• Single with Baggage: London to Paris

    AMW

    I just returned from a two week workation to London, England, and was determined that while on this trip I would go to Paris for a day. I began to do the appropriate searches on Google (London to Paris, Cheap Fares from London to Paris, Trains that go from London to Paris and of course How in heck do I get from London to Paris). 

    One thing became clear, that since I wanted to travel by train there was only one option... (Theme Music) EUROSTAR!!!!!!!!; though there were other options, Ferry(uh I’ll pass), Bus(definitely I’ll pass), Plane(pass), so Eurostar it was.  I now began to try to decipher the prices, and where I had to go to catch the train from London, etc... To be honest I found it all a bit confusing and had to stop several times just to understand the website.  One thing was very clear though…IT WAS A BIT EXPENSIVE, though it said that the cost from London to Paris was £59.00/return that was the cost for booking well in advance.

    So I decided that instead of booking last minute that I would book a week in advance. Bottom Line I was looking at spending approximately £179.00 return to go to Paris for a day, and I didn’t feel like dishing that out.  I gave up at that point and took a break, but the next morning awoke with new vigour and decided to try Google once more this time I wrote the key words (Cheap Tours to Paris, One Day Tours to Paris), and I found Golden tours; the answer to my dreams. They had several tours: hop on hop off tours to Paris, fully escorted tours, and the one I wanted Discover Paris at Your Own Leisure.

    I could now go to Paris on a tour that included the Eurostar train ticket, a free one hour water tour, and a metro pass to zones 1-3, as well as a discount to a fashion show and lots of time to sight see and shop all for the low cost of £99.00/return. The process was pretty simple, I called and they had seats available.

    I had to go to 4 Fountain Square, 123-151 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9SH, UK which was very easy to find from the Victoria Line Tube Stop. I went there and paid; they handed me a voucher and told me to be at St. Pancras Station or St. Pancreas Station as I called it at 5:30 am on Friday. I got to the train station approx 5:15am and there were some other early birds there as well, but at 5:30 no representative showed up from Golden tours, I was beginning to think this was the ultimate tourist scam.

    But low and behold at 5:45am a man sauntered up to the desk, and we all lined up to get our packages I had talked to an elderly couple in the line earlier and they decided to take the fully escourted tour as they had a day to kill before heading off to Tanzania. There was also another man there who I also said hello to but he did not respond and just walked away.

    When I lined up to get my package the Golden Tours Rep was like “You are going on your own, here is a map of Paris, a ticket to the water tour, and your train ticket and by the way Paris is one hour ahead See Ya!” I truly was on my own. So I went through customs and then I went to read the screen to see what time my train departed.

    I still had a bit of time until 6:55am, so I sat down to chill for a minute when suddenly I heard this voice.  “Oh so I guess you are going to Paris at your own leisure too right, I guess I’ll be hanging with you then...” Now, I am a Christian and I have been working on being very nice to people, but um this was the same tall man I said hello to earlier and he did not speak and walked away; and now we were going to be what, Bosom Parisian Buddies...I DON’T THINK SO !!!!.

    But instead I just smiled and said “Sure” and tried to think of my escape plan. I sat there and talked to him for a bit, it turned out he’d been to Paris before on the fully escorted tour, but found that he did not have enough time to see things, and always had to rush, back to the bus, so he wanted to go on his own this time...well not on his own, because he decided he was coming with me. I excused myself and sauntered over to the info booth to look at brochures and then I saw the ladies room and went in there, still plotting my escape plan. While in the ladies, they announced my train was boarding, so I hung out in there for a bit longer.

    When I came out my new found friend was nowhere in sight. I boarded the train and was in coach 17, and he wasn’t there either. I was sitting by a very nice lady from Australia, who was also taking the fully escorted tour. We arrived in Paris around 9:15am, and my first impression was that Gar du Nord the Train station was absolutely and positively freezing.

    Everyone in England kept saying dress warm over there dress warm, I am so glad I listened. The train station is very open, so the cold air from outside is inside the station as well. I headed over to the tourist information booth to try to figure out what I was going to do in Paris for the day. Just when I thought I was home free, guess who saunters over?  Mr. “I’m hanging with you for the day.”  I was a bit ticked off, because I really just wanted to be alone, get my ticket to the Louvre, find out how to take the metro, eat breakfast at a French Café, go to an internet cafe to blog and then head off. But, Mr I’m hanging with you had different plans.

    So, I tried a new strategy after we bought our tickets, and I found out where the internet cafe was. I told him I had to go because I write a travel blog, but, he came with me (arrrrgh), and then I was like I am going to be here for an hour so you might not want to stay, and he was like “Well I’ll meet you back at the station at 11am then (double arrrgh).

    After updating my travel blog, I went back to meet my new found friend and prayed about it and decided to just accept the things I could not change, and at least go to the Louvre with him and then we could part ways, as he wanted to do some things that I didn’t.  We met up and I was pretty hungry and wanted to eat a nice Parisian breakfast, but he was like “There’s a food court at the Louvre with a lot of food, so we can just eat there.”  I am thinking Louvre food vs. French Cafe hmmm...but I went along with it, we boarded the bus and I asked the driver if he went to the Louvre, and he looked at me with a blank stare.

    Then I said “Est-ce que tu va a la Louvre?”  Suddenly he smiled and said “Oui.”  I became very thankful that I could speak French, because I could see right away what happened when I spoke English. We arrived at the the Louvre, and honestly it was all very fascinating, the architecture alone in Paris is absolutely breathtaking.  I was really here, I wanted to pinch myself but I passed on that. So we went inside the Louvre and proceeded to try and find this food court; eventually we found it.

    Okay so let me break this down. The food um well, it um (sorry to all of my Parisian readers and friends), but the food was um pretty how shall I say greasy and scary looking.  I am very fussy to begin with and don’t eat pork or red meat so I was pretty much limited to the Wok section. Ah oui, Wok Poulet, Wok Pork, Wok something or other, which was their version of a stir fry.  I decided on Wok Poulet.

    So, now let me describe to you why you should never buy lunch at the Louvre.

    The price... oui le prix.It was approx €10.70 for le Wok Poulet. The man cooking le Wok Poulet was very proud of his cooking. At one point an entire Chinese family had come by and were just staring at him cooking, and at the time I didn’t think anything of it; but after I realized they were looking at him wondering what on earth he was doing. First he poured approx 1 cup of oil into the wok (I kid you not!), then he very proudly added the vegetables with these big gigantic green peas things, and then next, he added the chicken teriyaki, and then, the noodles...so while all of these things swam around in oil he very proudly with two wooden spoons mixed then all around...he then when he was finished oiling it up, added about ½ cup of sesame oil on the top of the entire oily wok mixture. He smiled proudly and dished out a greasy portion into a cardboard box, and handed it to the cashier. I blessed my greasy wok poulet and asked God to guide my weak stomach and to help me hold it down because I had to eat something.

    After lunch me and Mr. I’m Hanging With You parted ways. I found an Egyptian Art Exhibit, after walking through several other very exciting exhibits. They had a replica of the Sphinx there and Imhotep’s Wedding, and models of slave ships, I felt that it was sad and beautiful at the same time. They were even showing examples of the stones or cave walls with hieroglyphics, and well, there was a lot to see.  I took many pictures and got someone to take a picture of me in front of the Sphinx. The replica was pretty true to form, right down to the nose and lips being cut off. It was about 2pm at this point, and I wanted to sleep on a bench, but I figured that was unacceptable, so I sat down for a bit and people watched and then I got a second wind, and decided to head outside and find my water tour.

    It was freezing outside, but across the way from the Louvre they have these neat tourist trap areas with little shops and stations to buy ice cream or crepes or sandwiches. I decided to order some rum and raisin ice cream; it looked nice and creamy and rich.  Little did I know it was going to have real rum in it.  I took a spoonfull and was like um uh. But, I ate it anyway, (though I am not a drinker), I must admit I was slightly tipsy. Next, my adventures in Paris of trying to find le Bateaux Bus Water tour for 3 hours straight.

    My journey was simple, go down to the Metro and get to St. Michele Station like the lady in the tourism booth told me. I found a Metro Station went down and began to ask people how to get to Notre Dame, so I could catch le Bateaux Bus. A very nice gentleman was like ah oui tu veux d’allez au Notre Dame ah oui... just take the Metro for three stops and it will be beautiful when you come out... you will be right in the middle of everything and you will see the building and all of its beauty. THAT MAN WAS LYING.

    I could not understand how the stop he mentioned could be near Notre Dame when it was nowhere near St. Michele, but I like a fool listened to him and thanked him.  I got off at the stop he said and came outside and was nowhere near Notre Dame.  And so began my quest; (Excusez moi mais je veux d’aller au Notre Dame...Ou Est Notre Dame?)  I was determined that though I was nowhere near my destination, that I would get there. And that is how my trek for 3 hours to find le Bateaux Bus near Notre Dame began. I walked and walked and walked.

    I walked through le Quartier de N’Orleans, I saw le Quartier Latin, I walked along the River Sienne, I walked down the stairs that lead to the Sienne, up the stairs, over cobblestones that hurt my knees and feet, up one street down another over a small bridge, and walked and walked and walked and walked until finally I was at Notre Dame!  What a breathtaking historical building, it was captivating.

    Suddenly it started to pour down rain, but I had an umbrella with me, so I continued to take pictures of the building at every angle.  Finally, I asked someone where do I go to find my Bateaux Bus, and after about another 20 minutes or so of walking, I found it.  I was elated, I sat down with some other women waiting for the water tour, the water bus pulled up I was in line excited, I got to the front and the man said “Ce n’est pas _____ I couldn’t hear anymore, the gist of it was that after 3 hours of walking all over Paris because that man in the Metro gave me the wrong directions...I had found a water tour, ah oui, but just not my free Water Tour!!!! I was informed that I had to go to le Tour Eiffel to take my tour! Needless to say the Eiffel Tower was not going to see me today.

    So, with my sore knees and my head hanging low, I had to come up with a new idea, I still had 2 and ½ hours before I had to be back at the train station.  I decided to do what I often did in London.  First I found a bus stop where buses leaving there went to the train station, and then I hopped on a bus and just rode around Paris on local transport.  It was very cool actually; and I got to see a lot of the city. After 45 minutes I got off the bus crossed to the other side and took the bus back to downtown Paris.  I accepted my plight, it was now almost 6:30pm, so I hoped on the 38 bus and rode it to the station near le Gard du Nord.  I was hungry again; I have no idea why, after my amazing greasy Louvre Lunch and my intoxicating ice cream.

    But I went to the cafe I wanted to go to originally, and ordered a Margarita Pizza (Cheese Pizza), and some juice and I ate that entire pizza and people watched, and just sat back and smiled and laughed at myself for spending the entire day trying to find the wrong water tour. As I entered the train station I got my last whif of Paris; the smell of 1000 people who probably peed in front of the station…what a send off. I must say that though, I got lost, my knees hurt, my Clark shoes gave me blisters, I did not find my water tour, I hung out with a man I did not want to, the man in the Metro gave me the wrong directions, I got a bit intoxicated from ice cream, I had the worst greasy lunch known to man and womankind...though all of that happened I absolutely loved Paris. J’adore Paris...and I can’t wait to go back again.

    Au Revoir

  • Interview with Quebec Soul/R&B Singer Gage

    Pic

    Pierre Gage, of both Jamaican and Haitian origins, was born on January 3rd 1977 in Montreal. In high school, he passed an audition for an amateur version of Starmania, where the acclaimed author of the Luc Plamondon show noticed him. He there obtained the role of Johnny Roquefort. 

    This experience allowed him to discover his talent for singing. He later met Corneille and Gardy Martin, who were part of the group O.N.E., while studying theatre at Concordia University. And so began Gage’s career. His participation with O.N.E. lasted three years, during which the track Zoukin ranked Number One in the charts across Canada, and helped him establish a good reputation among Soul and World Music lovers. In addition, O.N.E. opened for prominent singers such as Isabelle Boulay and Kelis (Virgin USA). 

    The group later separated since each member wanted to pursue a solo career. Corneille became hugely popular in France and Gage sang by his side at the Paris Casino. He later opened for Corneille during his Quebec and European tours, totalling over 40 concerts.  In 2004, Gage released his first single, entitled “Trop fresh” (“Too Fresh”) and managed to reach an even larger audience.  In 2005, his album entitled “Soul Rebel”, produced entirely by Corneille, was released on the market. 

    Titles such as “Pense à moi” (“Think of Me”) and “Je t’aime quand même” (“I Still Love You”) were well received by the media and the public alike.  The CD “Soul Rebel” also seduced the French public, where it went gold with over 100 000 copies sold.  Gage is considered, among others, as a pioneer of French reggae and thus redefined this musical style within the Francophone music world.  One can actually notice the reggae flavour in certain tracks such as “Demain” (“Tomorrow”). 

    On June 30, 2008, Gage launched his second album, entitled “Changer le monde” (“Change the World”). Personal topics such as the absence of his father, love and break-ups are highlighted. The single “Tu peux choisir” (“You Can Choose”) was one of the hit singles of last summer.  It is also important to mention that this artist produced eye-catching videos from these two albums. In the fall of 2008, Gage began touring in France. In concert, he demonstrates excellent charisma. 

    He has beautiful stage presence and a way of communicating with his audience. Over the course of his career, he performed in prestigious venues such as the Bataclan and the Zénith in Paris. In Montreal, he performed at the FrancoFolies festival and at Club Soda. 

    We met this trilingual artist last spring in Montreal. Over the course of the interview, we discovered an artist who gave generously of himself, who is comfortable with his dual cultural heritage and who strives to look ahead. Interview conducted by Patricia Turnier (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), independent journalist and legist (Master''s degree in Law, LL.M).

    Translated from French by Murielle Swift

    P.T. When did your passion for music begin?

    G. It all started when I was five years old.  I come from a single-parent family, growing up with my mother and my sisters.  I was surrounded by women and music was always part of our lives.  Because of this, I was practically immersed in it.  During my childhood, we often listened to French Caribbean vinyl records.  I used to enjoy using a sock as a microphone and sing in front of a mirror (laughter).  

    P.T. Tell us about the musical giants who profoundly inspired you, such as Marvin Gaye, Steve Wonder (the Black artist awarded the most Grammys), and Michael Jackson.

    G. These productive artists, with such fertile spirits, had legendary careers, which continue for those who are still alive.  I love the tracks by Marvin Gaye such as “Distant Lover” and “Sexual Healing”.  The Soul spirit and the charisma this man gave off were extraordinary.  I also loved his gentleman side.  Marvin Gaye was always well dressed.  Prince is another artist I enjoy.  He is a musical genius; he plays 27 instruments!  The Purple Rain era influenced me, as well as Thriller which became a classic.  At the time, I would imitate Michael Jackson with his gloves in front of a mirror (laughter). 

