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VIEWFINDER: "THE SIZE AND SCALE OF OUR ENEMY" BY MALKIA CYRIL

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My friends, why so much vitriol toward each other? 

Have we lost sight of the size and scale of our enemy? We have only our lifetimes on the planet, many years if we're lucky, to face down the monstrous forces of global white supremacy, militarism, patriarchy and capitalism in their specific and tangible forms. Forms that have risen and fallen hundreds of times since the 1500's in this country.  And many of us are not lucky. I know this, intimately.

Have we forgotten that it will take many tactics, it will take unlikely alliances, it will take giants we hate and voices we've never heard before to confront an enemy that does not care if we live or die? Many in our fold are already living in countries embroiled in armed conflict -- dying under rubble and bombs and bullets. White American militias alongside the police and military are pushing us toward a new level of armed conflict that will hunt our hope down.

Have we forgotten the comrades assassinated by vigilante and state actors? Or those who put hits out on other comrades, as was done to my mother, on misinformation, on rumor and gossip and political disagreement turned into personal beef? The comrades who rotted away in prisons for 20, 30, 40 years... lifetimes... for crimes they did not commit and crimes they did in defense of their lives and communities? So many of these comrades were forgotten, dying in prisons of hepatitis C, like my uncle. Like Mumia. While we out here acting brand new.

Have we forgotten the terrible things we have each done? The ways we fight for our dignity on a daily? The choices we regret that only hindsight can reveal? That we are all imperfect making imperfect decisions in a world where we are pressed between rocks and hard places, between trauma and triumph, between power and powerlessness? How has that shaped you? My life is spent becoming someone I can be proud of, and is less and less about pointing a finger at anyone else.

Have we forgotten that there are grandmothers and young kids and sex workers and people working at Walmart and folks crossing borders and dying in boats and living in small towns and off dirt roads and working in mines and emerging from prisons who aren't particularly political and don't have an explicitly Left analysis who still need to be organized and find a way to be part of this movement we claim to be building? Do you really believe we can possibly win without them? Do you really believe the Left in the U.S. and beyond can continue to remain narrow, focused on reifying itself, in constant internal critique mode -- and not be defeated ideologically, militarily and economically by the global Right?

To those who say nothing has changed: Do you think the rising numbers of dead by the hands of law enforcement agree with that assessment? The masses of people under surveillance, the ever expanding numbers of people who cannot find sanctuary in this land? Power is always shifting, it's always changing, it never stays exactly the same -- only those with no interest in winning ignore those shifts, when understanding those nuances could save lives. There are new conditions afoot. Can we be new, too?

I will not participate in political attacks against my comrades, no matter how "correct" one believes that attack to be. I will not throw my comrades under the bus, there is no "them", there is only "us". If I have a critique of you -- I will make it to you. If you write publicly and I disagree with what you wrote, I will respond publicly about your writing but never about you. I will never decide I am better, smarter, more deserving than you. Because I am not. You are gorgeous, brilliant and trying to do what is right. Contradiction and struggle is good and right and fair and we must do it with principle no matter how frustrating it feels. I love when I see that happen. I love you for trying. For demanding to be heard.

But if we sink to shade and tea in place of principled struggle -- our enemies win. I do not know how long I have for this world. My heart is soft and constantly on my sleeve. My mother, who used to make me furious the way she would take comrades to her heart that I believed should be cast out entirely, died of sickle cell with few people by her side. My wife is braving stage IV cancer -- a battle of the body and spirit that makes me tremble. I fight for them - for my sister, brother in law, nieces, and god babies and you who do not know me yet -- all of us products of an imperfect movement that loves us dearly. 

My imperfect love is my sword and shield, and I offer it to you, along with my hands, to do good work together.

