Themed Playlist: Traces of Violence
Preface/Note: I am concerned about my posting on this. I believe that this platform should be for BAME/BIPOC scholars and practitioners– to lift up and boost the signal of the work being done and the people doing it. My research might suit but my privilege can impede the voices that must be amplified. At the same time, I hesitate to ask that further work be done, particularly knowing it is a demand during a challenging time.
Because topical playlists are essential– we can use these for teaching, for sharing, and for understanding– I will contribute, but once again state the values of this intiative: Playlists should signal the important work being done in media making and in scholarship by BAME/BIPOC scholars and practitioners– not just for this topic, but for all playlists.
And now, from me, Leshu Torchin, a list on violence. As a scholar who works on violence and human rights abuses, this topic has nonetheless been on my mind. This playlist comes out of that work, and out of my fury that so many people should still wring their hands around property damage, when so many lives are on the line. These lives are precious. All Black Lives Matter.
Traces of Violence
What does it mean to live with violence? This is not violence as exceptional event, but violence as an ongoing presence felt across place, community, and generations? These films redirect the attention that so often comes in the framing of the protests. The violence is not in the actions there. The violence is in the context of systemic racism and the world, and media worlds, we inhabit. As always, this list is not comprehensive but a start.
Written and directed by prolific Black American filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux, Within Our Gates is one of the classics of early silent cinema. In its story of Sylvia Landry, who goes North to seek funds for her school for Black children in the South, it portrays the experience of Black people in America living under Jim Crow laws. The film is noteworthy not only for being one of the earliest existing films by a Black filmmaker but for its depiction of lynching from a Black perspective, and an attempted rape of a Black woman by a white man, an act that deliberately reverses the traditional white supremacist trope of the Black man as threat. The lauded use of flashbacks here emphasise the ways past violence hews to the present.
The Library of Congress has made the film available to watch on YouTube.
This exquisite experimental documentary uses poetry, performance, and humorous interventions into the ethnographic form to provide a host of testimonies of what it is to be both Black and gay, living in the intersection of racism and homophobia. The stories it offers are bold and painful and yet the film courses with a joy comes to a crescendo in the repeated refrain: Black Men Loving Black Men is a Revolutionary Act.
It’s hard to find a copy available to everyone but it is on Kanopy in the UK, and available for rent in the U.S. on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/tonguesuntied
This film never fails to stun me, and it is devastating to think how little has changed. This satirical take on the television industry reflects on the violence embedded in material culture from the earliest days to the present, and the transformations they’ve undergone. Not only has this racism forged the basis of much screen entertainment, but it hasn’t gone away, it’s just changed—kind of. Its explosive conclusion reminds us that physical violence is enmeshed with stereotypes and minstrelsy and other hallmarks of a white supremacist culture.
It is outrageous that this doesn’t seem to be available to stream.
Confessions of a Headhunter (Sally Riley, 2000)
As I’ve been compiling this list, there have been glorious reports on the removal of statues commemeroating figures who were instigators of or at the very least complicit in global genocide and enslavement of Black and Brown people. Although some likely bemoan the ‘erasure’ of history, these will not be lost if taught– properly. Indeed, what is forgotten in these laments to memorials is the work of forgetting they did as they erased the lives of those lost to imperial, colonial, and capitalist expansion and nation-building.
Sally Riley’s short film, Confessions of a Headhunter plays with the assumptions of violence and the work of memorials in this story of a young Aborginal (Noongar) man, the victim of the Stolen Generations and the ways white violence is so often naturalised.
Birthmarks (Naima Lowe, 2007)
This experimental documentary centres on Naima and her father, Bill Lowe, watched the police instigate the 1967 Newark Riots/Uprising, suffered their violence, and has born witness to this event to his daughter in various ways at various point in her life. Although short, it is profoundly rich, offering meditations on history and mediation, trauma on the body and across generations, Black resistance in the face of violence, and the place of love and possibility.
Birthmarks is available to stream on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/99005218
Narrated by Lauryn Hill, this documentary brings together footage from struggles for decolonisation with the work of psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon—namely, his work on violence. The images of poverty, racism, and labour abuses as well as those of grassroots, guerrilla struggle against modern warfare highlight the violence of coloniser, not the colonised in uprisings and resistance. When looking at scenes of demonstrations and riots, it is essential to remember where the origins of violence lie.
The Hard Stop (George Amponsah and Dionne Walker, 2015)
Britons must remember that racism is not an ‘over there’ or uniquely American problem. Not only can one argue that the British Empire helped make and spread this virulence. To prompt that recognition, I recommend The Hard Stop, about the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of police, the protest that erupted at the conclusion this was a ‘lawful killing’, and the prosecution of demonstrators as ‘instigators’. This is not just about the violence of those events, but the violence fo the frustration that wears at those faced with this constant cycle of oppression.
The film is available to rent on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/video/detail/amzn1.dv.gti.eeab142b-a751-f69d-993d-619b7e33644c?autoplay=1
I will also take this time to signal the need for BBC to rerun After Sheku (Uzma Mir-Young, 2017). This is the case of the police killing of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy, Fife (Scotland). Mir-Young speaks to his family as they try to find out what happened and wrestle with living without him.
His sister has put out a call for support in their legal case, noting the startling parallels Sheku’s experience has with that of George Floyd. https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/justiceforsheku/
Meanwhile, a petition is circulating for Channel 4 to run the film Injustice (Ken Fero & Tariq Mehmood/Migrant Media, 2001), about deaths in police custody. Notably if unsurprisingly, despite its multiple awards, it has yet to be screened by the British broadcaster (possibly for anxiety around provoking response from the Police Federation).
Recommending this film seems almost redundant given it pride of place in the numerous lists that have come out in the past weeks. However, it must be listed. This documentary skilfully outlines the ways the ways violence against Black Americans has been perpetuated by the so-called justice system. Slavery, abolished by the titular 13th Amendment, has continued in aggressive policing and mass incarceration of Black people, feeding a corporatized prison industrial complex and often rendering them forced labour for other businesses using prisons as sources for workers. It is the real world depiction of what Boots Riley conjures up in his surreal yet heartbreakingly grounded Sorry to Bother You.
Moreover, Ava Du Vernay is a force with numerous films and television productions including the exquisite Middle of Nowhere (2012), the Netflix mini-series When They See Us (about the Central Park Five), and the television series Queen Sugar.
13th is available to stream on Netflix.
C.J. and Sebastian are two teen scientist-inventors are working on a time travel device. When C.J’s brother is shot, she decides to use her invention to save his life. The repetition and the frustration call attention to the ways time can be used to express the relentless, never-ending, and seemingly inevitable trauma that is part of the lives of Black people. The perils of time travel almost seem tame by comparison.
It’s on Netflix. Watch it: https://www.netflix.com/watch/80216758?source=35