    I would take on a different personality since during that particular time in my life I was very shy, especially around girls (laughter). These singers definitely represent legends to me and established high standards which all new artists strive for.  Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson passed down songs which speak to other generations and those to come.  They created classics, which reveal their genius and undeniable quality.  Their chiselled tracks demonstrate an incredibly evocative power, where one can notice various overlapping currents.  They have become references with their talents of instrumentalist, author, composer and interpreter. 

    P.T. How has your triple cultural identity (Haitian, Jamaican and Québécois) influenced your music? 

    G. As a Québécois, I am exposed to two cultures, which allows me to be more open to the world. This particular vision is an advantage to my music. The mix of ethnicities I possess gives me the opportunity to cross over to other cultures. I enjoy displaying this cultural mosaic, which is part of my heritage. I am a fan of all that is eclectic and I refuse to be labelled.

    I consider myself to have a critical view of the world and I embrace “otherness”.  It is important for me that my mixed cultural heritage be reflected in my tracks.  Music has the power to transmit universal emotions; it breaks down barriers and brings people together.  My hybrid journey gives me a wider inspiration and allows me to reach a united public.

    P.T. We can distinguish your Jamaican culture in your music, particularly in singles such as “Demain” (“Tomorrow”), “Je t’aime quand même” (“I Still Love You”) and “Te Quiero” (“I Love You”).  You introduce a reggae beat which is very innovative in the French music scene.  We know you were highly influenced by Bob Marley.  What does reggae mean to you?

    G. Bob Marley was the reggae music icon. He conveyed important messages. His music was engaging and spiritual. He was able to stimulate social critics by using remarkable idioms.  This artist produced powerful albums during the 1970s, such as “Catch a Fire”, “Natty Dread” and “Exodus”, or such distinguished tracks such as “No Woman No Cry” and “One Love”. 

    For me, reggae is a musical style which allows us to truly demonstrate who we are.  In other words, this musical style reflects an authenticity. Reggae also represents the sun and warms people’s hearts. This is why I enjoy using this style to touch individuals and make them move. It is also important for me to fuse with other musical styles such as zouk, Haitian kompa and Soul because I want to reach everyone, especially when I’m on stage.  I enjoy highlighting the blending of various musical styles.  

    I also really enjoy having others discover my diverse background. Travelling gives me the opportunity to reach many people and develop a more open mind.  I believe it is essential to uncover one’s roots. Certain artists, such as Wyclef Jean, understood this.  We have to be real.  In my first track, “Pense à moi” (“Think of Me”), we hear my Creole roots.  I also like to contribute to the Francophone world through my songs.  In my opinion, Soul has not yet been fully exploited in the French music scene.   
                  
    P.T. The opus “Viens me voir” (“Come See Me”) from your first album is very touching.  Can you tell us more about it?

    G. It talks about the history of my life, especially concerning my father.  For several years, I was unsure of who I really was.  It is difficult to have a well-rooted identity without the contact of a father.  At first, I was ashamed to tell people I had no father.  I felt different from the others.  The song “Viens me voir” (“Come See Me”) helped me externalise what I felt about that situation.  I wanted to share with the public this episode of my life.  The opus of my second album, “T’étais où” (“Where Were You”) is about a man speaking to his father. 

    My first album was about a boy speaking to his father. My mother was always there for me in life and I believe in her. She always supported me and is a very important person to me. I am blessed to have her in my life; she is extraordinary. She taught me a lot: respect for others and the importance of working by setting precise objectives and taking measures to accomplish them, among other things.  She is an important guide to me.  It is such a blessing to have a mother like her.  

    Coming back to my tracks, I like mentioning my past and my present in my music.  It is important to me to concentrate on life questions and my inner spirit which I choose to share with my audience.  

    P.T. Your second album demonstrated greater maturity with your social and ecological conscience, with philanthropic undertones. Could you please share with us the main messages you wished to transmit through this album?
     

    G. I am currently in my thirties. I wanted my second album to convey social messages. The title “Changer le monde” (“Changing the World”) does actually relate to philanthropy.  I was making a reference to Marvin Gaye, who was particularly interested in humanitarian issues.  Social conscience is a crucial theme in my singles.  Change begins, in fact, with us, and I wanted to sing authentic tracks.  
    Ecology is also an important theme for me.  It is currently a hot topic, especially with everything that is happening on a global scale, and in particular with respect to greenhouse gases. We have more advanced recycling programs here than in Europe. I also wanted to deal with other important topics in my album such as family, love (for example, the song “Tu peux choisir” (“You Can Choose”), with Vitaa), friendship; in other words, human relationships. Mediocre and empty tracks should be banished, in my opinion.  I want to talk about my aspirations, talk to my better half, and so on, while maintaining my Soul side.

    P.T. Tell us about your track entitled “Je veux être libre” (“I Want to Be Free”).  The lyrics are deeply moving and leave no one indifferent. 

    G. This track represents a pause in time. As artists, we need space in order to be inspired. The theme of freedom is important for me because it is not everyone who has embraced the calling of an artist.  Some people will say that it would be better to choose a more stable career. But it is important for me to live off of what I love, what I am passionate about.  Freedom also represents for me the ability to share one’s state of mind without being influenced by external critics, whom we must be able to tune out.  My music is partly autobiographical. As I already mentioned, I deal with several themes in my music, such as the absence of my father, among others.  

    The artistic domain enables me to freely express myself. This sphere represents my passion and is an oasis for me, bringing me a sense of well-being, of hope and a joy of living.  It has certainly not always been easy. I have had to make sacrifices by committing myself to music. But I do not have any regrets and what I studied serves me well today.  

    P.T. In the past, you have said to the media that singing is not a choice, but a necessity.  Could you elaborate on that?  


    G. Yes, actually, I believe that one must have ideas to defend.  It is important to me that the public be attached to my lyrics.  The stage has allowed me to cover various subjects.  I always make sure that my themes are not dull.  I am a man of the stage who seeks to transmit essential messages. I cannot imagine that an artist could be an indifferent spectator who transmits messages lacking in substance.  Aimé Césaire spoke about the importance of engagement as an artist.  He said, “To be engaged signifies, for the artist, to be inserted into his social context, to be the flesh of the people, experiencing the problems of his country with intensity, and rendering witness to them.”  I fully support this quote. Césaire led a war in the name of his origins. His struggle went from personal to universal and I consider myself a citizen of the world. Music represents for me a universal communion which crosses borders, which is impossible to accomplish without one’s heart and passion.  

    P.T. You were recently nominated in two categories: French Soul/R&B artist of the year, and French album of the year, at the Soba (Soul of Blackness Awards, www.galasoba.ca) gala on March 1st, 2009.  What did this mean to you?

    G. I would have liked to win at the Soba awards (laughter). But seriously, I was happy, touched and honoured to receive this nomination. It was an important sign for me, one of gratitude.  It encouraged me to press forward, to continue in the artistic realm while exploring other realms such as cinema.   

    P.T. You were also involved in theatre, which in my opinion provides an excellent foundation to becoming an actor.

    G. I love studying the dynamics and the psychology of characters. Theatre and cinema allow me to do this.  I like having the possibility of appropriating different personalities by playing diverse roles.  Theatre and cinema give the opportunity to exploit other artistic dimensions.  

    P.T. Do you have other projects you would like to share with us?


    G. I will be participating in the benefit concert organised by the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal at Place des Arts in order to raise funds for organisations in Quebec and Africa.  I will be sharing the stage with Gregory Charles, Florence K, Linda Thalie, Stephy Sock and others.  This event will take place on July 26 of next year during the “Just to Help” telethon.  I will also be participating in the musical review “Esquire Show Bar” at the Corona Theatre in Montreal during August and September. 

    P.T. What advice would you give to young people who would like to pursue a career in the music industry?


    G. Specifically as far as singers go, it is important that they work their voice by taking lessons.  They should certainly not try to hide it behind beats.  In order words, they should be able to sing a cappella.  It is the best way to stand out from the pack.  Mediocrity must therefore be banned.  One must always strive for excellence and have the desire to surpass oneself.  Artists who have had long careers such as Stevie Wonder are those who maintained high standards.  In my opinion, those are the models we should follow.  When we have talent, we are noticed.  I actually think that it is a great advantage to be a musician.  Nowadays, in popular music, we don’t hear brass, violins, etc. like we used to.  This gives the opportunity to create quality arrangements and build colourful repertoires.  

    Artists must also perform in various clubs in order to be recognised. This allows them to be discovered, to develop relationships while being in touch with the public.  I learned over the course of my career that we must be able to step back in order to jump forward. We have to be able to recognise and rebuild ourselves.  In life, we should not be in a rush, and patience is something we can learn.  We should not be impatient to accomplish things.  The important thing is to be ready to seize opportunities as they present themselves.  I would also add that as an artist, we cannot allow ourselves to be frugal with our time.  

    We must practice this profession for the right reasons and not only make money, since many are called but few are chosen. Having a passion for the art is of utmost importance. We have to be ready to give the best of ourselves in order to accomplish our dreams. There is no secret to success. Talent alone is not enough; one must work hard and have confidence in oneself.  

    P.T. We sometimes hear young people say that they want to become a star just to become famous, but without having a specific career in mind.  They don’t know whether they want to become actors, singers or something else. 

    G. Exactly.  We cannot practice this profession just for the celebrity status; it is a calling.  There is a lot of work and sacrifice involved and so we have to truly enjoy what we do.  Another piece of advice I could give would be to beware of sharks in this industry.  For instance, anyone can pass themselves off as an artists’ agent since there is no professional order governing their practice.  We must therefore inform ourselves in depth on the past and present work of this said agent.  We have to be careful not to sign a contract with just any record label.  We have to surround ourselves with people of experience.  Before signing a contract, it is advisable to have it verified by a jurist.   

    Personally, I have strong beliefs and this comes across in my music. I believe in a superior Being, in other words, God. This helps me in my choices and in my career.  I credit my success to the Great Master, who gives me the serenity and the energy I need. My spirituality allows me to be in harmony with myself and with the people around me.  This regenerates me.  

    I would also add, as other advice, that if we want a lasting career, we must be prudent and vigilant when it comes to the projects we decide to associate ourselves with as artists.  I would also add that it is important for young singers to write about what they know, and not try to imitate others for the sake of notoriety.  Besides, it can always be sensed when someone tries to imitate someone else.   Without being preachy, I believe that we must associate ourselves to quality projects, and to not sell our souls.  We must be in our element and not adopt a style which does not work for us; besides, the public will not be convinced and will sense the duplicity.  

    As artists, we have a team which surrounds us and of which we must be conscious.  This necessitates excellent coordination, communication and commitment toward the people involved in the production of an album or of a show, for instance.  The artist must therefore learn to deal with all these individuals.  

    I also believe that it is important to enlarge one’s horizons by being ready to go everywhere.  For instance, I’ve been to Morocco and the Caribbean, among other places.  I enjoy discovering other peoples.  It is an excellent way to make oneself known.  I would also tell young people that they need to find themselves a manager who is able to reassure and support them, and help them in making connections between them and the public.  This manager should be able to present a clear and precise career plan, with a timeline.  It is important to surround oneself by an excellent team, which will help build a beautiful set for stage performances, for example.  

    We must have a wide vision when it comes to the field of entertainment. We can be authors, composers, managers, choreographers, artistic directors, events promoters, sound engineers, etc.  It is up to each individual to see what is most interesting for them and to think about the field where most of their talents can be maximised.  Each of these points will help provide a foundation for a solid career.  
    To conclude, I would summarise the qualities of a good artist in this way:

    -    Know how to draw lessons out of our journey, which gives the opportunity to increase our success rate.  We learn by observing daily.
    -    Set specific objectives and avoid scattering ourselves around.
    -    Plan on developing a variety of skills; in other words, have an eclectic profile (for instance, learn how to lead a group of musicians, master a number of instruments, learn to read and compose music, etc.).
    -    Be meticulous, diligent and punctual (be on time for rehearsals, for example).
    -    Know how to work as part of a team, since there are many people who are part of the professional pathway of an artist in the production of an album or a show, for instance.
    -    As an artist, learn to master stage presence, public speaking, image, communication with the public, stance, etc.  Contact with others allows us to grow as artists.  
    -    Watch videos in order to improve stage presence, among other things.  Interaction with the public is a very important aspect which we must master.
    -    Stay on top of what is happening in the music industry and in the world.  This way, we feed ourselves and it allows us to continually bring newness into the artistic domain.  

    P.T. Do you have a message for your fans who are reading this?

    G. I would like them to know that their approval touches me deeply. In general, the public at large always plays an important role in the success of an event.  I tremendously appreciate their support, their presence and their festive side.  For example, it warms my heart to have sung for 200 000 people in France, in the Caribbean and in Morocco.  It was also special for me to have sung at Club Soda and at the FrancoFolies festival in front of large crowds in Montreal.  It is thanks to the fans that an artist exists.  I have many memories of my fans in mind.  I regularly check out their forum, Fresh Crew. I have very positive thoughts toward them.  I draw from them their palpable intensity and warmth during my shows.  This has brought me a lot as a person.  I love meeting my fans.  It stimulates my energy even more.  For me, music allows me to share happiness with others and help them forget the problems of life.  I appreciate having a public with no racial or cultural boundaries.  I also appreciate the media, who has been a support to me.   

    Thank you Gage for this great interview!



    Official Gage website: http://www.gage.mu/
    Gage's album is available at www.amazon.ca

  • AfroToronto's TIFF 2009 Picks - Part II

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    The Toronto International Film Festival ends this weekend. But it''s not tow late to enjoy the festival if you haven't yet. There are still two full days of screenings and the following picks are films we recommend that you check out.

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    Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

    Not to be confused with the upcoming film Coco Before Chanel (which chronicles the early years of Coco Chanel), starring Audrey Tautou, to be released on Sept. 25th, the film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky being featured at TIFF ’09 focuses on the affair between Coco Chanel and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in Paris in 1920.

    Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky was the Closing Film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It is based on the 2002 novel Coco & Igor by Chris Greenhalgh.

    The story begins in 1913. Chanel is madly in love with the wealthy aristocrat Arthur “Boy” Capel. She is devoted to her work and is a rising star. At the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, she attends Igor Stravinsky’s premiere of his revolutionary work "Rite of Spring". But the work is too radical for the Parisian aristocrats and the audience vehemently reacts with boos and jeers. It is deemed a primitive scandal. But Coco is fascinated. Stravinsky is shattered by the violent reaction of the bourgeoisie.

    Seven years later, Coco Chanel has become a rich and established woman. But she is devastated by the sudden death of Boy Capel in a car crash. She meets Stravinsky again but this time he is a penniless refuge living in exile in France following the Russian revolution. Coco Chanel is intensely drawn to him and decides to offer the homeless Stravinsky and his family refuge in her luxurious villa in Garches.

    A passionate and intense love affair between Chanel and Stravinsky ensues.


    REMAINING PUBLIC SCREENING

    Saturday September 19    09:00AM    SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

     


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    London River

    London River is the latest film by Oscar-nominated Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb. He earned much acclaim for his 2006 film Days of Glory (Indigènes) which tells the story of soldiers from France’s North African colonies who fought valiantly against the Nazis during World War II.

