The next movie I see will be A normal heart about the gay health crisis based upon a largely autobiographical play by Larry Kramer. I heard interviews about the movie and it sounds like the tort of thing I would enjoy. There was an interview with Jim Parsons of The Big Bang and another one with Larry Kramer and I decided I could learn from watching this movie.
Kramer is now 79, far older than he probably expected to live, when he saw AIDS and HIV devastate the gay community. He is impatient for change and he demands that people wake up. I need to be awakened, too. After so many died, too many are still being infected and thinking it’s okay, because the meds will save them. I want to see what people experienced when I was part of The Other America.
A New York Times writer cautioned people against seeing A Normal Heart as a period piece but as something in an ongoing battle. We have people who are gaining equal rights under the law now in 2014 and others who are holding them back. There are attorneys general and churches and governors and ordinary bigots on the side of wrong and on the other side are the friends, lovers, children, sisters, brothers neighbors and others. We know that ultimately we will prevail but what does that mean to young gay men? Does it mean multiple partners? Does it mean forming close relationships? What does it mean to have a normal heart? That is what I am going to learn.
Let’s say you are a proud African-American, you know of leaders including Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah and my namesake Jomo Kenyatta. So let’s have a pop quiz. How many leaders of present day African nations do you know? What do you know of how this person came to power? Was it through election, military coup or other violent means? What is the status of HIV and AIDS? For instance, what about the percentage of people between 16 and 60 who are living with HIV or AIDS? Is it on the increase or decrease? What is happening in terms of violence? We know that America is a very violent nation but is that also true of Gabon, Angola, Zimbabwe or Egypt?
Do you know that there are serious people who get paid to know these things and will swear that the presence of fewer than 500 terrorists in Mali poses an imminent threat to the United States and therefore we must intervene? Most people couldn’t find Mali on a map and yet it is the latest pawn in game of international politics.
How many African nations have American bases on their soil? If you are a free and independent nation, why is some foreign power using you as a launching pad for an enemy you don’t know and could care less about?
Africa is a vast and varied continent facing many difficult challenges. As we watch the Olympics, we can see the uneven bars and the balance beams and we ask ourselves, where are the African swimmers? We can marvel at the beauty and strength of Gabby Douglass yet also wish that there was a sister from Algeria on the podium with her.
Africa is not a museum to be worshiped and studied for its past glory. We can salute Lucy, the first ancestor, but we need to pay attention to her descendants in the Congo. I am speaking as one who once admired Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who has long outlived his usefulness as an African freedom fighter. It is time for a new generation of Africans to arise and they need the help of those of us in the Diaspora. Let us light the way for our brown brothers and sisters.
I just finished watching Black Is…Black Ain’t a journey into Black identity by black filmmaker Marlon Riggs who died in 1994 as it was being completed. I loved Marlon as I would my brother and indeed he was born in 1957 when I was already 6 years old. I learned so much from Marlon through his movies about Blackness and inclusiveness it is impossible to imagine what I would have done without him. I recommend his movies Color Adjustment and Tongues Untied.
The movie is relentlessly honest in examining memory, sexism, homophobia, religion, masculinity and running fiercely. It asks questions we have asked of ourselves: are you black enough, what makes us black and can you be black in the suburbs while it forces you to confront the reality of Marlon’s death. His was a world of T-cells, losing weight, running aimless and naked through a forest and being interviewed while being confined to a hospital bed.
Marlon speaks of communion through the words of bell hooks, a noted African-American feminist author. This communion is not to flatten out our difference, but rather reclaims and celebrates those who were cast out because they did not fit an earlier vision of blackness. Bayard Rustin, a leading organizer of the March on Washington with Dr. King, was cast out because he was a gay male. The movie included several interviews with Black gays and lesbians in addition to commentaries about some of the hyper-masculinity in popular culture. The purpose was to make us conscious of our need to communicate with one another.
Blackness is not about having sex with as many women as possible, it is not about rejecting same-sex couples or excluding people because they have different beliefs about religion or even reject religion altogether. To me, Blackness is about the Louisiana gumbo that serves as a metaphor throughout the movie. It is about love, self-respect and continuing to strive for our personal goals in the light of how our values reflect upon our community.
I close with a line from the movie: If we must die on the frontlines, don’t let loneliness kill us. Rest in peace, Marlon, the dream continues.