PBS’s Newshour aired this segment titled “Why Not Everyone Supports Black History Month?” Aside from the awkward title phrasing (okay, leave it alone), again, the Newshour uses the bait and switches up with a good discussion with people like Angela Davis, “Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” filmmaker Sharon La Cruise, Hip Hop artist Talib Kweli, and, of course, Shukree Hassan Tilghman.
If you’ve come this far in the post, then you’re ready to take the next step. If you’re in the DC area, come out to one of the FREE public ITVS Community Cinema screenings of MORE THAN A MONTH and meet Shukree Hassan Tilghman:
Sunday, February 26 at 12:30 PM, Shukree will be the guest for “Coffee and Conversation” at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center (1529 16th Street, NW) followed by a screening in Theater J, the main theater and a Q&A with E. Ethelbert Miller (aka E-bert), poet, literary activist and director of Howard University’s Afro-American Studies Research Center. RSVP requested. Eventbrite link.
And at 5 PM on February 26 WHUT Howard University Television (2222 Fourth Street, NW) hosts the final Community Cinema event followed by a Q&A with Shukree Tilghman and Jacquie Jones, executive director of the National Black Programming Consortium. RSVP by Eventbrite or call 202-806-3200.
And btw, WHUT is broadcasting “More Than a Month” (“Independent Lens” series) Saturday, March 17 at 8 PM; Tuesday, March 20 at 10 PM. (Check local listings) More screenings are being planned for March in Maryland.
March 20th ushers in another new year – a Persian Iranian New Year known as Nowruz or “New Day” which coincides with the Spring equinox. It’s all new to me.
A third screening of the Community Cinema series’ February film, ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING, is scheduled for a free public showing Sunday, March 8th. This event’s co-presented with Washington Life Magazine. Why would Washington Life Magazine be interested? The President/CEO is Iranian American and has his own Arusi Persian Wedding story. The filmmaker Marjan Tehrani and her husband are coming to DC to be part of the Q&A this Sunday. [Visit www.communitycinema-dc.org for more information.]
ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING has been a wonderful teaching moment to me. Since working with this film, I’ve become acquainted with a very vibrant Iranian American community (and this includes Jewish Iranian American) right here where I live as well as other cities across the US. This film is packing the house in LA, Chicago, NY, Boston, New Orleans. ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING has brought audiences out into the open. Yes, there is a wedding in the film, but here’s where we get to the issue of people and politics (when and where do we separate).
“Are you here for the wedding?” has been my little joke when people check in at the door for the film screening. Prior to this ARUSI, I only had three memorable impressions of Iran: Ayatollahs/ clerics, protesters, and American hostages. That was all I saw [on TV]; that was all I knew.
I actually witnessed the protests here in DC that led to the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Many students marched in front of the White House chanting “Shah is a U.S. Puppet. Down with the Shah.” “Who was this Shah or “Shaw”? I was thinking? I was a kid. I was on summer vacation. My sister gave me the gift of an art class at the Corcoran School of Art. I’d walk from the Corcoran in front of the White House and towards downtown where my mother worked. Everyday, the protesters would be there chanting, lifting their signs. I’d walk past them, around them, and then one day, I decided to walk through them holding tight to my sketch pad and my tackle box. The student protesters never looked as if they’d hurt me. But they were obviously upset about something.
Along comes ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING – a generation after the Iranian Revolution. Alex and Heather are in love. He’s a first generation Iranian American, she’s the “American girl next door” from California. Alex is Marjan’s brother. They have no memories of the revolution, but they’re curious to know what happened. In some ways, so am I. I did play catch up years ago by buying the book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. Nafisi lives here now, in the Washington, DC area. The reading group described in the memoir, went underground to discuss “forbidden” works of Western literature: Jane Austin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Vladimir Nabovkov (author of Lolita). [Are Baldwin, Hurston, Hughes, Maxine Hong Kingston, Richard Wright also in this forbidden zone.]
I came away from the reading with an impression not much different than when I came in. There was a sadness in this memoir for what was initially a hopeful new beginning for Iran that just didn’t happen for a certain segment of the country’s citizens especially academic professionals. In some ways, this disappointed generation who were of age during the revolution remind me of Cuban exiles who supported the removal of Fulginio Baptista.
Today, I’m still seeing Ayatollahs and protesters – but from a distance and virtually. The hostage situation came to a close, maybe not quietly, but without crazy bloodshed. There are still many questions to ask, but ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING has given this dialogue on U.S. Iran relations a human face. It’s a familiar human face of people having picnics in the park, shopping in bazaars, eating, drinking, enjoying family, being in love…and some politics thrown in. It’s the Iran I’ve never seen and you probably won’t see on CNN or MSM more focused on the nuclear somethings (I’m not sure what), National Guards and “Imadinnerjacket” in Whoopi Goldberg’s words. There’s nothing else there according to their assessment – nothing worth caring about.
After seeing ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING I and others who’ve seen the film actually want to visit Iran. I’m sure travel plans are pending on the outcome of the elections in June as a friend was advised during one of the ARUSI screenings. Reformer and ex-President Mohamad Khatami has thrown his hat in the ring to run against the current conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I didn’t want to go political when I set up these screenings, but as this film and blog makes clear – it’s all interwoven and interconnected.