    In London River, Bouchareb explores the emotional aftermath of the terror attacks in London on July 7, 2005 through the despairing eyes of two parents from different cultures brought together by the search for their children gone missing.

    In the English Channel island of Guernsey, widower Elizabeth (Brenda Blethyn) is worried about the fate of her daughter Jane after hearing about the horrific events in London. Meanwhile, Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté), an African immigrant living in rural France sets out to travel to London in search of his estranged son Ali who was living in North London at the time of the attacks.

    Through a chance meeting in London, they both discover that their children had been living together at the time of the attacks.

    Although Elizabeth and Ousmane are bound by destiny, they are culturally worlds apart. Their common journey leads them to walk a common path. Through the process, they learn about each other and confront their cultural misconceptions. They give each other strength and form a deep bond.

    It’s also interesting to see how Ousmane discovers how Africans abroad live their lives. We’ve seen a lot of films depicting black people from the West going back to Africa to rediscover their roots; but Bouchareb turns the process of discovery the other way.

    Official website: http://www.tadrart.com/tessalit/londonriver/gb.html

    REMAINING SCREENINGS

    Friday September 18    08:45PM    AMC 6    
    Saturday September 19    12:15PM    CUMBERLAND 2

     


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    A Hindu''s Indictment of Heaven

    A Hindu’s Indictment of Heaven is a short film (11 minutes) by Toronto director Dev Khanna (Plums & PrunesTIFF’07) is an interesting exploration of the concepts of the soul mate, eternal happiness and the afterlife.

    Are we able to truly love only one person in our lives? Is there such a thing as eternal bliss? Will we be truly reunited with the ones we love at the gates of heaven?

    These are questions which Dev Khanna asks with A Hindu''s Indictment of Heaven. Khanna finds some of these clichés interesting because there is no such thing as a St. Peter standing at the pearly gates of heaven in his Hindu heritage.

    “I wanted to create a middle ground or a bridge between two cultures that can ultimately create a deeper understanding of the idea of love and happiness” he says.

    In the film, a woman chooses to wait at the gates of heaven for 10 years for her soul mate to show up. But there’s a twist when he arrives. He’s not alone.


    REMAINING SCREENING

    Friday September 18    09:00PM     AMC 7

     


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    Women without Men

    Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat’s (pictured on top of this article) first feature film, Women Without Men, is a unique and beautifully shot story about four women from different walks of life living through the turbulent times of early 1950s Iran. The tension-filled political backdrop is the 1953 U.S. and British-backed coup which deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstated the Shah to power.

    Each woman in the film fights to seek her freedom. Their shackles take different forms.

    Munis wants to break free of her overbearing and religiously conservative brother who wishes to marry her off. She sits in front of a radio all day and listens to the protests in the streets of Theran against the imperial powers. She yearns to be out there to fight for her country’s freedom. But she must first earn her own freedom.

    There are many parallels, which Shirin Neshat herself point out, between Munis and Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman who died before the world’s eyes and became a martyr for this year’s protesters in Iran.

    The other women in the film battle in their own way to emancipate themselves either from prostitution, the suffocation of the traditional role of women in Iranian society, and the abyss of a loveless marriage.

    The film is an adaptation of a novella by Shahrnush Parsipur.


     


    REMAINING SCREENING

    Saturday September 19    09:15AM     SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

  • A Precious Sapphire

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    Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square was mesmerized last Saturday (Sept. 12th) with a powerful reading by poet-novelist Sapphire from her book entitled Push. The book was originally published in 1997 and struck a chord with many readers. The book''s main character, Claireece "Precious" Jones, endures unimaginable hardships in her young life through mental and physical abuse from the hands of those who were supposed to love her the most. Her father has impregnated her twice and her mother continually belittles her and assaults her dignity. The power and tone of Precious'' voice in the book is gut wrenchingly raw and honest.

    When asked why she called the book Push, Sapphire replied "In the beginning of the book there''s the scene where [twelve-year-old] Precious is giving birth. I was trying to get across that very basic, primal female energy of bringing forth life. There is something very aggressive and assertive about being a female. We''re taught to be very laid-back and passive, but if we''re to survive, if we''re to move forward, we have to have that pushing energy."

    An openly bisexual woman who has experienced some of the hardships that her book’s character endures, Sapphire tackles important issues such as sexual abuse and homophobia. Precious learns to come to terms with and move on from her own abuse while also confronting her own latent homophobia through her interactions with an alternative school teacher named Ms Rain.

    Sapphire is a New York-based writer of prose and poetry whose other works include Black Wings & Blind Angels: Poems (2000) and American Dream (1996). She was in town to promote the film version of her book entitled Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film adaptation picked up the heavyweight backing of both Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey after it screened at this year''s Sundance Film Festival.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to interview Sapphire on the opening night of the film at Roy Thompson Hall on Sunday. When we asked her if she saw herself as a poet or novelist first, she replied that she is "a poet who wrote a novel." She also mentioned that she has no problem with people referring to the movie based on her book as "the new Color Purple".

    She added that she had read The Color Purple over ten times and that she in a way saw her own work as an "urban version" of The Color Purple.
    In a previous conversation she had also declared: "I wanted to let this whole new generation who''s gonna read Push know that it was born out of The Color Purple and the other books I mention. I don''t think I could have written Push if Alice Walker had not written The Color Purple, or if Toni Morrison had not written The Bluest Eyes. They kicked open the door. The content of Push may not be so problematic now, but can you imagine what it would be like if nothing had come before it?"

    Sapphire was evidently very emotional at the Sunday morning press conference for the film at Yorkville’s Four Seasons Hotel. She was accompanied by the impressive line-up of talent associated with the film which included: director Lee Daniels, co-producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, Gabourey Sidibe (who plays the role of Precious in the film), Paula Patton (Ms Rain), Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd and R&B queen Mary J. Blige.

    The emotion in the room was palpable as several members of the panel revealed how deeply they personally related to Precious.

    Oprah said that the Precious girls of the world "had been invisible" to her. "The Message from this film is that none of us who sees that movie can now walk through the world and allow the Preciouses of the world to be invisible to us again" she added.

    Mary J. Blige also added: "When I saw this film all I could think about is growing up in my neighbourhood and seeing that girl."

    Mariah Carey said that she had discovered the original book years ago and had been powerfully moved by it. She read it twice back to back. When Ms Carey stopped over to speak to AfroToronto.com on the red carpet, we asked her how she felt the film was different from the book. She told us that she loved the process of translating the book into film and that it was a whole new experience for her."It''s still the same work but it''s now a collaboration.... We were crying between scenes" she told us.

    Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire opens in the U.S. and Canada in November.

  • AfroToronto.com’s TIFF 2009 Picks - Part I

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    The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starts today. This year’s edition has been touted as one of the best line-ups in years.

    Much fanfare has been made with the announcement that none other than Oprah Winfrey will be in town to promote the film Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

    Other high-voltage guests at this year’s festival are: Mariah Carey, George Clooney, Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Chris Rock, Penelope Cruz, Michael Douglas, Tyler Perry and many more.

    Once again, AfroToronto.com will be in the theatres, red carpets and press conference rooms to bring you the best Afro-specific news and reviews from the festival; as well suggestions for the most interesting international films screening at TIFF '09.

    The following is a list of editorial picks to check out.

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    Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

    Director Lee Daniels (the Academy Award winning producer of Monster’s Ball) brings to the sliver screen the story of Precious, from the novel “Push” by New York spoken word artist and writer Sapphire.

    Precious is a morbidly obese, HIV-positive, dark-skinned teen who has suffered sexual abuse from her own father (who impregnated her twice) and who must live with the constant emotional abuse from her mother (played by Mo’Nique). Despite all these odds, this functionally illiterate young woman works through her feelings of worthlessness and resignation to seek a better life for herself with the help of a teacher (Ms Rain played by Paula Patton) and a social worker (played by Mariah Carey).

    The story draws from author Sapphire’s own experience of having been molested by her father and later teaching at-risk youth in Harlem.

    The role of Precious is played by newcomer Gaborey “Gabby” Sidibe. Sidibe had never acted before this film but said she soon felt at home on the set with the all-star cast -- which also includes Lenny Kravitz who plays a nurse. “I think we all know people like precious. There’s a lot of different people within Precious I believe. I think we’ve all at some point been ignored and we’ve all been searching for support where we just won’t find it. And I think that’s in a lot of us” says Sidibe.

    The film’s director, Lee Daniels, really encouraged all the actors to shed their own layers and dig deep. Mariah Carey describes this cathartic process when she talks about leaving her glamorous celebrity image far behind and “shedding layers of skin, becoming somebody completely new”. Carey reveals that “Lee wanted me to look as unglamorous as I could … he believed that I could do this role of the social worker.”

    The film benefits from the wholehearted endorsement of Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films) and Tyler Perry (34th Street Films). Oprah will be at the Toronto red-carper screening of the film on Sunday night (Sept. 13th) at Roy Thomson Hall. Mariah Carey and Tyler Perry are also a confirmed celebrity guests for the evening.

    SCREENING TIMES 

    Sunday September 13    09:30PM    ROY THOMSON HALL

    Monday September 14    12:30PM    WINTER GARDEN THEATRE

    YouTube Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Fvx-w8j-wM

    Official website: http://www.weareallprecious.com/


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    The Day God Walked Away

    The scene is set in the spring of 1994 in Kigali. At the start of the horrific genocide in Rwanda, a young Tutsi woman named Jacqueline, who worked for a Belgian family, suddenly finds herself abandoned and lost.

    After she discovers that her children had been brutally massacred by the Hutus, she seeks refuge in the forest. While in hiding, she finds a wounded man with whom she forms a bond.

    Together they try to make sense of a world that has gone mad and cling to their humanity in their quest to survive. As terror constantly lurks, the film projects an intensely personal and unique perspective of large-scale drama that was the Rwandan genocide which claimed the lives of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. 

    SCREENING TIMES 

    Friday September 11    09:00PM    JACKMAN HALL - AGO

    Saturday September 12    10:00AM    ISABEL BADER THEATRE

    Friday September 18    10:45AM    CUMBERLAND 2


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    Down for Life

    Down for Life, based on a New York Times article depicting the real-life events of a Latina gang leader in South Central L.A., will have its world premiere on Saturday (Sept. 12th) at the Toronto International Film Festival.

    A cinematic cross between ‘Boyz N the Hood’ and ‘City of God’, Down for Life takes us into the very real world of female Latina gang bangers’ lives.

    The story follows a fateful day in the life of Rascal (played by Jessica Romero), a 15-year-old Latina gang leader living in L.A.’s Watts ghetto. Rascal has a talent for writing that an encouraging teacher, Mr. Shannon (Danny Glover), wants to nurture and develop.

    The glimmer of hope that the opportunity of joining a writers’ workshop, and the despair of mounting tragedies in her young life, bring her to a crossroad as she contemplates leaving her gang banging life behind.

    Shot on location in Watts, the film brings an important sense of reality. The film was also shot in the original Locke High School where the original real-life story featured in the New York Times article took place.

    The film’s soundtrack was co-produced by Snoop Dogg. The music is a mix of hip-hop and Latino rhythms.

    Both Snoop Dogg and Danny Glover will be in Toronto on Saturday night (Sept. 12th) for the films world premiere at AMC Theatres.

    SCREENING TIMES

    Saturday September 12    09:30PM     AMC 7

    Monday September 14    03:30PM    AMC 7

    Friday September 18    06:15PM    AMC 7


     


    Moloch Tropical

    Shot during five weeks between April and May 2009 in the North of Haiti at La Citadelle Laferriere, the largest fortress in the western hemisphere, Moloch Tropical is a film about the end of power.

    An homage to Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov’s film Molokh (1999), which explored the last days of Hitler’s life spent with Eva Braun in Bavaria in 1942, Moloch Tropical transposes the scene to a Caribbean context -- as a Haitian president confronts the end of his power as the streets outside are inflamed in turmoil.

    The president is deeply disturbed by the turn of events and he falls into a deep depression.

    The cast includes some well-known Haitian celebrities such as Jimmy Jean-Louis ("Heroes" on NBC) and singer Emmeline Michel.

    The film received the official support of Haiti’s Ministry of Culture et Communications, the Ministry of Tourism and the country’s National Institute for the Safeguarding of Heritage (ISPAN).

    The film''s director Raoul Peck is a national cultural treasure in Haiti. Born in Haiti, raised in Zaire (Congo) and France, he divides his time between America and Europe. He served briefly as Haiti’s Minister of Culture in the 1990s.

    SCREENING TIMES

    Saturday September 12    07:00PM    ISABEL BADER THEATRE

    Monday September 14    03:30PM    SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

    Saturday September 19    03:30PM    SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4 


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  • DVD Review: Trouble the Water

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    Oscar-Nominated Documentary about Hurricane Katrina Comes to DVD

    On August 28, 2005, with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the New Orleans , Scott and Kimberly Rivers Roberts made the fateful decision to weather the storm instead of evacuate. Armed with a video camera, Kim started wandering around their Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, interviewing friends and relatives who had also chosen to stay in the city.

    It is readily apparent from watching the pre-landfall footage that none of them anticipated the dire struggle for survival which was about to unfold. Not only did they expect the levees to hold like they had for every storm since the Great Flood of 1927, but they had no reason to suspect they’d be utterly abandoned by local, state and federal authorities in the event of a massive natural disaster.

    But as we all know, that’s precisely what happened, and thousands of suddenly-homeless citizens ended up stranded for days on end without any sustenance. They were forced to fend for themselves during a triple-digit heat wave, while awaiting the proverbial cavalry which never arrived.

    Trouble the Water, nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category, is a shocking expose’ which enables you to be a fly on the crumbling levee walls as Kim and her husband shift from carefree observers into survival mode. In virtually the blink of an eye, the atmosphere goes from ominous to desperate as the water level rises so precipitously that no one has a chance to make a dash for higher ground on foot.

    Although the Roberts lived to tell the tale, the same can’t be said for all the subjects of their home movie. For example, the camera captures their utter dismay two weeks after the hurricane passed, when they enter the house of Kim’s uncle, who had been interviewed earlier, only to find his decomposing corpse lying in the living room. Other horror stories follow, such as the sight of an acquaintance’s aging mother whose body had been left behind with dozens of other patients in a hospital turned morgue.

    Equally-effectively chronicled is the constant frustration the couple encountered in dealing with FEMA bureaucrats who had the nerve to ask for documents obviously washed away. No wonder so many of the victims ended up broke, depressed, unemployed and no longer able to trust their own government.

    There’s a telling scene towards the end of the picture, featuring a displaced woman counseling her son who wants to enter the military. “You’re not going to fight for a country that doesn’t give a damn about you,” she declares matter-of-factly. “No way!” Raw, unfiltered and expletive-laced, but a brutally-honest reminder of what life has been like for the least fortunate victims of Hurricane Katrina.

    Excellent (4 stars)
    Unrated
    Running time: 96 minutes
    Studio: Zeitgeist Films

    DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, conversations with the directors, subjects, film critic Richard Roeper and producer Danny Glover, coverage of the film at the Democratic National Convention, and the theatrical trailer.

