Culture

From Angelou to Zinn: An anti-racism resource guide

George Floyd Protest March, San Francisco, May 31, 2020. Photo by David Schnur

Amid the latest protests against institutional racism, many are looking to sharpen their own knowledge and talk to their neighbors about how they can understand and change what’s been going on in this country for, oh, the past 500 years. University of Southern California Professor of Education Victoria Lynn Alexander (specializing in racial and social equity) has put together a fantastic Google Doc that functions as an A-Z of everything you need to start those necessary conversations—and preparation for the election and beyond.

In the doc, which you can read here, Alexander explains terms like “implicit bias” and “self-interrogation” and goes on to recommend organizations, actions, and reading materials that lay out a path to recognizing and rooting out racism. Videos, magazine articles, donation funds, and links to protest rallies are all included.

The whole thing is worth your time and bookmark, but we’re reprinting the donation fund section so you can take immediate action to help now. Then, crack into Alexander’s reading list and have an eye-opening month.

Where to Donate, Sign Petitions, Contact Reps:

The Bail Project

We believe that paying bail for someone in need is an act of resistance against a system that criminalizes race and poverty and an act of solidarity with local communities and movements for decarceration. Over the next five years, The Bail Project will open dozens of sites in high-need jurisdictions with the goal of paying bail for tens of thousands of low-income Americans, all while collecting stories and data that prove money bail is not necessary to ensure people return to court.

Baltimore Action Legal Team

BALT is committed to building the power of the local Movement for Black Lives. We take our direction from community-organizing groups who are on the ground, and we respect the leadership of local activists. BALT is committed to anti-racist practices and to black leadership. BALT is dedicated to politically-conscious lawyering and to using creative, collective solutions to support the Movement for Black Lives in Baltimore.

Black Lives Matter Foundation

#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

Black Visions Collective – MN

Since 2017, Black Visions Collective, has been putting into practice the lessons learned from organizations before us in order to shape a political home for Black people across Minnesota. We aim to center our work in healing and transformative justice principles, intentionally develop our organizations core “DNA” to ensure sustainability, and develop Minnesota’s emerging Black leadership to lead powerful campaigns.

Fair Fight

Founded by Stacey Abrams, promotes fair elections by bringing voter discrimination to light with education programs and election reform advocacy.

George Floyd Memorial Fund

This fund is established to cover funeral and burial expenses, mental and grief counseling, lodging and travel for all court proceedings, and to assist our family in the days to come as we continue to seek justice for George.  A portion of these funds will also go to the Estate of George Floyd for the benefit and care of his children and their educational fund.

Higher Heights Leadership Fund

Higher Heights Leadership Fund’s work is to elevate Black women’s voices to shape and advance progressive policies and to provide opportunities for these women  to build their leadership skills, through training programs, civic engagement, and networking opportunities.

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor was an award-winning EMT and model citizen. She loved her family and community. She worked at two hospitals as an essential worker during the pandemic. One month ago, a division of the Louisville Police Department performed an illegal, unannounced drug raid on her home. Not a single officer announced themselves before ramming down her door and firing 22 shots, shooting Breonna 8 times, killing her. Not only were the police at the WRONG HOUSE, but the man they were looking for had already been arrested earlier that day.

Louisville Community Bail Fund

The Louisville Community Bail Fund exists to not only bail out folks, but provide post-release support to get them from jail, fed, and to a situation of safety. LCBF also maintains a focus on preventative measures for those targeted by law enforcement and threatened with incarceration.

Massachusetts Bail Fund

The Massachusetts Bail Fund pays up to $2,000 bail so that low-income people can stay free while they work towards resolving their case, allowing individuals, families, and communities to stay productive, together, and stable.

Minnesota Freedom Fund

The Freedom Fund remains committed to #FreeThemAll. We say again: it is wrong to cage people, to jail those who are not a risk to themselves or their communities, to imprison those who cannot afford to pay the ransom of bail, and to hold in detention those whose “crime” is being born in a different part of the world.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

While we are living in a moment unlike any we have seen before, LDF will continue to work to protect the most vulnerable in our society. During this public health emergency, the fight to defend our civil and human rights has never been more critical. Donate today to help us win landmark legal battles, protect voters across the nation, and advance the cause of racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society.

National Urban League

To help African-Americans and others in underserved communities achieve their highest true social parity, economic self- reliance, power, and civil rights. The League promotes economic empowerment through education and job training, housing and community development, workforce development, entrepreneurship, health, and quality of life.

