Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Art Of The Movement: Ava DuVernay, Toni Morrison, & The Other Voices Rising Above Static Noise

She-ro film director/screenwriter Ava DuVernay lighting the fire, making a sistah swoon with talks of an Octavia Butler film and other projects one longs to see.

School may be out for summer break. Education is forever.
"Stay woke," they preach. "Stay woke."
Violence escalates. Terrifying times we cannot ignore. I find myself in the studio often, making and thinking conceptual thoughts of the documenting maker. I had an unfavorable final MFA review. Bad. Almost heartbreaking. I write a lot. Just write. Words spill out like blood from a wound. Video exploration comes to mind too. I have been dabbling. Both onscreen and screenwriting wise.
I told you all about last December. That time David Lynch had come to PAFA, his alma mater, the place he discovered filmmaking. He told students that one evening he stared at a painting and swore it moved. It was a treat to be there, an honor. I mean it's Oscar nominated, award winning David Lynch. How rare a spectacular event right? Well, as amazing and incredible as that opportunity proved to be, I must admit seeing Ava DuVernay's "Of Art and History" conversation awed me more so.

Ava said that it was important for Black Barbie to have locs.
In April, I came to D.C. purposely for LunaFest (festival of short films created for, about, directed by women). When I heard she was speaking at Smithsonian, hosted by the as yet Smithsonian Institute of African American History and Culture, I registered online immediately. Phenomenal. So phenomenal. To be in the same room feeling that powerful energy, an energy that still cannot be shaken off. She was real. She was genuine. I cannot stress enough how my ardor grew, my inspiration.
For Selma, Ava conducted research. Tons of research. Her parents were helpful too (learn from your elders yup yup). There were five little girls not four in the church bombing. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson were not skipping through floral fields holding hands singing lolly da as many others want to believe. An audience member even said Ava had Johnson exactly right. Bosses didn't even want Malcolm X in the film. Wow. Talk about trying to diminish and overshadow the honest integrity of the movement. I loved finding out that the jail scene in which Martin and Ray Abernathy share emotional dialogue bosses wanted scene reshot with more lights because "they couldn't see them." She fought hard to keep the original. Fought hard to insert womanist scenes. Further into the artist's role, my visionary she-ros Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems were cited. Ava spoke wondered if the public asks too much of the artist, of the artist's responsibility, especially in terms of black fortitude, of black humanity. She asked, "what is black enough?" That question remains lodged in my throat.
As a visual artist interested in telling narratives shedding light on personal experience, it felt good to truly listen, to hear another who knew the game. A black woman. A black voice. Someone who wanted to illustrate our experience in a true, genuine way. She gave us food to nourish on, to chew and savor later. I still think about it. I see her walking on the stage in full length white and green dress with multi-patterned geometric shapes and dark brown locs flowing about shoulders. I hear her words drift in the studio on butterfly wings as though struck by the hit of Venus Williams' tennis racket.
"I'm always shocked to see so many people," she had said, at one point covering flustered face in a sweet showing of humbleness and modesty.
Some captured short documentation:
Ava on Telling Selma from Selma Perspective.
Ava on the LBJ Scandal.
Ava's Advice to Filmmakers.
When Ava discussed joining the movement, she meant AFFRM.
Last week, the second African American Film Festival Release Movement membership drive kicked off on Twitter, trending and trending the #ARRAY hashtag. For eleven straight hours, renowned visionaries like Julie Dash, Gina Prince-Blythewood, Ryan Coogler, Veronica Mahoney, Kasi Lemmons, Debbie Allen, and more took control of the official Twitter handle. Please realize the importance of minority film, black film. We are not just pictorial accounts of famous leaders that academy both love and loathe to celebrate. There are dramas, love stories, comedies, indie features that will warm and incite spirits. I love the vision. It sparks something inside, moving alongside the beating heart. And I think it rhymes. If you agree, if you desire a real change n Hollywood, please join this remarkable quest. Perks like being on the rebel wall,  receiving e-vites to special cyber events, etc are amazing, but the biggest perk of all is seeing diverse stories delivered on screen, stories we were often robbed of seeing.
I will not conclude on Toni Morrison as a mere footnote. She came to Philadelphia on a book tour of latest novel God Help the Child, saying that she loved meeting readers in person. Her voice carried the first few pages, speaking in a clear concise manner, Ohio accent sounding like a silky smooth Southern whip- soft and fierce in the wind but sharp and snappy in deliverance.
In conversation, she discussed childhood, ugly American history, being an editor first (Angela Davis and Muhammed Ali autobiographies were notables), and realizing why she wanted to be a writer.
Toni Morrison On Baltimore.
And then I met her y'all.
Beautiful, witty, charming talented she-ro. Still writing. With silver locs escaping black beret and fine white pearls at her neck.
"Are we allowed to say to Toni?" I asked handlers, staring at Toni in awestruck bewilderment, completely enthralled.
"No!" Toni exclaimed, smiling like she had a secret. Earlier the sole living American Nobel Prize in literature winner remembered great grandmother saying to her and her sister that they were "tampered with." She messed with me in a different context, humorously engaging, tease and charm simmering together.
I saw opened opportunity and took it, babbling on and on. I gushed about appreciating her words, her challenging prose inspired where I dared not go--in both visual and contextual languages.
"Are you a writer too?" Toni asked, gleaming, looking up briefly from signing a mountain of books.
"Yes," I answered.

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