    See trailer

  • Book Review: The Bitch Switch

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    Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth made her memorable entrance into the national spotlight as the villain viewers came to either love or hate on The Apprentice during the debut season of the hit NBC-TV reality series. By the time she was fired in the boardroom by Donald Trump at the conclusion of the tenth episode, the sassy, business-savvy sister had already become enough of a cultural icon to be referred to by just her first name alone.

    “What we as women have gone by in the past—the nice girl plan—is NOT working in the office, at home, or in life.! In romantic relationships, we suffer because we hand over our power for love and turn off our Bitch Switch. In our relationships with friends and family, we are taken advantage of. In the office, we have been passed over and walked on because we refuse to embrace our inner bitch. WELL, NO MORE! …This book is your step-by-step guide for locating your inner BITCH, personalizing your switch, and knowing when to turn it on and when to turn it off. It’s not about being mean. It’s about meaning what you SAY!”

    - Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xi & xiii)

    Whether or not she had been fairly portrayed as a demanding diva on the program, Omarosa subsequently had the sense to parlay that controversial image into appearances on over 20 other reality shows, including Celebrity Poker Showdown, Fear Factor, I Love New York and The Surreal Life, to name a few. And a testament to her enduring notoriety is the fact that she was the only former contestant invited back by Trump last year for another go-round as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice.

    In The Bitch Switch: Knowing How to Turn It On and Off, Omarosa lays out her straightforward philosophy of life in order to help females who let themselves be treated like doormats. Though unfortunately-titled, given the use of the B-word, this otherwise sensible tome reveals the author as an intelligent, strong and fervent feminist with plenty of practical advice to share with women whose self-esteem issues have been sabotaging their professional careers and preventing them from forging meaningful relationships.

    For instance, not one to tolerate any double standards, Omarosa points out that a businesswoman will often be called a B-word for exhibiting the same hard-nosed leadership skills that would be praised in a man. Rather than allow herself to be manipulated by a natural desire to be liked, she instead asserts that “When men stop being assholes, I’ll stop being a bitch.”

    A recurring theme emerges from an examination of Omarosa’s daily affirmations which range from “Nagging is good and shows persistence!” to “I can’t make everyone like me, but I can make them respect me!” to “Who cares what people think of me! I don’t need their trifling validation!”

    An effective primer for vulnerable females on how to avoid the pitfalls of dating and of economic exploitation via an unapologetically self-preservation oriented approach to the battle-of-the-sexes.

  • Quentin Tarantino: The “Inglourious Basterds” Interview

    Born in Knoxville , Tennessee on March 27, 1963 to an Italian father and a mother of Irish and Cherokee extraction, Quentin Jerome Tarantino took a most unorthodox approach to showbiz. He dropped out of high school at 15 to pursue moviemaking but it would take some time to realize that dream. The closest he got to Hollywood for years was a minimum-wage gig as a clerk at a video rental store in L.A. where he became known for making recommendations to appreciative customers.

    He finally began his meteoric rise in 1992 with the release of Reservoir Dogs, following-up that impressive directorial debut a couple of years later with Pulp Fiction, the seven-time Academy Award-nominee for which he won an Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay category. Since then, his storybook career has included such critically-acclaimed films as Jackie Brown, Kill Bill 1 & 2, and a couple of collaborations with Robert Rodriguez, Sin City and Grindhouse.

    Here, Quentin talks about his new film, Inglourious Basterds, which is based upon a screenplay he started writing over a decade ago. The World War II action flick stars Brad Pitt as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army who leads a squad of Jewish soldiers on a mission behind enemy lines in France to go hunting for Nazis.

    Kam Williams: Hi Quentin, thanks for the time. I really appreciate it.

    Quentin Tarantino: Oh, it’s my pleasure, I was psyched to do this especially after I read some of the comments you made after reading the script. It was a real phantasmagorical collection of references.

    KW: That was an interesting experience. This is my first time reading a script instead of seeing the movie before conducting an interview.

    QT: Oh, that’s cool.

    KW: How does it feel to have finished Inglourious Basterds, finally, given that you’ve been working on it for over a decade?

    QT: It’s a little surreal, to tell you the truth, after having the project in my mind for such a long time. I had scenes written for it but for years it was always just kind of out there. And at one point I even considered putting it aside, thinking maybe I’d grown out of it or moved past it. But then I realized that I’d invested too much into it, and that even if I never made the movie, I at least had to finish writing it just so I could get this mountain out of the way. One thing that’s different though is that opposed to thinking about it as this long-gestating piece that was written over years and years, the truth is I only came up with a lot of the characters and the first two chapters of the final script way back when. Otherwise, it has a whole different storyline. What kept preventing me from making the movie earlier was that it was just too big and too involved, almost like a mini-series. And just before I turned it into a mini-series, I decided to take one more crack at trying to make it as a movie. That’s when I came up with a new storyline about the premiere of a German propaganda film which I completed about a year ago in just seven months. As a matter of fact, on the cover page of your copy of the original script you can see that I literally put the pen down on July 2nd, 2008. So, the final draft was a weird combination of this long-gestating project and something I had never worked at with more intense momentum.

    KW: Since Brad Pitt’s character, Aldo, is from Tennessee and part-Cherokee, like yourself, I was wondering whether he was modeled on you?

    QT: He’s definitely modeled after me. I probably would’ve wanted to play the character, if I had finished writing the script way back when, in the Nineties. But now, I don’t want to act at all.

    KW: While reading the script, some of the films it reminded me of in different spots included The Train, Von Ryan’s Express, The Guns of Navarone, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Black Book, Zabriskie Point, The Wizard of Oz, The Big Lebowski and Defiance.

    QT: That’s a neat collection, although I never saw Defiance . I’d be interested in hearing how you connect the dots.

    KW: Defiance is included because of the theme of Jews fighting back. Why did you decide to have this all-Jewish unit led by a gentile from the South?

    QT: That’s an interesting question. Basically, Aldo’s this character I’ve had in my mind for a very, very long time. So, in a way he came before the Basterds. Furthermore, it’s kind of a two-way proposition, because Aldo had been fighting racism in the South before the war. And if he survives the war, he’s going to continue fighting the Klan in the Fifties, with his own version of the Basterds in the Tennessee Hills. Also, the fact that he’s part Native American is significant, because what he’s doing against the Nazi’s is similar to the Apache resistance, the ambushing of soldiers, desecrating their bodies and leaving them there for other Germans to find. Aldo’s idea is to find Jewish soldiers because he should be able to motivate them more easily because they are essentially warriors in a holy war against an enemy that’s trying to wipe their race off the face of the Earth.

    KW: You have a black character named Marcel [played by Jacky Ido] who works as the projectionist in a movie theater. I’d have guessed that all the blacks in occupied France had been carted off to Concentration camps by the Nazis.

    QT: No they weren’t. The relationship between black people and Nazi Germany was very interesting. Part of the reason is that there were so few blacks in Europe that there wasn’t a “Black Problem” per se, the way there was a “Jewish Problem.” So, black people weren’t rounded up in Nazi occupied France . You’d have to keep a low profile, to be sure, but having said that, you’d still enjoy more freedoms there than on the streets of Chicago at the same time period. And far more freedoms than in a state like Alabama . For instance, you could walk into a restaurant in Paris and sit down and order something. The odd irony in all this is that while there’s no mistaking where Hitler was coming from as far as blacks were concerned, after all, he made that very clear in Mein Kampf, the average German soldier did not feel the same way about black people. In fact, they were absolutely appalled whenever they witnessed the racism exhibited by white American soldiers towards their fellow black soldiers. They couldn’t fathom it, because they believed the hype about America being the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s equally unfathomable that we went to Europe to fight racial oppression with a segregated army. A wonderful paper could be written about all this, and maybe I’ll do that one of these days.

    KW: Do you make a cameo appearance in this film, like you have in a lot of your movies?

    QT: Not really. I think you can hear my voice a little bit in one of the propaganda movies. [Chuckles]

    KW: Why did you spell “Basterds” with an “E” in the title?

    QT: I wasn’t trying to be coy or anything, but it was just an artistic stroke.

    KW: How did you feel when the picture was so well received at Cannes , where you got an 11-minute ovation?

    QT: Yeah, we got the standing ovation of the Festival. That was really exciting and a lot of fun kind of dropping it on the world there. And I felt a sense of satisfaction because we had worked hard to get the picture finished in time for Cannes .

    KW: Laz Lyles is curious about why you chose a lot of relatively unknown actors for this picture?

    QT: Since I was casting country-appropriate, every actor had to be from the place they were representing, and they had to be able to speak the appropriate language as well. In other words, it wasn’t enough that you could speak German, you had to be German. Oddly enough, in Germany , this is considered an all-star cast.

    KW: Laz also asks, how did director Eli Roth get involved with the project as an actor?

    QT: Eli’s a really good friend of mine, and I’ve always known that he’s a really fun performer on screen. Plus, he looks like his character, the Bear Jew, and he does an impeccable Boston accent.

    KW: Nick Antoine says you’re already one of the greatest directors of all time, so where do you go from here? What''s the next mountain for you to climb?

    QT: Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t really know. Usually, when I finish making a movie, I have to pause to contemplate life a little, and then I see where to go. It’s not like I’m shopping for scripts. I generally have to start from scratch every time. However, I could go with Kill BiIl 3. Or I could do a prequel to this movie, because I have half of it written. It’s actually a story about the Basterds with a bunch of black troops. The truth is that I don’t really know what’s next, but I really like being in that square one position.

    KW: How about making another homage to either martial arts or blaxploitation flicks?

    QT: Well, I gotta say that I do hear a bit off a calling to do another crime picture. Maybe one set in the Seventies. All these other people are doing it, and to me, they never get it right. Like American Gangster. Were there any black people at all involved making that movie?

    KW: Nick also asks, what is your opinion of the direction the film industry seems to be headed?

    QT: I don’t want to sound like one of those guys who’s always bemoaning the business today and thinking about how much better it was before. But as my movie gets ready to go out into the marketplace, I feel very lucky that I’m still a commercial director and that my movies still play mainstream and open in 3,000 theaters, because my movies always seem so different from everything else playing in the multiplexes. As long as there’s a place for people like me and Michael Mann to exhibit our work, then I’m all for it.

    KW: Finally, Nick asks, how would you say the internet has influence film?

    QT: What the internet has done is destroy film criticism. I would never have guessed ten years ago that the profession of film criticism would be going the way of the dodo bird.

    KW: Who’s your favorite film critic? Let me guess: the late Pauline Kael.

    QT: For sure. She’s just about my favorite writer.

    KW: And who’s your favorite director, Howard Hawks?

    QT: I love Howard Hawks, but I would probably go with Sergio Leone.

    KW: Keith Kremer asks, if you met someone unfamiliar with your work who wanted to watch just one of your movies, which one would you suggest?

    QT: That’s an interesting question… Umm… I would probably cater to that person’s personality. So, if they seemed like more of a Kill Bill person, I’d show them, Kill Bill. If I wanted someone to get to know me though, I would have to start with Reservoir Dogs.

    KW: Bi-continental attorney Bernadette Beekman told me that she was in Cannes for the release of Reservoir Dogs, and she was wondering, what was the best time you ever had at the festival?

    QT: Well, I’ve had a lot of good times in Cannes , but when I won the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction would have to be the best.

    KW: Director Hisani Dubose wanted to know what you shoot on now. She points out that you shot part of Pulp Fiction on High 8. She’s curious about whether you’re still using film or if you’ve gone to High Definition video

    QT: I’ve never used High Definition video, never, ever, ever, ever, ever. And I never will. I can’t stand that crap.

    KW: Larry Greenberg says you started out at 15 and have been immersed in the industry, in one way or another, your whole life. He asks, do you think a person coming to the industry later in life still has a chance for success at acting or directing?

    QT: It can be difficult to get into directing at a later age. However, look at Courtney Hunt, the woman who won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year for Frozen River [at the age of 43]. So, if you can raise the money on your own, you can direct a movie at any age. As far as acting is concerned, it’s advisable to get started when you’re younger, but there are plenty of actors who started their careers in their late thirties or early forties.

    KW: Jackie Schatz asks, how do you think of Hitler?

    QT: In a word, despicable!

    KW: Marcia Evans asks, will you ever settle down and have a family?

    QT: I’ve thought about that. Look, I went through baby fever, for sure, about five or six years ago, but I kind of got over it. Up until now, I’ve wanted my movies to be the most important thing in my life. I haven’t wanted to let anything distract me from that. And I think I still feel the same way right now.

    KW: Marcia may be a bit presumptuous here, but she says she knows you have a foot fetish. And she asks if there’s another part of the anatomy that you have a fetish about?

    QT: I appreciate the female foot, but I’ve never said that I have a foot fetish. But I am a lower track guy. I like legs… I like booties… [Laughs] Let’s just say, I have a black male sexuality.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    QT: No, there isn’t one that’s just been hanging out there, that I say to myself, why don’t they ask this?

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    QT: [Hesitates] Very rarely would I use the word “afraid.” I feel trepidation. I get nervous, particularly when I’m about to shoot a big cinematic sequence that absolutely has got to work or else why bother. Going into those scenes, I have trepidation, because it’s mine to mess up.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    QT: Oh, I’m very happy.

    KW: Teri Emerson would like to know, when was the last time you had a good laugh?

    QT: Oh, I laugh all the time. I’m an easy laugher. You can find me on any set, because I’m always laughing.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    QT: I’m a cinemaphile, so I read a lot of cinema books. The last one I read was a biography abut the director Dorothy Arzner .

    KW: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

    QT: Poverty, to a great degree. I was very poor at the age of 16 and 17.

    KW: Working in the video store.

    QT: No, those were the good days. But even then, while working at the video store for five years, I was a high school dropout making minimum wage. And that’s what I existed on for what seemed like forever. We would dream about one day getting a raise to the wonderful world of $8 an hour. So, to overcome that minimum-wage kid white underclass to actually be responsible for millions of dollars when it comes to making a movie was a very big deal.

    KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

    QT: If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to love it. If you love cinema as much as I do, and not many people do, and if you are focused and actually have something to offer, you will get somewhere with it. And when it comes to being a writer, just write. Writing is actually the easiest thing to get started at. But don’t write what you think people want to read. Find your voice and write about what’s in your heart.

    KW: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

    QT: That’s a good question, actually. I’d have to say barbecuing a steak. It’s one dish I do it really well, and it’s very satisfying. I can make other things, but I don’t like to cook just for myself. Barbecuing a steak is always good.

    KW: Well, thanks again for the interview Quentin. Best of luck with Inglourious Basterds and I look forward to speaking with you again down the line.

    QT: Hey, I look forward to it Kam. This was a really great conversation.

    To see a trailer for Inglourious Basterds, visit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vCiyy7Cibc

  • Selam Youth Festival: Community building at its best!

