A Few Questions

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The neon yellow steps with words like Gender, Race and Feminist announced in bold black halted my hurried walk to the subway. It isn’t often that we see or say such words in public. I was especially struck by the question on the bottom step: Is RACE a feminist issue? Only when “feminist” is code word for “white feminist” does such a question arise. Black and other “women of color” feminists already live that answer.

The other questions, while still relevant, also seemed to issue forth from a “second wave” white feminist perspective. “You can’t reduce 21st century feminism to 1970s slogans,” my friend Tricia Matthew intoned as we stood and wondered aloud about the questions those steps posed.

After Googling the artist Suzanne Lacy, I found out that the steps were a prelude to conversations that took place on October 19 on steps and stoops along Park Place in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Creative Time and the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Lacy’s Between the Door and the Street, a public performance that brought together hundreds of feminist activists. Attired in arresting black and yellow, the activists facilitated discussions about contemporary gender issues.

Audience-member/participant Salamishah Tillet, professor and co-founder of A Long Walk Home, Inc. suggests in her piece for The Nation that the organic conversations that sprung up on the stoops and in the streets were a productive model of feminism-in-action: “By encouraging us to eavesdrop on these discussions, Lacy sought to break the fourth wall — the imaginary wall at the front of a traditional theater stage that separates the actors from the audience — as well as challenge the historical record of feminism as racially exclusive and single-issue focused.”

I’d like to imagine that those stoop conversations generated new sets of questions that reflect the diversity of those who were assembled there. What questions about gender and feminism should we be asking today?

High on Love

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Forest Whitaker stretched his acting chops in The Butler and am looking forward to seeing Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave. I think all facets of American history and black people’s central place in it deserve to be represented. It’s especially important to remember those things that many would choose to forget.

And yet, the recent slate of black films about black trauma and servitude has made me slightly war weary. “Somebody, anybody make a film about middle class black folks doing ordinary things!” I even find myself counting down the days to the premier of The Best Man Holiday.

This past week, the film gods finally intervened. Shaka King’s feature debut Newlyweeds was showing at The Charles. I hadn’t heard about the film and even if I had, I’m not sure I would’ve paid money to see a “stoner dramedy,” not even one praised by Sundance. The promise of a Wire reunion whet my curiosity though: the film’s executive producer is Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire’s “Chris Partlow”) and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (“Senator Clay ‘sheeeeet’ Davis”) and Hassan Johnson (“Wee-Bey”) have parts in the film. Plus, it’s shot in Bed-Stuy!

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But even more than my desire to nostalgize over Brooklyn, my need to see something black and clever and funny drove me to the theater. And I’m glad it did. Newlyweeds is much more than a stoner film. And while it’s hilarious, it also has an undercurrent of melancholy. Amari Cheatom (“Lyle”) and lovely newcomer Trae Harris (“Nina”) are high on love and weed. Eventually their enjoyment of the latter threatens their relationship and their futures. It manages to be a cautionary tale without turning into an afterschool special. But most of all, it’s refreshing. It’s not a typical “black film,” a stagey romance, or your usual stoner comedy. The combination of King’s keen imagination and dark sense of humor; Harris and Cheatom’s unaffected performances; and Daniel Patterson’s gorgeous cinematography make it a must-see, especially for black indie lovers.