Thoughts (pre- and) post the National Black Arts Festival

Nbaf_yemi
l to r: Farai Chideya, Rob Fields, Boston Fielder, Barry Jenkins

photo: Yemi Toure

So, the first things first: It was an honor to participate in this year’s National Black Arts Festival.  Thanks to Leatrice Ellzy, the programming director and outgoing executive director Stephanie Hughley, for the opportunity.  It’s no small thing to be asked to participate in an event of this level, and I took the responsibility of my role as a panel moderator seriously.

Knowing that the panel that I’d organized with Medicine For Melancholy director Barry Jenkins; Kiss The Sky author Farai Chideya; and URB Alt’s Boston Fielder would come immediately after the film’s credits rolled, my job, I felt, was to frame things up properly.  I mean, I really wanted to talk about Black rock, but I knew needed to step back and go big picture, especially since I knew folks in the audience would want to talk about the film and hear from Barry.  I also wanted to connect the film to what I feel is the larger cultural shift taking place, and thereby help the audience understand why the three of us were there with Barry.

So I’m sitting in my hotel room, making notes and trying to get concise.  I decided to take a break and check my Twitter folder in my email.  I see that I’m now being followed by someone who goes by the name Bottom of Heaven.  What’s serendipitous is that it turns out this is a great blog that focuses on “postmodern blackness”.  Initially, I didn’t know exactly what that meant.  But I liked how the site’s authors explained it, and it’s exactly what I needed when I needed it.  As you’ll see, my remarks owe them a huge debt.  So thanks to Claudia and Frieda.  Anyway, here’s the substance of what I said:

I am going to suggest that we NOT look at this film in a vacuum.

Yes, it’s beautifully shot, yes it tells a compelling story, and yes, it’s gives us a depiction of Black folks many us haven’t seen.  But we can’t talk about it in a vacuum because it didn’t come out of a vacuum.

“Medicine For Melancholy” is yet another example of post-modern blackness.  I know, “post modern blackness” sounds like a heavy term to throw out on a Saturday night.  But all it means is an approach or a way of looking at things that forces us to re-evaluate our assumptions about  race, gender and, more importantly, representation, i.e., how we’re represented or how we’re representing.

It’s about challenging notions about

  • what we listen to out of course,
  • avenues through which we can express ourselves,
  • even notions of what it means to be authentically black

You can see it in the work of artists like

  • Dave Chappelle (or Elon James White)
  • Kara Walker
  • TV On The Radio, Janelle Monae, Dionne Farris
  • Colson Whitehead, Farai Chideya
  • Boston Fielder’s URB Alt Fest
  • And, of course, Medicine For Melancholy

Bigger still, Medicine For Melancholy is part of a cultural shift that’s been going on for sometime.  It’s a shift that exposes people who’ve been creating  viable alternatives for years.

From an audience standpoint, I believe audiences are looking for works that nourishes them spiritually, emotionally, musically, intellectually, filmically, visually, “literarily.”  You get the idea.

Broadband connections and online tools are helping these communities grow and attract more members
Millenials—those in their 20s—are bringing their sensibilities to bear, and they are beginning to shape culture.

Our president is the biggest example of the cultural shift.

So, no, this film isn’t an isolated incident.

And we started the discussion.  Bottom line (which I tweeted earlier that day):

So: Black rock. Afro-Punk. It’s all an expression of postmodern blackness, huh? Thanks @claudia_m http://is.gd/1XJcy

Nbaf-panel

photo: Karsh

Barry+boston

Boston Fielder (l) and Barry Jenkins

photo: Yemi Toure

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6 Responses to “Thoughts (pre- and) post the National Black Arts Festival” Subscribe

  1. mumbler August 4, 2009 at 21:16 #

    I was in attendance Saturday and I thought you framed the conversation well. I had asked the question whether the labeling of your art gets less appreciation because its labeled “black”. I thought both you and Boston had great responses. My own thought is that it reflects more on the viewer if they can’t appreciate the universal in a given art form if its labeled “black” in anyway.

  2. Rob Fields August 9, 2009 at 19:01 #

    My apologies for the delayed response, mumbler, but I definitely appreciate your comment and feedback. Yeah, it’s interesting for so many, labeling something “black” automatically disqualifies it from having any universal significance. Hopefully, there will be more people who will be able to get out of their comfort zones and begin to see the humanity in people who don’t look like them.

  3. Black Market Index August 12, 2009 at 00:17 #

    Just now discovering your blog and I gotta say you’re not alone in your thinking. There’s a sea change afoot. I know I feel it in my dealings with black television and film community here in Los Angeles. Keep up the good work.

  4. Rob Fields August 13, 2009 at 10:37 #

    Hey, Courtney! Thanks for stopping by. Agree that there’s change on the way. We just all have to keep pushing forward, not as lone individuals, but by being supportive of others in different genres who are working towards similar goals.

    That said, please keep us posted on what you’re doing in film and TV.

  5. Yesterdayspoem.blogspot.com March 29, 2010 at 18:29 #

    I’m so happy that you took time to think about how to frame the discussion. And to frame it in the context of postmodern blackness seems quite appropriate. Beginning with that lens, one can get deeper into the impact of the images and viewing these characters on screen. You probably cut about 30 minutes of contextualizing out of the conversation by beginning within that framework.

  6. Rob Fields March 30, 2010 at 00:06 #

    Vizionheiry,

    Thanks for your kind comments. Yeah, prior to the session, i was struggling to find a way to contextualize not just the film, but the presence of myself and three other non-film people. When I came upon this notion of post-modern blackness, it all just fell into place.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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