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    This summer represented the evolution of the Selam Youth Festival. Growing from a one day celebration to a three day affair, the festival started as an initiative by a group of young, Ethiopian and Eritrean members of People to People Canada, their mission to empower youth and create awareness about HIV/AIDS. The festival was closed  with the  heartwarming documentary entitled Guzo: The Journey. In this film we are introduced to Lidya and Robero, two privileged youth living in the city of Addis Abba.  They are asked to spend a month in the countryside living like the farmers.

    Many of us have become used to the idea of reality television, and have grown accustomed to seeing individuals swap lives and the hilarious results. From our very introduction to Lidya and Robero the stark realities of what they will face is made clear, the pampered lifestyle of a middle-class youth hanging out with friends in bars, dining at restaurants, the charmed city life is virtually unheard of in the countryside. Both Lidya's and Robero, families are supportive if perhaps a bit skeptical that they will survive an entire month.

    So, we watch the enthusiastic youth go from a life of privilege to one decidedly agrarian life in the countryside.

    We meet Belgeye, Lidya's sweet, endearing hostess. She is a hardworking 25 year old mother of three, her daily routine resembles the life of a serf, filled with cleaning pig pens, fetching water and twigs. This is definitely not city life. This routine seems unbearable to Lidya but it means survival for Belgeye. Though her life is the polar opposite of Lidya's, the two become extremely close. But the harshness of rural life quickly takes it toll and the once good-natured, carefree adventurers breaks under the pressure, almost appearing spoiled at times. In one memorable scene we watch Robero refuse dinner with his hosts and demand the meals the crew receives. Despite their discomfort the adventurers manage to survive, but while they can be barely contain their joy on hearing they will be leaving, the surprising reaction is the despair their hosts show.

    In an age where reality TV is the norm, this film sets itself apart through it's humanity. Humanity and community building best exemplify spirit behind the Selam Youth festival. According to the festivals producer, Addis Embiyalow, “We seek to inspire our generation to be global leaders in health education and community building through the arts.” The festival’s artistic offerings prove they are well on their to achieving this goal.

  • Delicious Picks for Summerworks 2009

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    This year’s Summerworks Festival gives us a most revealing look at new works by some of the city’s busiest performance personalities, all with something to say and really great lighting to say it under.  The festival runs until August 16, so get a schedule, make a plan and show your support to these passionate performers.

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    Sedina Fiati is a familiar name, face and voice on Toronto stages and behind the scenes.  By day she connects with the

    community through bcurrent theatre’s outreach and development, as well as putting together any number of independent productions.  When she steps out of the phone booth, however, Ms Sedina is a full blown diva.  Her pin up show, which is part of this year’s Summerworks Performance Gallery, evokes the iconic 1950’s pin up and invites audiences to get in touch with their own inner out-there.  Like all divas, the girl can belt a tune with the best of them, as demonstrated in the cabaret she puts on with Night at The Indies.  But lately it’s the acting bug she’s been indulging.  Sedina was recently seen in the chorus of Rebecca Fisseha’s Wise Woman and joins the Summerworks line-up as part of bcurrent’s rAiz’n the sun ensemble in The Centre, directed by Joan M. Kivanda. The Centre, a collaborative creation of the ensemble, takes us into an analysis of our times through the eyes of two futuristic emissaries on a quest to save civilization as they know it.

     

    rAiz’n the sun ensemble presents

    The Centre

    by rAiz’n the sun ensemble

    Directed by Joan M. Kivanda


    Featuring Sedina Fiati, Jajube Mandiela, Tanya Pillay, Maxine Marcellin, Navneet Rai, Malube Uhindu-gingala, Deidre Walton, Meghan Swaby, Marika Schwandt, Amanda Nicholls



    Venue: Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

    Remaining shows: August 10th 8:00pm, August 11th 10:00pm, August 14th 4:00pm, August 15th 8:00pm


    Maxine Marcellin is no festival freshman.  This year at bcurrent’s rock.paper.sistahs festival Maxine performed a spellbinding one woman odyssey into the perils of perfect-bra-hunting, and her play The Assembly Line of Love, was presented in Fringe 2003.  Not one to let her pen rest, Ms Marcellin is at it again with her new play, Keen, at Summerworks 2009 which she wrote and performs alongside an intriguing cast of newcomers.  The play takes us to Trinidad where six women are putting one of their own to rest, and handling it in with varying degrees of success.  Despite the funereal backdrop, Marcellin manages to make me laugh at her characters’ isms even as I identify keenly with them.  Keen isn’t Maxine’s only offering this year.  The young dynamo also joins bcurrent’s rAiz’n the sun ensemble in The Centre as an actor.   



    MGM Theatre Co. and Amanda Nicholls present

    Keenby Maxine G. Marcellin

    Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa

    Featuring Denise Pinnock, Maxine Marcellin, Tanisha Taitt, Malube Uhindu-Gingala, Shobha Hatte, Puja Uppal

    Venue: Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street
     Remaining shows: August 13th 6:00pm, August 15th 12:00pm, August 16th 8:00pm

     


    More Summerworks shows and artists not to be missed:

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    Project Humanity’s The Middle Place, featuring a standout performance by Akosua Amo-Adem alongside the always charming Antonio Cayonne, is a verbatim play constructed from interviews conducted at a Rexdale youth shelter.  The words onstage are raw documentary of young homeless living in Toronto.

     

    Lisa Karen Cox bends, twists and astonishes in Erin Shields’ The Epic of Gilgamesh at Theatre Passe Muraille courtesy of Groundwater Productions.  Cox was recently seen in a Nightwood Theatre workshop of Marika Schwant’s Mulatto Nation and the National Arts Centre’s production of Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

     

    We encountered Tawiah M’Carthy’s work last year when he brought Kente Cloth to Summerworks as playwright and performer.  This year he gives a distinguished performance in Jordan Tannahill’s The Art of Catching Pigeons by Torchlight, an offsite production presented by Suburban Beast which also features the captivating Marika Schwandt (also a member of the raizn ensemble, and performer in The Centre).  

     

    Chy Ryan Spain, a familiar face at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, takes a fine line and stretches it in Ecce Homo’s production of The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar by Alistair Newton.  Spain recently earned his Tyra Banks impersonation stripes in the company’s previous production, The Pastor Phelps Project.

     

    d’bi young’s newest play, Benu, looks at a 30 year old womban contemplating life and death following the birth of her youngest child.  Natasha Mytwoych’s direction is sure to amplify the consistently strong performance we’ve come to expect from d’bi.  In keeping with the multi-tasking of her peers, d’bi also climbs into the director’s chair to helm sketchin toronto, a collective work by youth at sketch working arts.

     

    For a full festival schedule visit http://www.summerworks.ca/

     

    See you out there!

  • Exclusive Interview with Historian Dr Clayborne Carson - Part II

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    P.T.: What do you think can be done to make sure that kids know more about MLK and Gandhi?

    Dr. C.C.: Well, I devoted my life to do this. I try to make sure that people know about their methods. For Gandhi and MLK, the nonviolence methods apply as much to people in power than to those who are not in power. During the war in Vietnam, King said that you can’t tell oppressed people in the US not to use violence when, ten thousand miles away, you use violence to fight communism. It was recognized that there was a contradiction and a paradox. You have to be consistent. It is only when poor people or oppressed people are upset that people in power tell them to be pacifists.

    I encourage the readers to go to the King’s institute web site to know more about non-violence and the tools which can be used.  We have a curriculum program.  We publish books to inform people.

    P.T.  For the 40th anniversary of the death of the icon MLK, the well-known French magazine L’histoire presented several specialized articles on the subject.  In their March 2008 issue we learned in the article by well-known French historian Pap Ndiaye that at the time of MLK’s death, his autopsy revealed that his heart resembled that of a sixty year old man.  At the time, however, MLK was 39 years old!  Do you think that MLK was aware of the consequences of oppression in its entirety? 

    Dr.  C.C.  Even if I am not a physician, I believe that Dr.  King had stress fighting against oppression around him and the African American people. Dr King was constantly under surveillance by the federal police from 1960 to his assassination the 4th of April 1968.  So, that definitely added a lot of stress.  Civil rights workers were frequently killed and Dr. King received many death threats.  He had threats made against him and his family every single day.  So, this consistent state of stress had an adverse effect on his health.  He knew about the impact this had on his own body.  He went to doctors many times and was told that he needed to slow down, but he took the cause to heart.  The physicians let him know that he needed to get rest, to take more vacations.  He tried to do that to some degree.  He did go off, usually to the Caribbean for vacation.  He tried to get away.  He thought about retiring from his role as the leader of the civil rights movement.

    P.T. Oh, really?


    Dr.  C.C.  Oh, yes he considered becoming perhaps a theologian on a campus.  He decided in the end that his role was to be involved in the struggle which was not over.

    P.T.  I know that even before the King couple decided to be involved in the fight, they had the possibility to teach in Northern Universities.  For example, the late Coretta Scott King had the possibility to be a professional singer but the couple thought that they had to get involved to improve the condition of the African American people. 

    Dr.  C.C.  Exactly.  The couple discussed about the possibilities in the North of the country.  They went for example to Montgomery.  MLK had job offers.  Several colleges offered him positions on their faculties.  MLK and his wife finally decided to commit their lives to the cause.  They could not close their eyes to this very serious struggle.

    P.T.  The late notable writer James Baldwin stated in an interview that Dr. MLK had greater moral authority in the South of the country than in the North.  As an historian, how would you explain this situation?


    Dr.  C.C.  Well, Dr King was a religious leader and religious leaders had greater authority in the South because a larger proportion of African Americans in the South went to church.  Also, there were fewer other kinds of leaders in the South but in the North there were lawyers, elected political leaders, intellectuals of various types:  professors, etc.  In the South, there were fewer types of those people especially lawyers and elected politicians because in the South it was much more difficult for black lawyers to practice their profession.  It was much more difficult for black politicians to be elected and to end up in political office because their people were not allowed to vote.  In the North, there was a greater and wider variety of leadership in the black community.  There were newspaper leaders, business leaders of various types.  In the South, there was also a variety of leaders but just not as much variety.  In the Southern part of the country, the Black Baptist leaders particularly had the advantage of being in a church where their jobs depended on the congregation.  It meant that they could only be fired by the members of their church.  Each congregation was able to choose their own leaders.  Black Baptist ministers were selected by other Black people and that gave them more authority.  Black Pentecostal ministers were selected in that way and a large part of the black community endorsed them.  

    P.T.  You collaborated with the Roma Design Group of San Francisco to create the « winning proposal » in an international competition to design the national King memorial, currently being built in Washington, D.C.  An Asian sculptor was later selected to create a statute of King for the memorial.  What is your position regarding the fact that some African Americans and Americans thought it should have been their duty to build this memorial, and about the fact that none of the memorials in Washington, D.C were designed by African American sculptors in the past? Also, what are the new developments at this time regarding the MLK memorial in Washington, D.C, and what is the timeframe for the completion of the design?

    Dr.  C.  I can’t answer the last question because I was just involved in the design part of the memorial and not in the building process.  The King memorial foundation is responsible for building it.  They have made it very clear that they are making the decision about the construction process and the selection of the sculptor and other aspects of the building of it.  I don’t believe that the nationality of the sculptor is an issue.  For me, what’s important is to assess the quality of the sculptor, whether the sculptor’s competency is appropriate for someone like King.  I think it is always better that the sculptor has some understanding of the subject, familiarity with Black American culture.  I don’t know how much consideration was made to those factors in the selection of the sculptor.   I wasn’t involved in that process either.  I think that being Chinese should not be a criterion to eliminate the sculptor.  It should be an open competition to select the best sculptor.  Dr. King was color blind and his philosophy was about universality.  However, I think the real question is about transparency.  There wasn’t an open competition.  Nor was it at least a public competition where candidates could submit ideas. I read the newspaper and this is how I learned the name of the sculptor for the memorial.  I was one of the members of the design team of the memorial and I feel I should have been consulted.  I should have been informed about why the decision was made and I should have been involved in the decision process.

    When the decisions were made, the reasons of the choice should be clear to everyone.  So, as a person involved in the design of the memorial I would have preferred a situation where we as the designers of the memorial along with the collaborators would have been included in the selection of the sculptor, because the sculptural design could clash with the ideas of the design itself.  The only way to prevent that is to have the original designers working with the sculptor to make sure that the original concept was maintained.  But that hasn’t happened.

    P.T.  You researched MLK and Malcolm X.  How could you explain the fact that up until now, a big screen movie about MLK (one of the greatest American men) was never made, unlike for Malcolm X?  If such a movie is done in the future, who do you think should portray MLK, and why?

    [Note: The interview with Dr Carson was conducted in March 2009.  In May 2009, Dreamworks production acquired the rights for the biopic’s MLK movie.  It will be a Steven Spielberg production.] 

    Dr.  C.C.  I don’t have a real opinion on who should portray him.  I hope that a film about him is made in the future and probably a number of African American actors could do a great job portraying him.  I think that Malcom X’s life is perceived as more exotic (laughs).  A lot of people think they know much more about MLK than Malcolm X.  I believe they are wrong and that there is a lot that they don’t know about Dr. King.  I would love to write the script.

    P.T.  You received an Oscar nomination for the documentary Freedom on my mind and a Grammy award for the recording of the Autobiography of MLK Jr.  What do these recognitions mean to you?

    Dr.  C.C.  I did those projects as part of a group.  I can’t take all the credit because it wasn’t a personal accomplishment.  So, these awards are not in my home.  It is nice to see this recognition for all of us who worked hard on this story of struggle.  The biggest award that I can get for the work I have done is for people to read the autobiography and watch the documentary.  

    P.T.  Here is my final question:  What do you think Martin Luther King would have said if he were still with us regarding the election of Mr. Barack Obama?

    Dr.  C.C.  Dr. MLK always believed in this nation. Dr.  King the dreamer got killed but it was impossible to kill the dream. MLK’s aspiration was global peace with social justice. He believed in change of mentality.  He knew that Jewish people, WASPs, Black people and others could coexist and work together.  I think MLK would be very pleased by the fact that many Americans chose a candidate on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.  The world wanted a change.  Obama’s stature as a unifier gave him international reach.  However, I also think that MLK would criticize the American foreign policy regarding the war in Afghanistan. Dr.  King would like the US to make a strong fight against poverty (both domestic and international) a priority.  MLK and Gandhi, the soldiers of nonviolence proved that it is possible to bring about changes through pacifism.  Dr.  King would expect the Americans to uplift themselves, to focus on improving the situation of people at home.  The United States of America is among the industrials countries with the greatest number of youth living below the poverty line.  MLK would say they are the future hope of the country, not the military industrial complex.  Dr.  King was the defender of the oppressed, and he was for the redistribution of resources.  His commitment to nonviolence was the defining ideology of his life.

    I am going to leave you with this quote by Dr. King after his visit to Gandhi’s family in India (1959):  “ I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.

    P.T.  Thank you so much, Dr. Carson, for this rich interview and for your outstanding work in keeping Dr. King’s legacy alive.  It was an honor to interview you.

