Sunday, July 22, 2012

N----R: The Documentary Rejected (Banned) by Facebook

The continuing economic downturn pushes further back the memory of that exciting election evening in 2008 when the U.S. -- and the world -- seemed to recognize  that a major page had been turned in our history with the election of Senator Barack Hussein Obama as the first African American as  President. In the ensuing months, there were many debates regarding whether the nation has reached a new "post-racial" era. Nevertheless, politics, and the challenging economic scene seem to suggest that an election does not a post-racial era make. Therefore,  it is with great interest and curiosity that we accepted an invitation to attend a screening of Thea St. Omer's documentary, Nigger, which may well represent the most loaded (well, as indicated in the film, there is at least one other lulu one can think of) word in the American idiom.

The film is a series of talking head shots, of individuals of all races and ages, who are interviewed by director St. Omer about their thoughts and reactions to "the N word" as it is more commonly referred. In conversation with the director at the screening at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, she noted how the film's title prevented it from appearing on the ubiquitous Facebook.

The film is a brief and challenging documentary that addresses the word that appears first to have been used as a weapon, part of the semiotics of control of African Americans, but which has now been re-appropriated as a badge of -- if not honor -- fellowship and identity in the younger African American community. Even appropriated --as both the film and members of the audience agreed-- by non-Black suburban kids who identify with the creativity, fellowship, and urban cool of hip-hop culture.

Although it appears that academics are among the individuals interviewed in the film, their comments are all personal and revelatory under director St. Omer's careful probing. And that's just what makes "Nigger: The documentary that Facebook Rejected" unique: it is a documentary from the heart, no academic disquisitions or distanced, philosophical critiques or analyses of the evolution or linguistics of this most loaded word. The film gives it to you straight from the gut, take it or leave it, with the only alternative remaining for the viewer to figure out where they, too, stand in the new American culture, post racial or not. The only hesitation that I had regarding the director's ambitious and admirable short-film effort, is the fact that, having been filmed in 2005 and 2006, there is an unexplored dimension here, inasmuch as one can think about the  interviews in terms of "BO and "AO" - Before and After President Obama. This may be a quibble, and is not intended as a criticism, as much as it is the thought that the film may in fact have further resonance if a sequel were attempted, kind of like Michael Apted's "Up" series, but observing the meaning of the word in a post-racial, post-Obama context.

None of this is meant to take anything away from the director's worthy effort. She is continuing in her efforts to bring this documentary to a wider audience. However, as an example of the complex nature of this evolution, director St. Omer has been working hard at obtaining funding to make the film more available to audiences. It appears that it is an uphill climb. Visit the film's website for more information on the film and the Kickstarter campaign here

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Current Reading

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