-Malkia Cyril | July 11, 2017

ARRAY @ THE BROAD PRESENTS 'PARIS BLUES'

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Introducing ARRAY @ The Broad, a bi-monthly screening series featuring classic and contemporary films curated to explore the intersection of art, history and cultural identity. With cinematic images as the centerpiece, this series will also engage audiences through robust post-screening conversations with a wide spectrum of artists and scholars. These immersive discussions, propelled by heightened social media and audience engagement, will offer an integrated exchange of ideas and insights beyond the screen that enliven many issues addressed by artists in the Broad collection.

PRESENTING: 'Paris Blues' | December 10, 2015 at REDCAT

PRESENTING: 'Paris Blues' | December 10, 2015 at REDCAT

In our inaugural program we presented 'PARIS BLUES' which chronicles the passionate relationship of two couples embarking on intellectual and artistic adventures in turbulent times as race, romance and jazz collide. Starring Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Diahann Carroll and Joanne Woodward and presented in exquisite 35mm, the screening of this 1961 gem served as the springboard for a dynamic discussion about identity, creativity and expatriatism.  Curated and hosted by Ava DuVernay; Ryan Coogler, Tessa Thompson, Andre Holland, and Ledisi rounded out our artist forum.

NEXT PROGRAM + MORE INFORMATION AT: www.arraynow.com/array-at-the-broad/

VIEWFINDER: THE POWER OF A PERSONAL STORY

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Last year, I won the award for Best Screenplay at the Urbanworld Film Festival, for a feature romance I’d written entitled Noor. The story centers on a black woman in Brooklyn who develops an unexpected romance with an Arab bodega worker (Rami) after her brother is murdered outside of the bodega by a police officer. It’s a high-stakes romance with topical commentary on human rights and cross-cultural resistance to authority. At its heart, it about two people falling in love amidst tragedy.

During a Q&A following the reading of scenes from the script, in which two actors played the characters Noor and Rami to a very enthusiastic response, I received a question from a man in the audience. He wanted to know if I thought about the mainstream appeal and marketability of my films while I wrote them. I told him that I didn’t, since I am more concerned with creating a visual, cinematic world. He then went on to say that my way of thinking could hinder my film, and that “personal” and “niche” filmmaking is not always profitable. I agreed, but I pointed out filmmakers who’ve built careers on making personal stories, or stories outside of the margins. People like Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, Jacques Audiard, and even Jane Campion, are storytellers who challenge the idea that stories about the inner lives of women and people of color are somehow alternative.

His comments carried sentiments that I started to hear more frequently from people: why don’t you concentrate on a more mainstream story?  And while I’ve considered the potential profitability of trying to make a “general” crowd-pleaser, it made me think. When do we start to question the idea of mainstream success and profitability, when it comes to black film? Why is there a need for filmmakers of color to make mainstream films that sell, rather than artistic portraits that build cinematic legacies?

These are complex questions. My romantic drama, featuring a black woman raised in a Muslim family and a Palestinian man, would be considered “niche,” according to that man in the audience, though the universality of love and passion, and of chemistry between two people, carries the story. That is why it succeeds as a script. I think of other women and filmmakers of color who’ve made films that have been classified as “alternative” or niche simply because the characters in them are black, Mexican, Indian, or Chinese, when the stories themselves have been riveting to audiences in general.

Recently, Gina Prince-Bythewood pointed out this inconsistency with her critically acclaimed film Beyond the Lights, a love story about a popular singer and a police officer who develop a deep connection after her sudden suicide attempt. It’s a music film and a subtle statement about pop culture’s treatment of women, but it’s also an engrossing story about two people trying to pave their own way amidst the control and expectations of their parents and of media. Despite the universality of the story, it was frequently categorized as an urban drama, which in many ways, it was not.

It is important we embrace spaces, like AFFRM, where our stories can be given the respect and treatment they deserve, not as “niche” films, but as cinematic stories in a respective genre- romance, coming-of-age, suspense, fantasy. The mere of existence of a non-white, non-male character should not invalidate the stories we tell, because in perpetuating that thinking, we invalidate the experiences of the many women and people of color who live in this world, and who watch movies. They are an active audience that matters. Why is it that some personal or “non-traditional” stories made by white, male filmmakers are nominated for Oscars (Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Darren Aronoksky’s Black Swan) for their ingenuity and skill, but when women and filmmakers of color do the same, they are questioned about their choices?