I gave away two copies of Persian Love Poetry at the first two screenings of ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING. The volume extends love to all human and godly kind.
All I ask is to see the people. It’s not too late for a new years resolution.
WHAT: Community Cinema with Washington Life Magazine presents ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING
WHEN: Sunday, March 8 at 5:30 PM
WHERE: Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW at V (zip 20009)
ADMISSION: FREE – RESERVE persianwedding[AT]communitycinema-dc.org or call 202-939-0794
WHO: Marjan Tehrani, filmmaker
Wedding display by Sofreh Atelier, Persian Sofreh Services – www.sofrehatelier.com
The Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art will host a Nowruz celebration Saturday, March 7 from 10:30 am – 5:30 pm. The Freer is located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue – DC. Najmieh Batmanglij , who presented at the first DC ARUSI PERSIAN WEDDING screening will discuss the meaning of the Nowruz “haft sin” table and sign copies of her book “Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year” starting at 11 a.m. Batmanglij’s five cookbooks will also be available. For more information visit www.asia.si.edu.
For additional information about the “Independent Lens” series and Community Cinema, visit http://www.pbs.org/independentlens.
Community Cinema, the ITVS outreach initiative for the PBS series, “Independent Lens,” is presenting [FREE] community screenings and discussions of the documentary TULIA, TEXAS. Community Cinema holds monthly preview screenings across the country to encourage community dialogue on social issues and opportunities to get involved with local organizations and institutions.
ABOUT TULIA, TEXAS: A product of the nation’s “war on drugs,” narcotics agent Tom Coleman was hired to work undercover in a now-infamous drug sting operation in Tulia, Texas. On July 23, 1999, Coleman executed one of the biggest drug busts in Texas history; by the end of that blazing summer day, dozens of residents of the small farming town of Tulia had been rounded up and thrown behind bars. Thirty-nine of the 46 people accused of selling drugs to Coleman were African American. Directed by Cassandra Herrman and Kelly Whalen, TULIA, TEXAS will have its television premiere on the Emmy® Award–winning PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Terrence Howard, in February, 2009 (check local listings).
The Washington, DC Community Cinema screenings are…
Sunday, January 4 at 4 PM, Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St., NW
presented as part of ACTOR (A Continuing Talk On Race)
Sunday, January 25 at 3 PM, Washington DCJCC, 1529 16th St., NW at Q
A panel will follow the screenings featuring attorney William E. White who helped lead the legal team that represented the 39 African American defendants; Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies Drug Policy Project; Naomi Long of the Drug Policy Alliance Network for the DC Metro area; and Kara Gotsch of The Sentencing Project (community partner for the TULIA, TEXAS DC screenings)
The screenings are FREE and open to the general public. To reserve for the DC screenings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
WPFW-FM, D.C.’s Pacifica station, has been promoting the first screening in DC on its social justice calendar for the past several weeks. On Thursday, January 1 at 7 PM – that’s New Years Day – this blogger will be on “2K Nation,” WPFW’s teen public affairs program with Netfa Freeman, director of the Social Action and Leadership School for Activists (SALSA) to talk about the film and the Community Cinema series.
For screenings in other communities (over 50), visit www.pbs.org/independentlens/getinvolved.
For more information about DC’s Community Cinema, visit www.communitycinema-dc.org.
It doesn’t surprise me that American women on active duty in Iraq are also actively engaged in combat. These women are known as Team Lioness. Initially their assignment was to exercise cultural sensitivity i.e. search and engage Iraqi women, where men are prohibited, by custom, not to go. Being on the move with active combat units the Lioness women are forced into battle even though they didn’t receive the identical training of their male counterparts. It’s a kill or be killed proposition. So the surprise for me was learning that to this day official U.S. military policy prohibits women from engaging in active combat. The debate continues on that topic as with the war/occupation itself.
I’ll be facilitating two FREE screenings starting next Sunday (in DC) of a ground breaking documentary by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers titled LIONESS. There will be other public screenings nationwide as part of Community Cinema, ITVS’s outreach initiative for the PBS series Independent Lens. LIONESS will have its television premiere on Independent Lens in November. [check local listings]
Regardless of your position on the Iraq war, this is a must see film. I do want to make a note of intense combat footage from Iraq, the first I’ve ever seen olf its kind which speaks to the lack of information coming from embedded media sources.
For the most part we see these five women at home readjusting to civilian life after their tour of duty; obviously for some it is more difficult than for others.
COMMUNITY CINEMA [DC] – LIONESS
Sunday, October 12 at 5 PM
Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW
Sunday, October 19 at 3 PM
The Washington DC Jewish Community Center
1529 16th Street, NW
Reserve: email@example.com or call 202-939-0794.
Be sure to check out the Community Cinema [DC]website for the list of speakers for these screenings from the Center for Women at the Veterans Administration, Disabled American Veterans, and the Office of Veterans Affairs for the District of Columbia.
The filmmakers also have a website: http://lionessthefilm.com/
Here’s a trailer: