“More Than a Month” is more than that

End Black History Month

Say What!?!?!

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.

Watch Why Not Everyone Supports Black History Month on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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.

Mission Accomplished?

The Bounty that is June – Haps

Too much, too much. June must be the final push on the event scene before people begin dispersing to the vacation scene. Again, just scratching the surface:


June 5 at 3 PM (Washington DC Jewish Community Center)
June 12 at 5 PM (Busboys and Poets)
FREE – For reservations click on this link or call 202-939-0794.
Other FREE preview screenings nationwide
Filmmaker Lydia Nibley explores the cultural context behind a tragic and senseless murder. Fred Martinez was a Navajo youth slain at the age of 16. But Fred was part of an honored Navajo tradition – the nadleeh, or ‘two-spirit,’ who possesses a balance of masculine and feminine traits. In relating Fred’s story, Nibley reminds us of the values that America’s indigenous peoples have long embraced. Visit www.communitycinema-dc.org for more information.

Sunday, June 5 at 5 PM, Busboys and Poets, 5th & K Streets, NW
Known as “the first lady of the White House Press Corps,” Thomas covered every President of the United States from the last years of the Eisenhower administration until the second year of the Obama administration. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and President of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and the first female member of the Gridiron Club.

Busboys and Poets’ owner, Andy Shallal will interview Thomas about her life and work — including the controversial interview with blogger and Rabbi David Nesenoff that led to her resignation/retirement as a Hearst columnist. Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, has written six books; her latest, with co-author Craig Crawford, is Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do (2009).


June 12 – 17
Eatonville Restaurant, 2121 14th Street, NW Washington, DC 20009
June is Caribbean Heritage month. Eatonville Restaurant is devoting a week to Caribbean Heritage cuisine. Guest Culinary Artist Chef Oji Jaja of Kingston, Jamaica will add a Caribbean flare to the restaurant’s brunch, lunch, and dinner menus including June’s Food & Folklore event, “Caribbean Connections.” Special focus on Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica with steel drum music and guest DJs. Eatonville’s mixologists will be serving delectable libations featuring rums of the Caribbean and Jamaica’s signature Red Stripe beer. Reservations required for Food & Folklore prix fixe dinner. For information call 202-332-9672

“The Migrations: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence”

June 15 – 26, Atlas Performing Arts Center
Step Afrika! teamed up with the Phillips Art Collection for a special collaboration involving their “Migration” series of paintings by the American artist Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence’s paintings, depicting the lives of African American who left the South for northern cities in the early 20th century, have been the inspiration for numerous performance works. Step Afrika! will bring their interpretation of this historic era in dance as only Step Afrika! can.

SILVERDOCS AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival

June 20 – 26 – AFI Silver Theater, Silver Spring, MD

This is year 9 of the documentary festival featuring the work of U.S. independent filmmakers. THE SWELL SEASON, directed by Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis opens the festival on June 20th. THE SWELL SEASON follows musical artists Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who captivated audiences and earned an Academy Award for their musical collaboration in the film, ONCE. REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR will close the Festival. The documentary, directed by Chris Paine, explores the triumphant reemergence of the “clean car,” focusing on four dynamic entrepreneurs dedicated to creating an environmentally friendly automobile. THE INTERRUPTERS, by HOOP DREAMS director Steve James, will be part of the festival. I’ve heard good things about this film. And the honorees for this year’s Guggenheim symposium are Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker (DON’T LOOK BACK, THE WAR ROOM, Al FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE, MONTEREY POP, KINGS OF PASTRY). Thanks to them, I have no desire to be a french pastry chef. Festival passes are on sale now.

“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”
Through August 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall
This exhibit of the late British designer Lee Alexander McQueen’s fashions has been up for some time. And I hope to pay homage in NYC this month. It doesn’t get any better than Bill Cunningham’s commentary, “McQueened” for the New York Times. Well, actually the museum videos narrated by curator Andrew Bolton of the Met’s Costume Institute are pretty good. The exhibit, just on the pieces alone, cannot escape what was the beauty, complexity, and tragedy that was Lee Alexander McQueen who committed suicide in 2010 at age 40.

The Haps: Dirty Movies

Not quite what you may think. This weekend, we’ve got films that will inspire you to get your hands in the dirt.


Yesterday was the opening of the fourth (Thursday, November 4), the Alexandria [Virginia] Film Festival. Sunday it’s the Healthy Food Alexandria Event with food samples from local chefs and farmers markets:

The Movies:

“Corner Plot” is about a Silver Spring farmer named Charlie Koin who as been growing food on his one acre in downtown Silver Spring for over 50 years. Many people know him from the Silver Spring farmer’s market. You can see a trailer at www.cornerplotmovie.com

“Mad City Chickens” is a sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical look at the people who keep urban chickens in their backyards. From chicken experts and authors to a rescued landfill hen or an inexperienced family that decides to take the poultry plunge—and even a mad professor and giant hen taking to the streets—it’s a humorous and heartfelt trip through the world of backyard chickendom.

4-5 PM Food Samples from a wide range of local chefs that emphasize local, sustainable food.
5-6:30 PM: Movies
6:30-7:30 PM: Panel Discussion with local farmers and chefs.

For tickets, go to alexandriafilm.org.

“DEEP DOWN” – The Impact of Mountain Top Mining on a Kentucky Community

Community Cinema [DC] presents two free screenings of the documentary “Deep Down,” a film by Sally Rubin and Jen Gilomen. This story takes place in Kentucky, but it just as well may be West Virginia. Deep in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky, Beverly May and Terry Ratliff, now in their fifties, find themselves in the midst of a community battle over a proposed mountaintop removal coal mine. Their struggle is part of a larger debate about who controls, consumes, and benefits from our planet’s shrinking supply of natural resources?

Dates for the screenings are:
Sunday, November 7 at 3 PM, Washington DC Jewish Community Center (1529 16th Street, NW)
Sunday, November 14 at 5 PM, Busboys and Poets (2021 14th Street, NW)
The events are FREE and open to the general public. The film will be followed by a Q&A with representatives from our community partners.

Reservations recommended. Visit www.communitycinema-dc.org, or click on this link.

To find out how you are connected to mountain top mining, type your zip code into this app:

Eclectique Haps

Just scratching the surface…

American Public Television (APT) is streaming episodes of the series “Voces” including the documentary Celia: The Queen about the one and only la reina of salsa. Catch it through October 31st at www.voces.tv.

Lois Malou Jones: A Life In Vibrant Color

Opening October 9 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts
The National Museum of Women in the Arts says this is the first retrospective of works by Lois Malou Jones (1905 – 1998) from her 75 year career. I came to know Jones’ work while she was a professor of art at Howard University. She was known for her art created in and inspired by her time in France and Haiti. I recall seeing posters she designed for the arts festival in Dakar, Senegal. Howard University will host a weekend at the museum in honor of the exhibit October 29 (free to HU faculty, students, alumni, and staff). More information available here. The exhibit runs through January 9, 2011.

Community Cinema [DC] New Season

This weekend, Community Cinema DC kicks off a new season with free screenings of the documentary “Reel Injun: On the Trial of the Hollywood Indian.” Neil Diamond takes an entertaining, insightful, and often humorous look at the Hollywood Indian, exploring the portrayal of North American Natives through a century of cinema and examining the ways that the myth of “the Injun” has influenced the world’s understanding—and misunderstanding—of Natives.

Sunday, October 10 at 3 PM; Washington DCJCC (1529 16th Street, NW) followed by Q&A with Francene Blythe, Director of All Roads Film Project
Monday, October 11 at 5 PM; Busboys and Poets (2021 14th Street, NW) followed by Q&A with Kiros Auld, appeared in Terrence Malick’s feature “The New World” (2005); Francene Blythe, Director of All Roads Film Project; Karen Zill, National Association for Media Literacy Education
FREE with RSVP – reelinjun@communitycinema-dc.org or call 202-939-0794
For more information, visit: www.communtiycinema-dc.org

Hip Hop Caucus and Roadside Organics present


October 10, 2010
Bread for the City, 1525 7th Street, NW

While organic fervor has struck in DC, it has not yet reverberated across the city. We want to bring the new food movement to those residents living in the District’s notorious food ‘deserts’, showing how bringing back age-old Sunday supper can anchor families in new healthy lifestyles.

We believe in the power of local food to uplift our communities, improve our health, and revitalize our local economy.

The event is part of 350.org’s Global Work Party that is putting people to work around the world to make a positive impact on our climate and environment. 

The event will be free and feature seasonal food cooked by several of DC’s best chefs and music from local hip hop artists.

Every meal makes a difference. Let’s join together and chart a new beginning.

Register here.

The Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival

Washington DC Jewish Community Center
October 17-27, 2010

The Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival presents the year’s best in Jewish writing by both emerging and established authors from across the globe. An annual celebration of Jewish Literature, the Festival features engaging author panels, readings, and talks for lovers of fiction, history, politics, humor, children’s stories and much more. Tickets are on sale now.

The World Is Arena Stage

The New and Enclosed Arena Stage

Once Arena Stage started their capital campaign to expand their complex, it became part of a larger urban plan for the Southwest waterfront area. At this point the new Mead Center for American Theater holds more than just the landmark Fichandler main stage and Kreeger stage inside the glass enclosure; it is THE LANDMARK for the Southwest Waterfront area.

Imagine — a theater anchoring an urban plan. I’m just happy I won’t meet on-going traffic when I go out the side exits anymore. But where have they put the stage door? I’ll find out when I see “every tongue confess” by Marcus Gardley and featuring Phylicia Rashad. The play will be directed by Kenny Leon in the new Kogod Cradle, an oval shaped 200 seat theater with a fascinating curved entrance — like walking inside a Nautilus shell.

I wonder with such a grand entrance, will I still see Artistic Director Molly Smith at the neighborhood Starbucks. This new stage has definitely put her in a unique orbit in the theater world. And we’re not even talking about New York. Molly may be one of the few who can genuinely say “Who needs it?”

Molly Smith has steered the Arena Stage towards American theater; including new works and the classics. Jaylee and Gilbert Mead bankrolled her vision. They were not theater professionals but loved the stage. Both Meads worked in science. But their fortune was acquired from an inheritance from Gilbert Mead’s father’s estate. Unfortunately, Gilbert Mead died in 2007.

The Washington Post devoted their entire Sunday Arts & Style section (9/26/10) to the new Arena Stage:
Theater critic Peter Marks gives the front page overview; Philip Kennecott looks at the design, planning and the architect Bing Thom of Canada; Jacqueline Trescott introduces the donors who bankrolled the project; Derek Kravitz looks at the big picture for the neighborhood. This section is a keeper for theater geeks.

Live to Read

I got a special “educators” tour of Arena Stage a week ago as part of the introduction of a partnership with the Humanities Council of Washington, DC for the launch of a new initiative, “Live to Read.” The initiative kicks off with a citywide read of “Ruined” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. Nottage was at the educators event to talk about the play which she wrote after visiting with and interviewing Congolese women refugees in Uganda. The women were ages 20 – 70 years old; all had stories of being raped, said Nottage.

“Ruined” is set in the rain forest of the Congo where a shrewd woman entrepreneur is serving both sides — the brutal government and the “ruined” tortured women — in the middle of the country’s civil war. Though officially, the Congo’s civil war is over, Nottage says, in reality it goes on and its most tortured victims are women and children. The violence continues because of turf battles over natural resources, particularly coltan which is used in electronic products including cell phones.

A week before the tour, I was working with ITVS and a coalition of NGOs in the Rayburn House Office Building where Rose Mapendo, a Congolese refugee and survivor, told her story. Mapendo is the subject in Pushing the Elephant, a documentary by Beth Davenport and Elizabeth Mandel. Mapendo is now an activist and advocate to stop violence against women. Pushing the Elephant will be shown as part of ITVS Community Cinema and on the PBS documentary series “Independent Lens” during the Arena Stage run of “Ruined” and the “Live to Read” initiative.