     


    SELECTED BOOKS

    The Autobiography of Martin Luther King. Jr. Editor. New York: Warner Books and Time Warner AudioBooks, 1998. • Martin Luther King Autobiographie. Paris: Bayard Éditions, 1998 (Traduction and notes by Marc Saporta et Michèle Truchan-Saporta). • «I Have a Dream» L’autobiographia del profeta dell’uguaglianza. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2000 (Traduzione di Tania Gargiulo). • Eu Tenho um Sonho: A Autobiographia de Martin Luther King. Lisboa: Editorial Bizâncio, 2003 (Tradução de Francisco Agarez) . Other foreign language editions: Finnish, Japanese, Korean.

    Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited with Peter Holloran. New York: Warner Books and Time Warner AudioBooks, 1998 (foreign language edition: French).

    The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume III: Birth of a New Age, December 1955 – December 1956. Edited with Stewart Burns, Susan Carson, Pete Holloran, Dana Powell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

    The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume II: Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955. Edited with Ralph E. Luker, Penny A. Russell, and Peter Holloran. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume 1: Called to Serve, January 1929-June 1951. Edited with Ralph E. Luker and Penny A. Russell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

     

    NON-VIOLENCE ORGANIZATIONS

    International Fellowship of reconciliation (IFOR)

    Gandhi Institute:  http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/

    The King Institute: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/

  • Exclusive Interview with Historian Dr Clayborne Carson - Part I

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    Clayborne Carson spent his university years involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war protests. He earned his B.A. in 1967, M.A in 1971 and Ph.D in 1975 from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1985, Mrs. Coretta Scott King asked him to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. As founding Director Carson oversees the compiling and editing of 14 volumes of Dr. King''s sermons, correspondence and unpublished writings. He has also published works outside of the Papers Project based on King’s writings, such as the Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1998 (the recording of this book was awarded a Grammy award later in 1999 as the best documentary CD). Many of Carson’s publications have been translated into other languages.

    Dr. Carson is currently professor of history at Stanford University, where he is also founding director of the King Research and Education Institute. In 2005, the professor created the King Institute''s enormously popular website , which appeals to a diverse, global audience.  In addition Carson is the King Distinguished Professor at Morehouse College, where he also serves as Executive Director of the Morehouse King Collection.  Dr.  Carson was senior adviser for the remarkable award-winning public television series, Eyes on the Prize:  America at the racial crossroads –1965-1985, a 14-hour PBS video (1989).  He served as historical advisor for the Oscar nominated documentary Freedom on my mind (1994). Dr. Carson''s publications shed expert light on African American protest movements and political thought during the post-World War II period. His work has appeared in many leading historical journals and numerous encyclopedias, as well as in popular periodicals. His first book, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, a study of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was published in 1981 and won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians.

    Dr.  Carson is regularly invited to appear on several notable shows such as The Charlie Rose Show, Tavis Smiley Show, Fresh Air, Goodmorning America, CBS Evening News, and others.  We spoke to Dr. Carson, the 30th of March 2009, who graciously shared his expertise in history with us.  By the freelance reporter and legist Patricia Turnier, LL.M 


    Patricia Turnier, LL.M. talks to Dr. Clayborne Carson, Ph.D:


    P.T.:  Your fascination for history started with the beginning of the civil rights movement.  Can you tell us more about this passion?

    Dr.  C.C.:  As a child I enjoyed reading history books even though at the time I wasn’t thinking about becoming an historian.  I loved to read not only about African American history, but also the history of the world.  I remember reading about the early settlers in this country.  As a teenager, I read the classics of Richard Wright such as Black Boy and Native Son. When I began college, I studied Latin American history and majored in this field.  I was fascinated by Brazil, a multicultural society, as an undergraduate.  Not until I graduated did I have a special interest in African American history.  By that time, I was involved in the African American freedom struggle.  So, I became more interested in recent African American history. I didn’t think about becoming an historian of the civil rights movement because it seemed so recent to me.  I always considered history as something far back in the past.  So, I never really considered studying the period that I lived through.  But one of my professors reminded me that I had written many articles as a journalist during the 1960’s.  He suggested that I write a dissertation about the civil rights movement. I really didn’t consider this a possibility.  I even asked my professor if it was really history.  So, I wrote a dissertation about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  The title of my thesis was “Toward freedom and community”.  In graduate school, I realized that African American history was the area which interested me the most.  I loved to write about how oppressed people were fighting for freedom.

    P.T.:  As an historian, do you think that there really is a difference between the left wing and the right wing regarding the interests of Black America or is it an illusion?  For example, we tend to forget that the abolitionist Abraham Lincoln was a republican.  From that period until the 1930s (during the Roosevelt era) Black America voted for the Republicans most of the time.  Now, 90% of Black America votes for the Democrats.  How do you explain this historical shift since the 1930s and what is your opinion about the two parties regarding the defense of civil rights and economic justice concerning Black America?

    Dr.  C.C.: Well, I think what changed is not Black America but the party.  During the era of Abraham Lincoln, his party used its power to free the slaves.  For Black America, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln.   Black Americans thought in the 19th century that the Republicans were looking out for their interests so they voted for this party from the time of the reconstruction era. After 1930, the African Americans believed in the New Deal with its social and economical reforms.  This is how the allegiance shift happened.  During the 1930s, it appeared to Black Americans that the Democrats would be more effective in dealing with the crisis of that time.  So, the African Americans changed their allegiance.  They believed in the programs offered by the Roosevelt party:  minimum wages, social security, etc.  This faith became stronger in the 1960s with the civil rights legislation of the Kennedy and Johnson years.  The Democratic Party showed that it was a stronger force for social justice.  So, African Americans historically supported the party that would make their lives better.

    When Lyndon Johnson was able to pass the civil rights act of 1964 and the voting act of 1965, I think from that point on at least 80% of Black voters chose the Democrats. At that time the Republican Party didn’t demonstrate a concrete will to change things for the African Americans.  They supported the Southern segregationists with their right wing ideology, so it would have been difficult for Black America to endorse them.  The former US president Lyndon Johnson was responsible for designing legislation that included civil rights laws, Medicare, Medicaid, aid to education and the “War on poverty”.  In the 1960s president Johnson was a positive force for social justice. The opposing candidate in the 1964 election, the Republican Barry Goldwater, was adamantly opposed to the civil rights bills. Thus, with time, the Republican party became more right wing, more conservative.  However, it was possible at that time to find progressive people in the Republican Party.  For example, people like Nelson Rockefeller were for the civil rights.  They encouraged civil rights reforms, but they were a minority.  So, I believe throughout history that Black America’s allegiance was always giving support to the party which would best defend their interests.

    P.T.:  Dr. Clayborne Carson, you devoted your professional life to the study of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the movements King inspired. You were 19 years old when you listened to one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century, « I have a dream », the 28th of August 1963 in Washington, D.C.  Can you tell us about this event and share with us what it meant to you?

    Dr.  C.C.: I was 19 at the time.  It was one of the most exciting events I had ever attended by myself  And it was my first time in Washington, D.C.  I see this event as a turning point in my life.  It allowed me to decide for myself what I wanted to do politically.  I was able to identify with this very exciting movement developing in the South.  Actually, I was not a Southerner, I grew up in New Mexico.  When I read articles about the protests which were going on, I could identify with the protesters; many of them were my age so I wanted to be part of it.  Going to the march was my way of being part of that movement.  I made longtime friends from that moment such as Stokely Carmichael who became the head of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, Bob Moses who was one of the leaders of the voting rights campaign in Mississippi.  I met people like that.  I admire them very much, as much as MLK.  I saw Dr. King from a distance.  I never was able to speak to him personally.  He was on a pedestal and I admired him, but people like Moses and Carmichael were models in my personal life.  They were closer to my own age and it was easier for me to identity with them.  I imagined myself becoming one of them.

    P.T.:  But how did you feel when you heard the famous speech the 28th of August 1963?

    Dr.  C.C.:  I was very impressed with the size of the crowd.  There were 250 000 people.  As I said before, it was my first time in Washington, D.C.  I never went to the Lincoln Memorial, so everything was impressive to me.  This might surprise you but at the time King’s speech was to me just another speech.  It is only later that I realized I was there when Dr. King gave a speech considered as one of the most important in the 20th century.  I heard this speech so many times afterwards that it is difficult for me to remember how I felt the first time.  When I heard Dr. MLK that day, I wasn’t very familiar with people giving speeches so I could not compare.  I had never before heard Dr. King, so, I could not know it was one of his best speeches.  Also, when you are surrounded by so many people in a big crowd, you can become distracted by things around you.  It is like the Obama speech; you could hear and see it better on TV without the distraction of being in a large crowd. I am sure that people who went to the inauguration probably heard less than people who heard it on TV.  You are distracted by a lot of things that are going on and the sound varies depending on how far away you are.  So after the 28th of August 1963, I understood the magnitude of the speech.  I realized later the depth of the powerful words I heard.  This event was the largest civil rights demonstration in American history.

    P.T.  I know that you didn’t personally know Dr.  King, but what can you tell us about MLK, the man and the myth?

    Dr.  C.C.:  I learned more about him as a man.  To some degree, I identified more closely with young people who were taking a lot of risks.  They could allow themselves to do that because they didn’t yet have their own families.  All of us admired Dr.  MLK, but I think the myth was that he was the leader of the movement.  To some people he was, but to other people he was one of the many leaders.  Some of these grassroots leaders initiated the sit-ins, they went to Mississippi to help register voters, they participated on their own initiatives in the freedom rides and marches, etc.  They got involved in the fight of other aspects of discrimination and segregation.  There were other leaders, men and women.  They didn’t ask for permissions, they were doing a lot on their own. They went into the Deep South.  They were more involved in the rural areas.  Dr.  King didn’t go often to the Deep South.  I consider that he was more of an urban than a rural leader.

    P.T.:  This is very interesting.  I never had that impression.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Well, this is part of the myth.  He had to think through seriously and carefully before getting involved in the freedom struggle.  When he went to jail, it was a big deal because he had a family to think about and other responsibilities.  When he ended up in jail, he stayed in as short a time as possible.  Sometimes he had to be bailed out immediately.  People of my age at that time didn’t have any responsibilities.  We didn’t have families to support so it was “easier” to go to jail and take chances.  John Lewis who was the chairman at that time of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) went to jail more than 25 times.

    P.T.:  In China, an adaptation of your play Passages of Martin Luther King was made, in which MLK was portrayed by the actor Cao Li in Beijing.  How do you feel about the fact that your work is recognized in this emerging Asian country?

    Dr.  C.C.:  Oh, I was very pleased.  It was a very emotional event for me to assist.  To see my play being performed by great Chinese actors who put all their passion into the play was wonderful and very meaningful. To have this recognition from the most populated and one of the largest countries on earth was great.  King’s words were a message to the world.  I was very emotionally involved and really moved.  Most of the audience was Chinese, and the Chinese actors were touched by King’s message.

    P.T.:  In an interview with Tavis Smiley, you said that outside of the US, Dr. Martin Luther King is seen more as a universal icon and leader.  How would you explain that many Americans tend to see him as a Black Civil Rights leader, while King’s message was more concerned with colorblind brotherhood?

    Dr.  C.C.: I think that is part of the legacy of America’s racial past.  We voted for Obama, but we have difficulty believing that Dr.  King can be also a leader of White people.  I have spoken to many White people who have been touched by King’s message, admired him and were very influenced by him.  However, it is difficult for some to understand that MLK’s message was for all people.  We don’t have trouble understanding that Black Americans can admire JFK because he’s not described as the White president but as the president.

    P.T.:  It is perceived as the norm.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Exactly.  Dr. King in the US was always described as the Black or the Negro leader.  He was put in that category, but MLK was beyond those boxes.  I actually think that he had as many White followers as Black followers.

    P.T.:  In the Washington March, there were about 60 000 White Americans.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Yes and probably many more wanted to be there. When Americans look at Gandhi, they don’t tend to see him firstly by his race.  The perception is different.  We understand that he transcends the race issue.  He’s beyond that.  But people in the United States perceive King otherwise.  In contrast, people in India who have heard about King don’t know a lot about the details regarding his work in Birmingham, Montgomery.  They probably don’t even know where those places are.  But they know that MLK stands for something universal, same thing for Gandhi.  They are aware that they stand for something very positive and constructive.  You can admire Gandhi without seeing him primarily in the role of someone who fought for India’s independence.  Similarly, outside the US, people don’t tend to see MLK as a Black leader.

    P.T.:  We live in a society where we love to label people.  For example, during the past election, instead of talking in the media all the time about a black candidate or a woman candidate, it would have been more evolved to talk about human beings, period.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Yes.

    P.T.:  I find it unbelievable that so many people still don’t understand or don’t know about non-violent methods such as civil disobedience.  For example, in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, the first thing which came into the mind of one of the interviewees was to use a gun if he ever encountered a disagreement.  When the interviewer asked him what he thought about Gandhi’s methods, the man didn’t know who he was!  Gandhi inspired MLK. In a past interview, MLK told the very well known psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark that some people think that non-violence is about stagnant complacency and passivity; however, non-violence is about strength. What do you think about the level of understanding in America concerning non-violent methods?  If you believe there is a problem, as a professor what could be done to correct this situation in schools, in order to ensure that young people know more about peacemakers like Gandhi and MLK?  Do you also think that we give enough alternatives to resolve violence in America or elsewhere in the world?

    Dr.  C.C.: I don’t think that most Americans know much about nonviolence.  Nonviolence is defined more by what it is not, instead of what it is.  I conceive it to be constructive resistance—a strategy that can be used to fight injustice, and to seek reconciliation.  Nonviolence is about finding the change that we want in a positive way.  We haven’t explored enough how people can resist injustice constructively.  We don’t offer them many alternatives.  So, they think that the only option is to strike back.  Often people in power don’t like to use nonviolent methods. When the subject of nonviolence comes up, it is often linked to powerless people, not those in power .  So many people who are oppressed look at this as hypocrisy.  No one said, we should respond to 9/11 non-violently.  For those in power, it wasn’t considered.  “Of course, we are going to strike back and use all the violence that we have, because we have the power”.  That was the response.  There are oppressed people who experience 9/11’s all the time.  There is constant destruction done to oppressed people.

    The message that the oppressed get from the actions, not the words, of the powerful is:  “When you have injustice done to you, the best thing to do is to retaliate.”  It is glorified; we can see this in our society everyday through the media, etc.  Yet, if someone asks the question: “What retaliation have you gained?  Have you actually eliminated terror?” the most honest and obvious answer is that we have created even more terror.  However, since there is such tension surrounding the idea of nonviolence, especially between those with power and those without, the ideology of MLK and Gandhi doesn’t get through people, and it becomes a difficult message.  Not everybody is ready to embrace nonviolence.

    P.T.:  It is probably because we don’t have concrete tools to know how to apply it.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Yes, definitely. We only explored the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s available to us in nonviolence resistance.

