Black Documentary Films
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till /
The Murder of Emmett Till /
Four Little Girls /
When the Levees Broke
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Questions for Charles Burnett
By Dennis Leroy Moore
2003 ChickenBones: A Journal received a note from
Mary Kemp Davis that a new film Nat Turner:
A Troublesome Property, directed by
Charles Burnett was ready for review. We were
looking forward to the film for we had read
Gerald Early's essay on the filming about a year
earlier. We discovered its white producer/director Frank
Christopher received nearly a million dollars from the
NEA and financial support from a number of foundations
to complete the project.
got in contact with Christopher, co-producer Kenneth S. Greenberg,
historian and scholar at Suffolk University, and Charles
Burnett, writer and director of well-known art films.
Greenberg had also edited a volume of essays on Turner,
Rebellion in History and Memory, which we also received for review.
The book is creditable scholarship and adds new
perspectives for those who have not kept up with
writings on Turner. We wished the film had relied more
on Greenberg's book.
A Journal, on request, received a copy of the
documentary and had some of its writers to review it. We
arranged for Dennis Leroy Moore, a filmmaker and a
critic and an admirer of Burnett's work, to interview
Burnett. The black director, however, has yet to respond
to the questions put to him. --
Editorial Note: RL
Charles, take your time answering these questions and please
call me at your earliest convenience. Peace,
Dennis Leroy Moore
1. What exactly was the genesis behind "Nat
Turner: A Troublesome Property" and what made you decide to
make this film? Was this film a collaboration with the film's
producers? Who were they?
2. Have you always had an interest in Nat Turner?
3. How long did it take you to create the film?
4. Did you oversee the editing?
5. Do you feel comfortable working within the
non-fiction documentary format or do you prefer making narrative
features? In the end, which do you think has the greater
6. Can you suggest some documentary filmmakers who may
have influenced you in some way?
7. I am familiar with your picture
and I would like to know if you would ever consider delving
deeper into the institution of American slavery and the slave
revolts that took place by making a fictional film depicting
these events? Is that even something that would interest you?
8. What do you honestly think of
Hollywood's depiction of slavery in American-studio movies? Have
you seen the movie
9. Can you talk a little about Julie
Daughters of The Dust and Haile Gerima's
phantasmagoric meditation on slavery in
Have you seen Stanley Nelson's recent documentary on Emmett
10. Why did you choose to include
"re-creation" or "imagined" sequences in Nat Turner: A
11. Who was this documentary intended for? Did you
have a specific audience in mind?
12. Do you personally think that Nat Turner was a
13. Don't you agree that Nat Turner did what any sane,
rational man in an insane and irrational situation would do?
14. A great deal of the documentary seemed to support
William Styron's rationalization of why he depicted Turner the
way he did. Spiritually the film seems to adopt this view. Was
this on purpose or something that evolved?
15. In my first feature film "As an Act of
Protest" I spent a great deal of time trying to balance out
the documentary aspects of the film as well as the more
theatrical and surreal aspects of the picture. As a director, I
have always been fascinated between the marriage of these two
aesthetics, these energies...
Now, my question to you is: as a very warm and compassionate
director who has created some very complex works of cinema - how
do you feel your style has developed and/or changed over the
past thirty years? What influences your directorial decisions
how important or influential are paintings and music to you?
I ask this because Nat Turner: A Troublesome
Property seemed rather stilted, rushed, and dis-engaged
from its subject. I found the majority of the interviews rather
passionless, actually - regardless of whether I agreed with
their views or not. Were you conscious of this or were you
simply on a tight schedule?
16. What was the budget for the documentary and why
was it not feature-length?
17. What have been the responses so far?
18. Are you as the artist pleased with this
19. Have you found a distributor for your delightful
romantic comedy "Annihilation of Fish"?
20. Will "Killer of Sheep" ever be available
on video? There are a number of black filmmakers, in specific,
who have never seen it and I think that is a shame.
21. What's next for Charles Burnett?
22. Can you say a few words of the state of current
Independent filmmaking in America? What about the new wave of
Black filmmakers on the fringe that are desperately trying to be
heard? Do you have any words of wisdom to offer us?
23. Do you believe in God?
posted 3 March 2003
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A Closing Note on Burnett's
By Rudolph Lewis
It has been five months and we have yet to hear from the
black director, Charles Burnett, and his role in the making Nat Tuner:
A Troublesome Property.
The above questions are honest,
earnest , and sincere. They were put to him by a fan and a
student of his work. Burnett could have chosen to answer some
and not all, especially in that he agreed to respond and his two
bosses Christopher and Greenberg had urged him to do the
interview. Seemingly, Burnett is ashamed of or found
indefensible the negative portrait he had helped to produce of
the Prophet of Southampton.
It was concluded by Chickebones: A Journal reviewers
that the documentary Nat Tuner:
A Troublesome Property,
was a monstrosity that defamed and denigrated the beloved
African-American Christian martyr of the early 19th century. The
film borders on being racist with its substantiation of the
perspective of William Styron, who concluded that in his novel The
Confessions of Nat Turner that he had made Turner
“more human than he actually was.”
California Newsreel has projected the official release of the
film sometime in 2004 on PBS or some other television stations. ChickenBones
will continue to be a watchdog for the integrity and dignity of
black life and culture.
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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
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Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
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Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
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update 12 March 2012