film · jazz

on moonlight and more

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I enjoyed sitting on a panel today with fellow University of Alabama professors Adams Brooks and Robin Boylorn of the Department of Communication Studies and poet L. Lamar Wilson (also a fellow Floridian), of the English Department, at the student-run Black Warrior Film Festival. We addressed filmmaking in the age of  “Moonlight,” the recent Oscar-winning Best Picture winner. The film  is set in Miami, my hometown.

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A selfie with colleagues Adam Brooks, L. Lamar Wilson, Robin Boylorn. Special thanks to Trent  Carlson and other UA students who made us feel so welcomed.

There were so many layers to the conversation, among them, the subtle storytelling in this film, the long road that still lies before Hollywood’s power brokers in terms of addressing diversity, and the way in which black masculinity is depicted in “Moonlight.”

I partly enjoyed addressing the latter as it was a wonderful window to announcing the local premiere of my film on the late jazz guitarist Grant Green, my former father in law, whose music has been sampled by hip hop performers and others.

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When I first started working on the Grant Green documentary in 1994, I thought the movie was about a musician. While editing over the last two years, I realized that was only part of the story. It is, above all, a film about a father and son, and especially a black father and son in the 1970s, on the eve of rising conservatism. This was a time when many homes still had a dad and before African American men faced a host of never-before-seen trials in the 1980s and beyond.

The story my former husband tells in “The Grant Green Story” suggests another kind of black community and black family that doesn’t often get depicted in the headlines since the 1970s. He says outright that he and his childhood friends would do things like shovel snow or mow lawns in their west side Detroit neighborhood rather than “gang bang.”

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Juan, a Miami drug dealer, is a father figure of sorts to “Little,” a child of African descent in Miami’s Liberty City in “Moonlight,” the Oscar Best Picture winner.

And while his dad was often on the road, when he was home, he was often sitting on his porch, watching the neighborhood children play. This was a man whose house was next door to a home purchased by Stevie  Wonder. Within a 1-2 miles radius were homes purchased by other Motown greats. His commitment to his children in the 1970s poses tensions with Juan’s desire to see about “Little,” a child of African descent in Miami as revealed in “Moonlight.:

I say all of that to say I welcomed having a discussion with my colleagues about the deliberate choices I have made as a filmmaker about what gets emphasized in Grant’s life. Not unlike many postwar musicians, he eventually had a drug habit that likely led to his untimely death. But this man who has been one of the most sampled artist by hip hop performers and others since the 1990s was also a dad.

And it is this story that folks attending the noon event at the University of Alabama’s School of Music Friday, March 31st, will have have a chance to see. It is the only local screening before the film is released this summer. I look forward to sharing it with others. In the meantime, I will be grateful to everyone who helped the project along the way including my colleagues in the Department of History, the film crew and my former husband.

Beyond that, so happy to see the rain driving away the Spring pollen and the dogwoods finally blooming in Tuscaloosa. Roll Tide!

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