  • A Look Back at Obama's Speech to the Muslim World

    Muslim speech

    Obama made his long-awaited address to the “Muslim World” [last week]. He made a similar address to the Turkish parliament back in April, but this was THE speech that Obama promised to give even before he got elected. It was supposed to be the speech that launches “the new beginning”, the new relationship between the US and the over 1.5 billion Muslims of the world.

    The reactions to the speech so far have been mixed although many have praised the gesture. One could argue that any gesture made after the bluster and belligerant ”with us or against us” approach of the Bush administration would have been welcome.

    So let’s dissect some of the points of the speech and weigh them against the reality on the ground.

    Obama warned Palestinians against the use of violence to fight the occupation and scolded the Israelis about the continuous building of settlements. While both points are valid on their faces, they are merely words in the face of the daily tribulations of both camps in this conflict. After all, what are the Palestinians to do in the face of the daily humiliations of the occupation administered in great part with US-supplied weaponry? Should they simply offer the other cheek and hope that their oppresors will see the light? History shows us that although violence in of itself has never allowed a liberation movement to succeed, it has always been a component of the struggle from colonial Africa to India to the US  to Cuba to South-Africa. Ignoring that fact is simply choosing to float in a Hope cloud.

    As for the settlements, just this week, Netanyahu was reiterating that his government will continue building settlements, this after  US Secretary of State Clinton and Obama himself indicated the US government’s disapproval of such acts. Would the Israeli government be sanctioned by having its aid withheld? If not, what will be the actual repercussions of continuing to build on occupied land and thereby establishing what Ariel Sharon used to call “facts on the ground” that will stand in the way of any future peace deal?

    Obama spoke of the US leaving Iraq and not wanting “bases or claim on their territory or resources”. So why is the US building what looks very much like permanent bases all over the country (see map) and the most fortified embassy in the region? Will Obama request a repeal of all the oil laws that the Bush administration pushed Iraqis leaders to adopt? Surely economically, given its dependence on Mid-East oil, the US could not afford such a move. So does that not indicate that any exit from Iraq would merely be a departure of troops but a peservation of  some form of control that would guarantee that the Iraqi pumps remain open to US tankers? Would that be “leaving Iraq to the Iraqis?”

    On the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons, Obama said that “no nation should pick and choose which nations have nuclear weapons” and he reiterated the standard US position demanding that Iran “comply with its responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”. The unspoken part of this argument of course is that Israel has nuclear weapons, but is not a signatory to the NPT. Neither is Pakistan which also has nuclear weapons and is a US ally. So the sin of Iran seems to be that it chose to sign a treaty under which it can now be scolded for doing what other nations do and get rewarded for with US military aid.

    On women’s rights,  religious tolerance and human rights, Obama merely repeated platitutes that cannot be taken seriously given the continuous US support for the regimes of the Middle East that deny those very rights to their citizens. What’s the value of hopeful words about freedom spoken by a US president in a place like Egypt where Hosni Mubarak has been waging war against hopeful freedom advocates for almost 30 years with US support? What’s the value of hopeful words when the Saudi monarchs have been stifling the hopes of women in their kingdom for generations with the complete acquiescence of US presidents? Why talk when the US president has so many levers he can pull to force action?

    Obama can be praised for making the trip, appearing concilliatory and more importantly acknowledging some facts that although  known for years by all, were never publicly accepted by a sitting US president;  namely the US involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected former president of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh. But to use that very American expression, “where’s the beef?”

    Obama spoke eloquently and forcefully in Cairo as Obama almost always does. However, Obama the presidential candidate has to quickly morph into Obama the leader of the so-called “Free World”  and resist the use of speeches as substitutes for tangible policy changes.

    Originally published on:

    http://daily44.wordpress.com/

  • Single with Baggage: Niagara Falls Getaway

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    For over 22 years I have been travelling on my own; sometimes it’s for business, sometimes it’s for pleasure, and sometimes it is simply to chill. There are many people who aren’t comfortable with the idea of travelling on their own, but I hope that after you read my column that you will know its okay to be “Single with Baggage!”

    I am based in Toronto, Ontario and I needed a 2-3 day get away. For $380.10 I found a Gray Line Tour (a division of Greyhound) for two nights and three days to the Sheraton Falls Hotel in Niagara Falls. The trip departs at 10:00 a.m. from the Greyhound station or from one of the major hotels downtown.

    Between Toronto and Niagara you learn about key points of interest from downtown Toronto through to Oakville, and onward to Hamilton and finally we arrived in Niagara Falls. There were about 20 other people on the bus, and when we got to Niagara Falls, the very unenthusiastic bus driver took us to various key points in Niagara so we could stare at them out of the bus window. Oh and did I mention that it was an extremely foggy day outside? So, I just looked out of the bus window, thinking; “All righty then”.  Next he took us to the Sheraton where we were to enjoy a lunch buffet which was included in the ticket cost. However, since this was my first time there I asked the driver where I would meet the group, and what to do etc. and he was very rude so I decided not to ask anymore questions. I checked into the hotel, and called the tour group and rearranged when I would have the lunch buffet.

    I went into my room, and the first thing I noticed was a damp musty smell. I was tired and wanted to take a nap; except like in the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, both of my beds were not really made up and looked like someone had been sleeping in them. I was quite turned off and immediately called housekeeping and they told me they would be right up. After 20 minutes someone came and made up both of my beds.

    One of the sheets she was replacing had a stain on it!!! So, she had to go and get another one. Lord have mercy! She finally finished and regardless of the smell I took a much needed nap.

    Very much like Broadway in New York City the prices at most regular restaurants are doubled in Niagara. I did manage to get souvenir t-shirts for a very reasonable price, when I ventured further away from the main strip.

    The next morning I made a formal complaint to the front desk about the smell in my room, the beds, and the lamp and clock radio that did not work. I was offered a free upgrade to a room with a view of the falls. I took the upgrade and like George Jefferson I moved on up!!! My new room was amazing, I had a great view of the falls, it didn’t smell, it had a fireplace, and a TV and Jacuzzi in the bathroom.  I finally felt good about my stay.

    Once I settled in I decided to have breakfast in the hotel and ate one of the most expensive basic breakfasts I’ve ever had.  I didn’t have lunch, so I decided to have the dinner buffet. HUGE MISTAKE!  The regular meals were on average $25.00 - $38.00, so I figured I might as well pay the $40.00 for the buffet and have a wider selection. Only thing was I did not enjoy anything that came with the buffet, except for the filet of sole. My waitress was a bit obnoxious and loud and she had stains all over her vest.

    “WOULD YOU LIKE SOMETHING TO DRINK?” She yelled for everyone to hear.

    She continued to yell every single thing she said to me and to the surrounding tables. I am not a snob by any means, but I just think that with the Sheraton you expect a certain quality of service.

    The next day was my last morning at the Sheraton. I woke up early and went to work out in the gym; a very small gym I might add. Two ladies sat at the main entrance and asked me to fill out a form, and then asked me to pay a $10.00 fee. I was like $10.00? Since I was checking out at noon, they decided to let me work out for free. After the gym I went to breakfast and found out that it costs $3.00 for one egg at the Sheraton, so I ate my golden eggs and toast, trying not to think about the cost of a carton of eggs in the grocery store.

    I packed up my things and went to meet the tour group to return to Toronto. There were only four people on my return trip; one lady from Scotland, one from Australia, and a husband and wife from England. The lunch buffet was 100 xs better than the dinner buffet; they even had rice and a nice selection of desserts. We took a few pictures of each other in the dining room, and then had a bit of free time, before we had to board the bus.

    Once we were on the bus I was informed that we were going to the “Journey Under the Falls.”  I thought we were going to the IMAX Theatre, as the schedule had both things listed, but apparently this was a group decision.  I had no idea what Journey Under the Falls was but, I learned soon enough. I am really glad I decided to wear a wig on this trip that could double as a hat and my hair, because as a black woman with natural hair, the journey under the falls would have been detrimental to me.

    We took some stairs and an elevator and then we were literally underneath Niagara Falls with water spraying in our faces and an almost deafening sound. Though it was cold I found it quite fascinating so fascinating that I found myself staring into the cold water while it splashed on me and made my face start to freeze. I took some video and pictures of the falls; instead of buying souvenirs I headed back to the bus to relax. From there we went to different look out points to take pictures and then on to Niagara on the Lake and the Winery where they make ice wine. It really is quite a long tour; 7 hours in total.

    We saw many different sites on the way back and had quite a few stops; I opted out of some of them, but I enjoyed the winery and though I don’t drink much I did taste the ice wine which the region is famous for.

    I came back to Toronto that evening very tired, but feeling like I had truly had an adventurous vacation. I felt like it was more than three days and two nights, and I was

    delighted that I actually enjoyed myself without leaving the country.  And though there were mishaps and the meals were very expensive…I would do it all again as a woman who is Single with Baggage!

    This trip is rated: 3 airplanes (out of five)

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    Anne-Marie Woods www.imanicreativeconsulting.com


  • Book Review: 40 Dayz of Motion

    40 dayz

    Few artists on either the local spoken word or hip hop scene can boast to have the skills to seamlessly navigate between both worlds. Toronto-born and bred artist Motion, a.k.a. Wendy Braithwaite, is just such a rare talent.

    Over the years, she has opened for such renowned artists as Mos Def, Wycelf Jean, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott and more. Her vocal chops have also been showcased on the soundtrack for the film, When Moses Woke(Itoti Productions) which premiered on Bravo! Television.

    And to all that, add published author as well.

    Motion recently launched her latest book of poetry entitled 40 dayz. A follow-up to her book Motion in Poetry, published by Women’s Press in 2002, 40 dayz is an intensely personal and reflective exploration of her journey as woman, mother, lover and world citizen.

    Still ever rooted in her Torontonian universe, Motion takes us back to her Antiguan and Bajan heritage to show how her family, friends and other individuals have shaped who she is.

    Motion has a gift for bringing back days gone by through infusing her reminiscing tales with lyrical smells and scents of familiar experiences. As you are transported back with her in a funkadelic time machine, we encounter Malcolm, Maya and Alice along the way.

    Her piece “dem say” is a prime example of how, in just a few lines, Motion takes us back to an idyllic and more care-free past.

    But eventually, sure as the sun rises from the east every morning, innocence is broken, hope battles with regret and dreams are too often deferred.

    Despite all of that, and perhaps because of those growing pains, one’s sense of community remains a major pillar amid it all.

    This T-dot community that Motion illustrates encompasses it all. From the busloads of people going along with their mundane existence, to the mournful mothers and guilty lovers, all play a part.

    The bustling city landscape she describes is also sometimes a metropolis under menacing clouds. In “hedlines” we find a city under curfew where “somewhere a poet is detained” and a “high court decides the fate of men”.

    Motion depicts a post-911 world where “ownland security” justifies the oppressing rule of a police state. She longs to spend her Friday night watching “pre-war N.Y. on Sex and the City.”

    In a cold mega-city where “skyscrapers grow where green trees used to greet” and “good mornings are swallowed up down fearful throats and stuck-up tongues”, we often find ourselves feeling suffocated.

    But far from wallowing in despair, the bliss of passion, lust and love remains a permanent fixture in Motion’s poetic cityscapes. From jonesing under the Bronx bridges by the Hudson River to fantasies of making love while riding the rocket in the T-dot, she leaves with this burning question: … where is the love?

  • Last Days of Last Days of Judas

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    Stop me if you’ve heard this one.  Pontius Pilate, Jesus and a couple of soldiers walk into a fermenting cellar…

    Sound familiar?  Try this.  Fifteen phenomenal actors walk into a rehearsal hall to remount Birdland Theatre’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.  The first production won 5 Dora Mavor Moore Awards (including "Outstanding Production", "Outstanding Direction", "Outstanding Performance by a Female", "Outstanding Performance by a Male", and "Outstanding Lighting Design") and the second only builds on that success.

    Last Days recounts the trial of Judas Iscariot, prosecuted for the betrayal of Jesus in a long-forgotten corner of purgatory – Hope.  The language and rhythm taste like New York, where the play originated, but the themes stand outside of time and place, even when the two are palpable.  The tone of the play would be less at home underscored by angelic choirs than by bassy boomboxes and the sound of dice hitting the stoop.  The stone walls of the Fermenting Cellar do their part to keep your head in the game.   In this atmosphere, what appears to be irreverence is actually a deeper examination of the nature of good, evil, and forgiveness than you’ll get in most churches.

    Philip Akin, Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre, once again lends his stentorian tones to the role of Pontius Pilate, the aggravated magistrate who ruled against the Messiah the first time around (albeit through abdication).  With so many new cast members, however, it’s a bit like starting all over again, leaving room for the actor to bring new and interesting shades to the role.  Akin is shifting gears a little, coming fresh off his last triumph as director of Andrew Moodie’s Toronto the Good at Factory Theatre.  It does call for a small mental/temperamental readjustment.  “In this thing I got told what to do. In the last I did the telling,” Akin summarized.

    Jamie Robinson steps into the sandals of the Son of Man playing a version of Jesus he describes as “a down to Earth, chilled out home-boy from New York who loves everyone, including the least of his creatures.”  The talented actor is no stranger to classic themes, as recent turns in Medea (Mirvish) and Merchant of Venice (Stratford) attest.  This role sent him back into his New Testament to refresh the basics absorbed in adolescence.  “It is a much more interesting book now than it was then,” observed Robinson.  “Jesus comes across more human than I thought.”  Jesus’ presence is significant onstage, even when he hasn’t got much to say.  Eventually, he goes head to head with Judas, taking it down to “the bare bones of a New York, macho brotherly love and frustration Battle Royale.”

    Zarrin Darnell-Martin plays both one of the Soldiers, and one of the hippest saints ever to hit the stage.  With equal capacities for watchful stillness and raw energy, Darnell-Martin comes correct.  “Playing Saint Monica has made me realise that being a Saint is nothing more than being good, and good people come in every size and shape and sometimes, as in my case, they are ghetto and sassy and wear a bandanna on their head and say mothaf***** every other word! Strength is strength no matter how it is packaged!”  Fellow National Theatre School graduate, Abdu Bedward, in the role of a Soldier, brings the outmoded centurion image down to earth and out to play.

    The play’s stellar cast is full of heavyweights, and accordingly, the production hits a home run.  Directed by David Ferry are Philip Akin, Aviva Armour Ostroff, Abdu Bedward, Adam Brazier, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Ted Dykstra, Richard Greenblatt, Zorana Kydd, Diego Matamoros, Morris Panych, Louise Pitre, Janet Porter, Jamie Robinson, Shaun Smyth and Christopher Stanton.

    The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

    by Stephen Adly Guirgis
    until April 15, 2009
    The Fermenting Cellar, Distillery District
    Tickets may be purchased online at www.totix.ca
    or in person at the T.O.TIX Booth (Yonge-Dundas Square, Tues - Sat, 12noon -6:30pm). Limited ticket availability at the door (cash only) $40
    Birdland Theatre: www.birdlandtheatre.com

  • Emmanuel Jal: War Child

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    The annual Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children gets underway soon, from April 18th to 24th. As it is the case every year, the festival brings a vast array of engaging films that are sure to appeal not only to children, but also to the more mature crowd. 

