I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

 

Raoul Peck | France, USA | 2016 | English | Documentary

Advanced screening @ Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), 11 September 2017

ACMI. A giant screen. A glass of red in hand. Drawn in at the beginning and let go only at the end. The story of James Baldwin. James Baldwin the writer, the visionary. He who dared to challenge racial divisions. Institutionally inbuilt racial discrimination. Along with Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X. One by one, we are presented with the stories of these assassinated men. We learn that James was not aligned to Black Panther ideology. He didn’t hate whites. He had a white teacher as a child who he talks fondly of. Nor was he with the black church. Who didn’t condemn racist acts against their people. James and the words from the 30 pages of his unfinished manuscript Remember This House are our window into the continuation of white supremacy and racism in the USA. This film is a blaring reminder of how art can reflect and propel attitudes and norms. With the series of historical clips it shows. From films, cleverly, eloquently selected and cut to pinpoint the sociopolitical climate of the day. From footage of direct state suppression where black people are injured and killed in various protests around the country over the decades. Racism distinguished articulately in the open forum afterwards. Interpersonal in the overt everyday and the historically created institutional racism that is structural. That pervades the systems under which we live. Baldwin articulates down forms of institutionalised racism on stage. At one point, we are shown an interview with Baldwin who is joined by a white philosophy professor from one of the ivy league institutions. The professor argues that we should be concerned about other categories rather than race, like the fact that as an academic he connects more with fellow academics than other people. Baldwin points out the race discrimination within institutions, for example the church being segregated into white and black, blacks not being part of unions, the way schools are run, the way history is taught. In Australia too. On this night, Nayuka Gorrie and vocal members of the audience raised that they should not have to give examples of experiences of interpersonal racism so that whites to believe it exists. Also how seemingly innocent images are given a depth in this documentary in terms of what they reinforce. Thin white women smiling and prancing around. The ‘perfect’ white family with their house, garden and picket fence. Because historical segregation has resulted in a gigantic ignorance. I am reminded of older generation white people of this country who tell me ‘we didn’t know’. And apathy. I agree, that it’s sad to think that it is necessary. To show images of hanging black bodies, as this documentary does in its final stages. In order to push a predominantly white audience into a silence of shame. That a display of such violence may be required. To reach people. But I guess if it does. If this time, whites talk to whites about it. People find words to explore these realities and the conversation really flows. Then art here is not to reinforce. To romanticise already indoctrinated ideas. It becomes about making change. So that we cannot dismiss it at the level of ‘oooo…ahhhh. That’s happening over there (but not here). How horrible, atrocious, shameful.’ But rather. Look deeply into our own backyard. And see how. And why. It is happening here. Very different historical events. But parallel underlying issues. How many more times will we hear the excuse, ‘but I am not a racist’. Well you are. We all are in a sense. As long as racial demarcation exists I see the inevitability there. And it’s not just about you. Or me. But what we as a collective say and do (the interpersonal). But besides that. What we do about the structures. The structures on which our nation has been established (the institutional). And how we can question them. How we challenge them. And ultimately change them. And we can start by facing up – as James says – to our history. Talking openly about our past and learning from it. In order to make a future to the benefit of fellow humans, the diversity of peoples in this country and especially the First Peoples, who continue to bear the brunt of the fact that we still have a long way to go.

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

16-20 Aug

The Lost Voice / Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela / 2016 / Spanish, Guarani

Insights through women speaking from Paraguay where we are told and hear radio reports on campesinos who have been murdered in Curuguaty in the leadup to the fall of the Socialist Government. Deaths that were never investigated.

Girls and Honey / Belgium, Ukraine / 2017 / Russian

Bees feeding off nectar from roses. From giant sunflowers. The beauty and tranquility of a Ukrainian village. In juxtaposition with the neighbouring activity of the Ukranian army. Frame following gunshots. The sense of home that remains strong despite the invasion of war.

Chinese Obama / China / 2017 / Chinese

This one left me with a beautiful warmth. A character who offers a witty honesty.  He tells us how he has been able to pay his family’s debts thanks to rising to fame as an Obama impersonator. And life beyond Obama.

A Life Together / Australia / 2017 / English

We follow the lives of an Aboriginal woman/Anglo man couple living in poverty in Melbourne. It certainly raised some questions. What was the director’s motive? Is it about showing a bunch of privileged people (festival attendees) how underprivileged people are living? Trying to ‘humanise’ them? To put on display another reality? I am not sure, but the outcome seemed quite disrespectful and judgmental to me.

Connection / Cuba / 2016 / Spanish

The failures in connecting, the disconnections and the connections of the free internet service in public spaces. People gathering in parks trying to connect. The conversations, videos and photos in exchange. A snapshot and not much more.

The Rabbit Hunt / USA, Hungary / 2017 / English

We follow a group of African American young people as they go hunting for rabbits. Tractors move through fields and rabbits run out with the falling of crops. Rabbits run out and are caught. Or not. We return with the characters and their catch to their home. Once again, I was not really sure what the purpose of showing all this was beyond a voyeuristic exposé.

Lightning Ridge: The Land of Black Opals / Australia / 2016 / English

Words from a text intermingled with interviews with miners on the search for the rare black opal. Shots of the landscape that has been invaded by mines. One tells us how success will take him and his mates to the pub. A reminder of Australia’s mining history still striking in the present. But there are moments that once again feel voyeuristic. The shots around one man’s place of residence presumably to show what his living conditions are like. The short is aparently being developed to feature length but once more, I’m not so sure about the why.