I took Aubrei to see Selma a few weeks ago. She’s 9. We decided upon a matinee, made our own gourmet (Mommy’s specialty) popcorn, brought our dandy water bottle and headed out. We got there early enough that we found our seats with ease and grace. It was interesting that we were sitting next to an elderly Black couple to our left and an even older Black sister duo to our right. Sandwiched between the two couples, for whatever reason, I felt protected in that neatly packed theatre. And I was more than a tinge surprised at just how packed that theatre was, in the middle of the day, with all the multicultural faces that we’ll suppose came out to do what we were doing. Paying our respects to the cause, with the added bonus that the cause included a celebrated Black woman director and a cast of brilliant Black women, finally shown in their rightful place in a movement that made our being a part of a multicultural audience– in any theatre– possible. Absolutely no disrespect to the also brilliant Black male people who also shared the screen too. I had an agenda.
Aubrei was benign about the experience. At first. I knew she would be. She’s 9. Her world revolves around painting, Monster High art pads and these strange little collectible things called Shopkins. I was inviting her into the world she hasn’t been exposed to any real sense. The harsh reality of activism in her history. I was showing her, Hollywood style, the faces of her ancestors in a way her school, nor really any of her young books ever could. I also wanted her to see what it looks like when a Black woman director takes the creative helm. I wanted her to see those Black women faces on that screen and see herself in them. It was a mommy-daughter outing and I wanted her to see why I do what I do, the kind of stock she comes from– ancestor, ethnicity and gender. And potentially, to help her remember why she signed up to be a human being born into this specific time. Lofty goals all.
The movie starts with a bang. Literally. The eye is swept from a powerfully tender human moment between The Kings, just before Martin accepts his Nobel Prize for Peace, to a narrow staircase of a church, where five little girls and a little boy are descending, while talking about world events according to hair. When the bang happens, it’s not that it catches you off guard (which it does) or the assumed violence behind it that strikes you. It’s the indignance of it. How these little people can be living their lives and minding their own business; only to be blown to bits in the span of a second, because of some bereft asshole and the group think one must follow to become so. The thing that curdled my blood about that scene was that the point was made, probably more powerfully than actually seeing the blast full on. We saw the poetic way Black lives have often been martyred in our continued work toward equality and justice. I screamed because it was jolting. I cried because it was just that fucked up.
Martin L.King risked his life for Black kind and the civil rights to vote. So do the same and change the world like Martin did.-Aubrei
Straight away, Aubrei found the movie sad. She said so at least a dozen times. She asked questions here and there, but more than a few times, my little Aquarian put her arms around me and hugged me close or asked if I was okay, whilst I felt utterly bi-polar between persistently being moved to tears or clapping with triumphant joy. After a while, in perfect 9 year old fashion; she began squirming in her seat and was ready to go. But we stayed till the end credit and the song Glory finished playing. This is not a movie review, mind you. This is an accounting and what caused it. If its still playing in a theatre near you, and you haven’t seen Selma yet, I do want you to take your time and scrape together as many of your friends and dollars as you can to go see this movie. You won’t leave that theatre the same way you went in. Aubrei didn’t.
Case in point, when first asked how she liked the film, Aubrei’s reply was simple. It was sad. But it wasn’t until the next night, while we were on the phone with her Auntie Imani, participating in our weekly Intentional Tuesdays, that we started to peel back the layers of what she saw in her 9 year old eyes and what it meant for her. She had found a new hero in Martin Luther King. Getting to see him speak “live” in such an intimate portrayal, during a specific span of time, breathed life into the books she’d read or the blurbs she’d heard in school. She was enamored of how he helped succeed a cause she hadn’t really known to what degree so many of her ancestors were fighting for. She was proud of him.She quickly took to her journal so that Imani and I could see just how much.
We’ll say the cool part of Aubrei’s experience with Selma was how she narrowed in on one very specific character who acted as an antagonist in the story. There were quite a few folk of the lot that one could zero in on to detest for their cruelty and assholean qualities. But Aubrei had eyes for only one. In the movie his name was Selma Sheriff Jim Clark, played by Stan Houston. Clark was the same insolent soul that infamously got knocked out by the equally infamous Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey in the movie. In Aubrei’s young mind, that man was so horrid, he had to be stopped. She didn’t fully grip the concept that Clark had long passed from this Earth plane–life had stopped him. General Hater Face. That’s what she called him. And she found every choice way she could that General Hater Face would face retribution for crimes against humanity, most specifically, against “Black Kind”. I tell no lies. First he loses his hat. For a garbage one. Which of course, makes him angry enough to give up his plight against “Black kind”. Probably because he can’t stand wearing a banana on his head. Who can say?
Then he’s subjected to an A.L.S. Lava Bucket challenge, a magic shark pool that does not work out for the “Hater of Blacks”, as well as a poison bed, complete with a lava IV.