I’ve thought about that man’s questions and remarks about my script many times since that Q&A. Sometimes, when it seems too hard to make films as a black woman, I think, maybe he’s right. But, when I return to my script, the fiery passion, the truth, the tastes and sounds of the world I created, and the romance that blossoms, I know that this story is necessary and beautiful.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nijla Mu’min is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and essayist whose work can be found at www.nijlamumin.com

AFFRM: THE STRENGTH AND POWER OF COLLECTIVISM

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AFFRM: THE STRENGTH AND POWER OF COLLECTIVISM

By Nijla Mu’min

In late April, I attended a film financing conference for women filmmakers, organized by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles. The day-long intensive covered the essentials of film financing, providing case studies of successfully-funded indie films, a panel with film financiers, and even an empowerment talk. But, the most affecting, and sobering part of the intensive came in the unveiling of a research study conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC, that showed female filmmakers face barriers to getting their films distributed, and in obtaining jobs to direct larger, big-budget films, due partly to a perception that female directors make films for a subset/or less significant portion of the marketplace, and have a lack of ambition to take on directing jobs.

Seated alongside me were female filmmakers of all different backgrounds and races, with an array of distinct stories to tell. These were filmmakers who directed feature films, had won awards, and were recognized for their artistry. I looked up to many of them, had watched their films, and I was surprised and honored to be sitting beside them. I was also saddened that this amount of skill and talent could be so easily passed up or denied due to an unchecked gendered workforce, and norms that women are somehow unqualified to direct and create certain kinds of films.

We are approaching a moment where these norms can no longer govern the stories we want to tell. As more and more women and people of color create content, there’s a need for people and organizations to stand up and proclaim a space for these stories to be seen and appreciated. AFFRM emerges as the vehicle for bringing stories of the African Diaspora into the light, providing them with a foundation and an audience through theatrical and multi-platform distribution.

Recently, AFFRM founder Ava DuVernay conducted an informal survey on Twitter, asking followers to name films with "black, brown, native or Asian women leads, which were also directed by women.” There were many responses, often citing films that featured women of color leads but weren’t directed by a woman: The Color Purple, The Help, and even Selena. Though many of these films were critically acclaimed, they weren’t created from a woman’s perspective, and the question remains: how would these narratives have been different if they were? What would the entertainment world look like with women named as directors on comic-book spin-offs and action-thrillers, or if we gave the same value to a coming-of-age story about young black girls as we do to one about a white male? How much richer could the storytelling, and cultural landscape be if we truly embraced the diversity that is so often written and debated about?

Filmmaker Dee ReesAs a result of DuVernay’s twitter call, a running list of films directed by women and featuring women of color leads, was generated. It includes many gems, like Pariah, directed by Dee Rees, Mississippi Masala, directed by Mira Nair and Mosquita Y Mari, directed by Aurora Guererro.

As AFFRM’s membership drive culminates this week, I am reminded of my time sitting with all of those women filmmakers at the financing intensive, and the strength and power of collectivism. Those filmmakers who were determined to make their films, and to make their way though the barriers were high. Even with the recent news that ACLU will investigate the sexism and discrimination against women in the film industry, there’s still a lot of work to do before a total reform occurs. And the struggles for women of color filmmakers- for Latina filmmakers, Asian-Pacific Islander Filmmaker Aurora Guererro with actresses Fenessa Pineda and Venecia Troncosowomen filmmakers, and black women filmmakers don’t always fit nicely under the “women” banner. For now, it is up to us to embrace and champion our own stories. AFFRM is one platform for that cause.

REBEL Now.

Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. She was the winner of Best Screenplay at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival for her script, NOOR.