People’s City Council Freedom Fund

Los Angeles-based fund helping to pay for legal support, bail, fines, and court fees for arrested protesters in the city, as well as medical bills and transportation for injured protesters, supplies for field medics, and direct support to L.A.’s Black Lives Matter chapter.

Reclaim the Block

Reclaim the Block began in 2018 and organizes Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that truly promote community health and safety. We believe health, safety and resiliency exist without police of any kind. We organize around policies that strengthen community-led safety initiatives and reduce reliance on police departments.

Run With Maud

He was out for a jog when he was chased down, shot, and killed by two white supremacists. We must demand the justice he deserves. Call 770.800.0689 to demand justice for Ahmaud right away.

Southern Poverty Law Center

The SPLC is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.

Woke Vote

We are on a mission to rid us of mass incarceration, voter suppression, and urban gun violence. Woke Vote is here to challenge politicians that think about neglecting and exploiting our communities. By supporting progressive, righteous leaders and holding them accountable, we are reclaiming power and promoting justice for all.

United Negro College Fund

UNCF envisions a nation where all Americans have equal access to a college education that prepares them for rich intellectual lives, competitive and fulfilling careers, engaged citizenship and service to our nation.

How teachers leapt inequity hurdles when COVID shut schools

Thurgood Marshall Academic High School teacher Reynaldo Dulaney

Reynaldo Dulaney, who teaches Ethnic Studies, Leadership, and Advanced Placement US History at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, says the quick switch from teaching in the classroom to online this March because of the COVID-19 crisis was an experience of “stress, resilience, resourcefulness, and community building.”

With some students without Internet at home and a big newcomer population, he had a hard time reaching everyone, Dulaney says.

“It’s like, ‘Surprise—there are a lot of inequities. COVID kind of lifted the rock on things we can no longer ignore.”

It wasn’t a time for business as usual, Dulaney says.

“We were making sure our students were OK and humanizing them before we work on delivering content.”

During the semester Dulaney held office hours and met with his class every week. He made sure to check in on the students and their emotional state and asked them what they needed from him to get their work done.

One class included watching Sue Me by Wale, a video imaging what “Black privilege” might look like, and discussing its relevance. Another assignment was creating short video documentaries on what living through this historic time has been like. Delaney made sure to give the students feedback on all their work, due on Fridays—but deadlines were flexible, with some students watching younger siblings while their parents are at jobs or working themselves to support their families.

“Most of our students are Black and Brown, and we know COVID’s affecting them disproportionately,” Dulaney said. “Some people are trying to maintain the status quo virtually, and we cannot recreate that—it wasn’t servicing all of our students.”

Dulaney put in many extra hours, preparing for classes and reaching out to students as well as spending his weekend attending webinars.

It’s not just teachers who put in extra time over the semester with the shift to distance learning. Carolyn Samoa, a para educator at Paul Revere Elementary School and vice president of para educators for United Educators of San Francisco, learned to work online to be able to support the special education students she works with.

They’re in general education classes, and Samoa did breakout groups with them during their time. The school district distributed Chromebooks to students, and Samoa, who has been there 16 years and has grandchildren in the district, says she and other paras called parents to check in on students who hadn’t showed up.

“It is different doing everything online, but I love seeing the kids,” Samoa said. “The best is connecting with the kids.”

Through her role at the union, Samoa was also involved in getting devices to paras who didn’t have them, and she participates in bargaining meetings online. She saw her colleagues make shifts to do what’s needed for students.

Security guard Greg Esby doing food distribution at Rosa Parks Elementary School.
Photo courtesy Susan Solomon

“Security aides are helping with food distribution,” she said in May. “They’re the only members physically at a site. It was every day, but now it’s three days a week and they give more food to last longer.”

Like Dulaney, Leslie Hu, a social worker at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, thinks that during a global pandemic, when many students are seeing their communities directly affected, it’s time to think creatively.

Right before schools were closed, Hu says she and her colleagues wanted to get in touch with students and their families to see what they needed. So the Thursday before it was announced that the campus would close, staff and teachers stayed at school until about 9pm trying to get families signed up to receive notices from the school.

The following Tuesday, Hu and some teachers reached out to all the families. They recruited everyone they could—including the PE teacher, school secretaries, and the principal—to call all 460 families who have students at the school, and got through about 95 percent of them.

