ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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 I am familiar with your picture "Nightjohn," . . .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?

 

 

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

 

Early 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. 

We 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.

ChickenBones: 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? Including pre-production.

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 potential?

6. Can you suggest some documentary filmmakers who may have influenced you in some way?

7. I am familiar with your picture Nightjohn, 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 Amistad?

9. Can you talk a little about Julie Dash's tone-poem Daughters of The Dust and Haile Gerima's phantasmagoric meditation on slavery in Sankofa? Have you seen Stanley Nelson's recent documentary on Emmett Till?

10. Why did you choose to include "re-creation" or "imagined" sequences in Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property.

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 madman?

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 and

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 documentary?

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 Silence

 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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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

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.     

Professor Perry 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 Caucasian babies.

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 indiscriminately.

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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 World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 12 March 2012

 

 

 

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