    The 2008 film War Child by first-time director C. Karim Chrobog is one such film that is sure to continue to touch viewers. The award-winning documentary chronicles the remarkable odyssey of former child soldier Emmanuel Jal.

    Jal, now an emerging international hip hop artist, believes that he survived extraordinary ordeals in the bloody twenty-year Sudanese civil war in order to tell his story and touch lives.

    In 1987, Emmanuel Jal was lured into fighting with the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) rebel army at the tender age of about seven. Along with thousands of other orphaned and displaced children cramped in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he learned to maneuver an AK-47 and to fight a merciless was against the Arab government forces in Khartoum.

    Born in southern Sudan, where the population is mostly black and Christian, Jal’s view of the world was shaped early by this socio-political, religious, ethnic and economic war. His earliest memories are of Muslim fighters beating his mother and seeing his village raided.

    It is amid this chaos that his father, an official with the SPLA, decides to have Emmanuel board a boat with scores of other children from southern Sudan in destination of Ethiopia. Their hopes of finding peace and a better education in nearby Ethiopia are soon dashed when the overcrowded boat sinks and the majority of the children drown.

    Hi mother killed in the civil strife and his father abandoning him for dead after the boat sinks, the young Emmanuel Jal finds himself in a refugee camp with only his desires for redemption and a better life left.

    The documentary’s most powerful ingredient is the interweaving of archive footage of Jal as a young boy during that time in the Ethiopian refugee camp. We observe him discussing his hopes and dreams as part of a National Geographic reportage from the 1980s. Even then, it was evident that the young Emmanuel had the gift to inspire those around him.

    War Child puts a revealing and humanizing spotlight on the many motivations that lead such idealistic, and sometimes disillusioned, youth to join armed conflicts in war-torn areas of the world.

    From the desire to avenge their family members, to exploited religious and ethnic sectarianism, to the most basic need of feeling part of whole and striving for a purpose, we learn that the circumstances which can lead a child to pick up a deadly weapon are manifold.

    War Child follows Emmanuel Jal all the way up to his current activities as a world-trotting musical force who uses his art to reach out to youth back in his homeland, Europe and America. His amazing story of survival and perseverance through the most amazing odds cannot leave anyone unmoved.

    The full-length documentary will be screened in Toronto on April 21st and 23rd, as part of the Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, at the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Grande 7 (4861 Yonge Street). See http://www.sprockets.ca for more details.


    See film’s homepage at http://www.warchildmovie.com/

  • Theatre Review: The Color Purple

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    Jeannette Bayardelle (Celie) and LaToya London (Nettie). Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

    For nearly a month now, Toronto’s Canon Theatre has been the home of Oprah Winfrey & friends’ acclaimed stage production of “The Color Purple”. Adapted by playwright Marsha Norman from Alice Walker’s award-winning 1982 novel and Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar-nominated film version of the same name, this theatrical incarnation continues to stir souls.

    The Color Purple captures the reality of black women’s lives in the segregated Deep South of the 1920’s and their search for dignity and redemption against all odds. Alice Walker once said, “The black woman is one of America''s greatest heroes. . . . She has been oppressed beyond recognition.”

    Indeed, the life story of the main character, Celie, which we discover through her letters to God and her younger sister Nettie, is nothing short of heroic. At an early age, she is raped by her step father and gives birth to two children who are taken away from her. She is then sold into marriage at the age of 14 only to end up the virtual house slave of Albert, whom she calls Mister, an older man who constantly abuses her physically and mentally.

    Despite her dire circumstances, Celie moves forward in her path to self-discovery and emancipation. She is inspired in her quest by powerful women such as her step daughter-in-law Sofia and Albert’s hedonistic mistress Shug Avery.

    Through Celie’s character, who personifies the downtrodden black female image of the pre Civil Rights era, continually being brought down by her own family, community and society for being “too ugly, too poor and too black”, Alice Walker offers us a powerful tale of redemption.

    What makes the story and the play work is that Celie’s victorious journey is told through humour, sexual innuendo and everyday situations which are timeless. The gossip-obsessed church ladies who help narrate the story are welcome entertainment.

    The show’s set design, music and lighting make The Color Purple an unforgettable experience.  Particularly captivating are the scenes of Nettie’s life in Africa which we discover through her letters to Celie. Also, the entire cast’s vocal abilities and stage presence cannot leave anyone unmoved.

    The Color Purple is showing at Canon Theatre (244 Victoria Street) until March 14th. For more info, see www.mirvish.com.

  • Film Review: Nurse.Fighter.Boy

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    Once in a while, you come across a Canadian film which makes you think: “Why do we need to flock to Hollywood when there is such talent and creativity right here at home?” First-time, and Toronto-based,director Charles Officer brings us just such a movie with Nurse.Fighter.Boy.

    Opening  tonight (Bob Marley’s birthday) and running at the Royal Cinema and AMC Yonge & Dundas, Nurse.Fighter.Boy features an all-local cast which includes: Clark Johnson (as the fighter Silence), Karen LeBlanc (as the nurse June), and Daniel J. Gordon (as the boy Ciel). Significantly, all three actors have been nominated for ACTRA Awards.

    The film is an artistically-shot urban love story which delves into many pressing social issues facing Toronto’s black community … such as youth violence, the importance of black father figures, the lure of fast money and the devastating effect of sickle cell anemia.

    Director Charles Officer and producer Ingrid Veninger successfully avoid the trap of going down the easy road of clichés and stereotypes. The characters and the storyline are credible and skillfully leave us just at the border of our hunger. It would have been easy to overdo it.

    Nurse.Fighter.Boy’s effectiveness can almost be as much attributed to the actors’ strong performances as to the musical soundtrack. Simply put, the music is amazing. Again, we find the cream of the crop of Toronto’s local talent such as a mesmerizing tune from Zaki Ibrahim. Other artists include: Ndidi Onukwulu , K’naan, Citizen Cope, Mikey Dread, Terry Callier and Brightblack Morning Light.

    Go see it in great numbers this week-end as the community’s support will play a great role in the continued screening of this cinematic gem.

     

    See trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3lrG4BZU04

     

    More at www.nursefighterboy.ca

     


    Director Charles Officer will be present to answer audience questions tonight (Feb. 6th) and tomorrow after the 7:15pm shows at AMC Yonge & Dundas and after the 9:30 p.m. shows at the Royal Cinema. See below for full screening details.  

    Royal Cinema - 608 College (at Clinton St.), Toronto - tel. (416) 534-5252

     

    Fri, Sat: 7:00, 9:30

    Sun: 4:30, 7:00, 9:15

    Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu: 7:00, 9:15

     AMC Yonge & Dundas 24 (AMC)

    Toronto Life Square, 10 Dundas St. East, Toronto    

     

     Fri: 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:55

     Sat, Sun: 12:25, 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:55

     Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu: 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:55


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  • Interview with Ethiopian director Haile Gerima

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    As Black History Month starts today, Toronto welcomes Ethiopia’s preeminent filmmaker, Haile Gerima, at Bloor Cinema to kick off a special one-week run (Feb. 1-8) of his inspiring film, Teza.

    A winner of the Best Screenplay and Special Jury Prize at the 65th Venice Film Festival last year, Teza tells the story of Anberber, an idealistic intellectual, who returns to Ethiopian after living in Germany for years. The country he finds upon his return is a far cry from the one he remembers and longed for while abroad. He is confronted by the harsh realities of corruption and political instability as he tries to contribute to Ethiopia’s welfare with his skills and devotion.

    Throughout his career, Haile Gerima has masterfully used the medium of film to tell stories of the African experience from a genuine perspective. His 1993 film Sankofa, which takes a powerful look at slavery from an African/African-American perspective, drew large audiences across the African Diaspora.

    Professor Gerima has been teaching film at Howard University in Washington, D.C. since 1975.

    AfroToronto.com had a chance to sit down one-on-one with Haile Gerima when he was last in Toronto for the 34th Toronto International Film Festival.

     

    AfroToronto: Congratulations on being recognized at the Venice Film Festival. What did winning the Best  Screenplay award for Teza mean to you?

    Haile Gerima: I make films. I dread competitions. The reality of distribution of course is another story.... It’s very hard to compare films. So for me, the most important part was that the people were very thankful that we did the film and people really embraced the film very well... So it was a height for me. It was a very important event.

    AfroToronto: You spent nine years looking for funding for your film Sankofa. Tell me about that process and how difficult, or easier, it might have been to raise funds after the success of Sankofa?

    Haile Gerima: [Sankofa had a successful opening ] but there was nothing to follow it. We don’t have black distribution companies. For Teza, it goes back to 1993 when I first got the seed money to do this film and it took me 14 years to find the rest of the money. It took 14 years to finish the film.... We shot the Ethiopian part and two years later we found more money and shot German part for a week. For me it’s part of my life. I don’t expect; even after the Venice success. We had about five prizes [but] I’m not going to expect anything. I go back again to foot-walk my fundraising to do my next film. So this is a struggle. I have risen to the challenge.

    AfroToronto: Your film Sankofa, which examines the struggle against slavery from a black perspective, was warmly embraced by blacks around the world. The mainstream media only came around after African-Americans lined up around the block to see it. What does that say?

    Haile Gerima: Well this is the whole problem. We were in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in 1993 with Sankofa and the press was not interested in it. We were in Toronto and even Hollywood people were shocked at the kind of audience that we got there....

    I’ve been coming to Canada itself since 1970. The Toronto Film Festival, before it became very Hollywoodish, used to be a small film festival; and then there’s also Montreal. So I’ve been around here but the press is basically Hollywood-mesmerized. They are also white. Most black people have this disillusion that [cinema in North America] is a white experience. And so, they don’t see themselves in the story, in the agony of the story.

    The stories that I make initially are my own obsessions; things that I have to do. It so happens that Black people embrace my films... But, in general, the press in the United-States came around after we began to open it by community power. We distributed our own films. The New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington post, they came after we opened it and created the phenomenon. Not in the festival. They would have helped us in the festival if they even wrote about it.

    But even now here [at the Toronto International Film Festival] with my film having come from Venice, it’s a very uncomfortable place to come to.

    In fact, I came really because the distributors who [handle sales] felt it was very important place and they had to come. So I’m here to support them. But with my experience, after Sankofa, I never wanted to come to the Toronto International Film Festival. I can’t stand the festival. It’s very racist, it makes you feel like you’re not important in this world and that everything is about them. And that is not the kind of environment I subject myself to.

    AfroToronto: It is indeed evident that the Hollywood system promotes films where a mainstream white audience can see itself in.

    Haile Gerima: [In Hollywood, black people represent] tokenistic sidekicks created in their own phantom world. Hollywood is white. And I think Canadians more and more are coming out as part and parcel of that white supremacist cultural milieu.... There’s a certain identification... it’s a common ground. I can see how much they worship each other.... I’m better around a community that embraces me, accepts my imperfect films and encourages me to go towards my next project.... [I create for] people who have the same hunger I have.

    AfroToronto: We’ve heard about the institutional obstacles that Danny Glover has been facing in trying to raise funds to make a film about the Haitian revolution and the historical figure of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Hollywood executives have asked him “where are the white heroes?” What do you make of this?

    Haile Gerima: Black people are the problem because we are not as greedy about our history as white people. We do not fight to tell our own story. We don’t invest in our own story. So to beg them to reject us... we don’t seem to learn. We keep going.

    For me, Danny Glover, I think it is tragic that he is in that state. To me, Mel Gibson did the same stuff with him [in the Lethal Weapon film series]. You do that many movies, you better have some money of your own to keep going. So I don’t get his problem to tell you the truth. He was a side-kick in Hollywood for those movies and you don’t have wealth to do your own movie. I don’t think we learned anything.

    To me, if he was in the same movie as this white boy, Mel Gibson, and this Mel Gibson can even make films intimidating Jewish people in the industry and a black man cannot declare his own thing. Where are the black people we should go to? Where are the black capitalists? All these rich black people that flaunt all over the place their wealth... who are they? Where are they? What do they do for culture?

    We should begin to struggle within ourselves. The elite, the black elite, has failed us again and again and over again. So to me, I really have no sympathy for that class. I do low budget films. I don’t need 30 million dollars. I need small money to tell my story. And I don’t care whether they recognize it or validate it or not. This is a different kind of cinema that I’m interested in.

    AfroToronto: Your latest film, Teza, explores the sense of disillusionment of a foreign-trained intellectual coming back to Ethiopia to use his acquired skills to make his country go forward. Does this film reflect your own experience of being away from the homeland?

    Haile Gerima: No. I think it’s the experience of many people from Africa and even the Caribbean [but more so in my day. Intellectuals went abroad to acquire needed skills for their country]. There’s a different kind of migration from Africa now. There’s an economic migration. But when we left our country in my age, when I was twenty-one, most of the Ethiopians and most of the Africans that I saw in America, they were going to school to take something back. The idea was to go and get [much] modernization and take it back to your country. To build your country.  ... The film is really about that.

    It is not autobiographical although it is shaped by my experience of going home, coming back and the whole community of the exiled. Communities that I associated with in Europe, in America, in Canada even. All these Ethiopians, Africans who stayed behind. What they go through, what it means to go back, how to face the poverty in our country and how do we interact with autocratic regimes in Africa.

    How can we instil our ideas of development? How can we become our own history makers? Why is it that our capacity to become history makers is completely omitted in the topography of political and economic reality of Africa? These are things that obsessed me for a long time. So the film feeds out of this frustration of dislocation.

    AfroToronto: How do we keep the economic and political elites accountable to the people?

    Haile Gerima: “I think for me, it goes back to miseducation. I don’t think we’ve been educated to be history makers. I think Europe and America educated an elite class, including myself, to be the nuts and bolts of this economic global world. And so, it’s very difficult for the elite whose been manufactured to serve a certain historical process to be revolutionaries.

    The problem now is how do you break off? How do you demystify false knowledge and miseducation? How do you liberate yourself individually to create a continent of historical-making process? It is very, very difficult.

    To me it’s not only the government. The government comes out of the cess pool of the elite in Africa. The cess pool of the elite in Africa is pro West, pro globalization, pro colonialism, pro neo-colonialism. It brings it on itself because it has a common history, a common knowledge, a common fate.  It can’t break away from the missionaries who taught us how to think. It’s not accidental that most of our elites come out of missionary schools....

    Indigenous questions, the people’s needs, the people’s demands in fact it’s all converted into an industry. If you look at war, it’s an industry in Africa.  Who makes the money? Besides the military-industrial complex, it’s a global elite now running Africa as bureaucrats, technocrats to implement the idea of globalization for IMF, World Bank, etc.

    Humanitarianism is now an industry.... It debilitates young Africans from becoming history makers. We are always the objectified beggars.

    We are always the objectified people who need.... Every white kid grows up to help some black poor people. Some AIDS black people. So this, in itself, creates a complex on our children; an inferiority complex of enormous consequences where the history-making nerve ends have been decapitated. This is not a joke.

     

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