Monday, December 25, 2006

Say It Loud

"We'd rather die on our feet,
Than be livin' on our knees..."

-James Brown, (1933-2006)


Thursday, December 21, 2006

TSOTSI: See This Movie

If your idea of a foreign film is one of those sexy, French fascinations of blurring the line between the Oedipus complex and incest, then you may be surprised to know that there have been many compelling stories on film being made in Africa, about Africa and Africans, set in Africa. There’s even a cute romantic comedy out of Zimbabwe called Jit, about a poor man competing with another man, of questionable means, for the affections of a beautiful young, South African lady. But, then there’s Child of the South, starring a youthful Alex Descas, (who portrayed Mobutu Sese Seko in the film Lumumba, about Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and also Josette Simon, who also appeared in the movie Cry Freedom with Denzel Washington. Child of the South is about a young South African journalist, who was exiled during apartheid following her fathers’ death. She travels to Mozambique in order to get back to South Africa to see her mother who has stayed behind. In Mozambique, she meets and falls in love with a young doctor (Descas), and finds herself literally and emotionally in the middle of civil unrest in Mozambique.

But, if you’ve never watched an African film; if you’ve never watched a foreign film, here’s a good place to start. Tsotsi, starring South African, Presley Chweneyagae, is a ruthless gang leader in a Soweto township, who carjacks a woman’s car, and later finds that her baby is in the back seat. “Tsotsi”, which translates to “thug”, rediscovers his humanity and compassion, compromised when his mother’s death orphans him as a little boy. The film has won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2006.

The screenplay is an adaptation of, The Blood Knot, a 1960’s novel by South African playwright Athol Fugard, who also wrote Boesman and Lena, which was developed into the movie starring Angela Bassett and Danny Glover. The character of Tsotsi is beautifully reminiscent of Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, in the novel Native Son, in that it is the tragic condition of his life which delivers him unto the recognition of his own humanity. The devastation, deprivation and desperation of having grown up, living his life in a drainpipe, in the clutches of wretched poverty, appear to render Tsotsi heartless. But, his encounter with another life, which is totally dependent on him, returns him to the benevolent and civilized creature he has always been beneath his callous exterior.

And, if you’re curious or if you are an African music connoisseur, the soundtrack is a memorable mix of Kwaito (South African Hip Hop), with tracks by Bonginkosi “Zola” Dlamini, who is a poet, actor and musician from the South African township of Zola (hence the name), who also stars in the movie.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

One Semester Down, Three (or Four) More to Go

Wow! Returning for my first semester as a full-time student has been a whirlwind, but in the last four months I’ve accomplished a few things. I’ve been the associate editor for my school’s newspaper, worked in a professional writing environment (as the “oldest intern”), boosted my GPA, completed a short story, and read a bunch of wonderful books. There were moments I thought my head would explode, but I’ve discovered a little more of that 2/3 of our brain they say we don’t use. Next semester’s menu will include a class which focuses on the Southern Short Story (Ernest Gaines, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, etc.), and the class I’ve really been anticipating: Literary Theory…Oooo y’all, it’s getting deep! (As you may be able to tell, I’m a little excited about that one.) I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for another internship, this time with a local magazine. Meanwhile, during my three weeks off, I’ll be trying to shed a few of those study break pounds I picked up, see a couple of movies, getting a head start on Literary Theory, and I’m reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kirin Desai, daughter of Anita Desai, and winner of this years’ Booker Prize….Whew! I feel good!


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Modern Relevance of Richard Wright’s Universality: What We Can Learn from a Black Boy

Richard Wright, an African American product of the Jim Crow south, managed to transform himself into a global citizen in that, since the initial publication of his autobiography, Black Boy (American Hunger) A Record of Childhood and Youth, people in many places have been able to identify with the themes prevalent in his life and work, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. However, not so much has changed about the human psyche in the 21st century that our post 911 world couldn’t benefit from the wisdom in his work, and his foresight and ability to see and travel beyond our obvious, perhaps not so obvious social and/or prejudicial boundaries. Although the social boundaries that severely encumbered the American dream for African Americans, including Wright, have been (tongue-in-cheek) all but eliminated, many, both black and white have become so entranced in achieving that dream through rose-colored consumerism, failing to recognize the incarcerating effect of debt, and the social consequences of living in a capitalist society. In a world where there should be no poverty, illiteracy or fatal differences because of religion or ethnicity, we must begin to understand how these issues create boundaries for all of us. Rather than temporary, feel-good solutions, like Wright, we must continue to look for ways to “alter” our “relationship” to our “environment” and essentially alter our world (Wright 200). In the introduction to Black Boy (American Hunger) A Record of Childhood and Youth, Jerry W. Ward, Jr. explains that Wright wanted to present not merely “a representative myth of growing up Southern”, but “an American story which speaks to “the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human” (Ward xiii). If we are listening, then from Richard Wright’s humble and severe beginnings on a Mississippi plantation, his ineffable yearning to disrupt the cycle of poverty through literacy, and his understanding of literature as a vehicle for social change, we should be able to formulate a renewed empathy for many who, even now, still suffer from long-standing social problems in a modern and complex world.