When Sheriff Clark finally meets the devil, his name changed from “Hater Face” to “But Face”. But he also had to face a wrecking ball, a red ant infestation and then finally in Annie Lee Cooper fashion, Aubrei herself, as she dishes out one final swift one to the noggin. At that point he became just “Dr. but genral”.
Now. Anyone who knows me also knows that I don’t condone violence of any sort. But I do condone art. Especially art that helps make sense of our anger and frustrations, that illustrates the ridiculousness of our human ridiculousness and even the beauty that can come out of it all. I have never in my life seen a more beautiful depiction of an explosion than the one Ava so brilliantly represents in the beginning of Selma. You felt it in places that just seeing an explosion wouldn’t let you. You weren’t a bystander in that violence. You were in it. You felt it. You mourned it. It was painful. And yet, in Duverney’s depiction, it happened to be beautiful, in a terrifying way. Not like, Ooh, I want to go be in an explosion too, but in a oh, shit. Oh, shit. That’s what that feels like kind of way. Which, to me, is far more powerful. Which could be part of the reason why instead of merely being pissed for pissed sake, Aubrei took to her pen and journal to basically create a comic strip, using the art in her current arsenal, to express her need to give back what was given in the safest way she knew how. I can only imagine how powerless a 9 year old feels in a world full of grown ups doing everything they can to be dumb about stuff, particularly other people’s lives and livelihoods. What I found most interesting though, is that even in her anger, she had perspective. If you notice, “General Hater Face” started out really big to her, but as her storyline continued, he was the smallest thing on the page. Not necessarily because her young rage diminished him, but because she started to see him, in my opinion, as he was. He really wasn’t some big bad impenetrable monster, as he tried to pretend himself to be. He was just a little man with big fear that his way of life was being threatened by people who truly only wanted the same things he wanted. The right to vote and to be able to determine their own destiny through that vote. Through her art, she was able to express this reframing of her own perspective of key people in an era of American History who have become famous for their cruelty. A reframing of our perspective is something we can all learn our children.
Our imagination is vast. We literally can do anything we want through our ability to create. Do I want my little girl to daydream about retribution for the worlds ills? Probably not, But if her art helps her find perspective about the power vs the powerless dynamic, I feel like, go for it. It’s almost as if I was watching Aubrei express to the ghost of Sheriff Clark, “I’m a little person in age, but you’re smaller than me. Your hate makes you so small, even my 9 year old self can take you.” She told me later about her work, what he did to Black people was unfair, so what he did to them, I wanted to do back to him. Which is fair. You should have seen the rage in me and the poetry I created as a young person when I learned about Apartheid, saw the movie Rosewood for the first time and then the Eyes on the Prize series. You could have stuck a fork in me then. But I don’t remember seeing myself as bigger than the people who committed such historical heinousness. I remember feeling angry about not knowing what I could do about it. My weapon of choice was written metaphor and prose and I just didn’t have enough words then to express my young sadness mixed with that young rage against injustice, in a way, maybe, that a picture could. Sometimes pictures, however they’re interpreted, bring clarity and perspective. If I had thought of an A.L.S. Lava challenge or a magic shark tank for those wretched souls who caused our ancestors such trauma and hardship, I’m sure I would have been happier. I’m sure of it. The imagination is a blessed place. The best I came up with as a child, by way of artful rage, was a metaphor that had something to do with a mixed basket of socks. Powerfully ineffective stuff.
You know, I watched once a video once where Toni Morrison is telling Charlie Rose,
Don’t you understand that the people who do this thing, who practice racism are bereft. There is something distorted about the psyche.It’s a huge waste and a corruption and a distortion. It’s like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy, it is crazy. And it has just as much of a deleterious effect on white people, and possibly equal as it does Black people.What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? You still smart? You still like yourself?… If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a very serious problem. And my feeling is, white people have a very, very serious problem. And they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it. -Toni Morrison
I’ve decidedly begun to call Black History Month, Black Presence Month. Why? Because Black History is WORLD history. I’ve made it a conscious and conscientious plight to study for myself and impress upon my daughter WORLD History. To get to know WORLD HISTORY as intimately as I know and LOVE the brown skin I walk the planet with. I’ve decided that the only way our global collective of children of every complexion will begin to know and wield their power is if they they aren’t stifled by our collective limited consciousness and how that manifests on the planet as every -ism one can think of. Racism, Sexism and Colorism being the most blatant and bereft of the bunch. Scripture says, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” The question now becomes, how are we preparing them?
Something to ponder on your journey this coming week, yes? Happy Black Presence Month.
Yours in Lofty Agendas,
P.S. I LOVE your soul. Make sure you stop by envymckee.com sometime this week to add a thoughtful comment to this week’s blog post about what you think we can do during Black Presence Month to prepare our children for a life of LOVE, artful rage about world events and of course, their roles of leadership on the planet. This year, for me, is about building a sense of authentic community between like-minded, spiritually literate souls. Spread the word will you?