“We called for two reasons, one of which was connection, so, ‘How are you, we’re here for you, we are so sad we don’t get to see your kids every day,’” Hu said. “Then we also asked them, ‘What do you need?’”

Through talking with the families, Hu says they found out about specific situations —an uncle who was the main breadwinner and lost his job, for example, and a family threatened with eviction—and offered help through the local, UESF.

“Our public schools may be the only system reaching out, and we wanted to represent The Man,” Hu said. “They’re not going to get a call from PG&E or Cal Fresh.”

Food distribution workers. Photo courtesy of SFUSD

With a GoFundMe, they raised money to send out 200 grocery store cards. They also walked families through how to sign up for WiFi, explained that there was a moratorium on evictions, and gave them information about pop up food banks.

Hu has been working with the school’s community partners: The Bayview Hunters Point YMCA, a green consulting firm, Woodard and Curran, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who have donated tens of thousands of dollars. With the money they’ve given, the school was able to give a family staying in a shelter a card to stay at an Airbnb and start a second round of grocery store cards.

Hu says she’s grateful for how quickly the partners stepped up to help. The teachers and staff also adapted to do what’s needed, she says.

“There’s a nimbleness in how people have been operating, including our students,” she said. “We don’t think how incredibly hard this has been on them. They’re resilient, but they need support in being able to navigate this. Teachers who have done business as usual on a laptop have missed the boat a little. We are in a crisis and our children need us to support them through hard times.”

Distribution of books and grocery cards at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.
Photo courtesy Leslie Hu

Hu took that message to the entire school district. The union heard about her work and asked her to do trainings. School Board trustees Faauuga Moliga, Gabriela Lopez, and Alison Collins attended one, and they decided they wanted a plan like this for the entire school district. They worked quickly to write a resolution, a “Coordination of Care” Plan, which “will reflect a system-wide commitment to holistic care policies and procedures for students and families.” They also implemented a needs assessment for all students.

The intent behind the resolution is supporting families, students, teachers and staff during this time, Hu says.

“We’re not just trying to teach. We’re in the in business of love and care, starting with phone calls and asking how they’re doing,” she said. “Honestly, for me it’s about care and connection. Neuroscience shows us relationships and connections can heal trauma.

“When we’re calling our families, we’re just telling them we’re here and we’re not going anywhere when so many systems are shut down.”

Screen Grabs: Revisit the glitzy disaster of ‘Showgirls’

Showgirls (1995) Directed by Paul Verhoeven Shown: Elizabeth Berkley (as Nomi Malone)

During a week in which a nation-shaking epidemic shutdown has managed to become a concern secondary to curfews, social chaos, and military-dictatorship-type responses to protests against police violence…which public wildfires continue to have gas poured on them by He Who Shall Not Be Named…well, there’s not much this column can do but recommend some industrial-grade escapism.

At least a couple hours’ disengagement from pressing political realities may be necessary for your mental health at present. Although if you simply want to dig in further, let it be noted that new releases this week also include a documentary about gun reform activism (Parkland Rising) and a semi-fictive feature about immigrant advocates managing to permeate a real-life Florida detention center for the undocumented (The Infiltrators). Also a little more than we felt like dealing with at present is a bestseller-derived courtroom/revenge thriller (The Collini Case) about the systemic downplaying of citizens’ Nazi pasts in postwar Germany. [Editor’s Note: There’s also a great list of essential Black films from the past 30 years here.] 

But onward with some movies that in one way or another offer some escape from the press of, er, current affairs. All are available on streaming platforms as of Friday June 5:

YOU DON’T NOMI
The go-to celluloid guilty pleasure for many, and many San Franciscans in particular, is the 1995 WTF known as Showgirls, in which director Paul Verhoeven and scenarist Joe Eszterhas (following the popular success of their SF-shot and SF-picketed Basic Instinct) managed to convince a major Hollywood studio to spend $40 million on an NC-17 Las Vegas softcore musical…of sorts. Jaws have not stopped dropping since. Generally reviled upon release, Showgirls was just too flabbergasting to be forgotten like any ordinary flop. It was soon back in midnight showings, drag homages, a successful musical-theater spoof, and more.

This is not the time or place to debate whether Showgirls is just bad, monumentally bad, beyond good and bad, or a “misunderstood masterpiece” as some will actually tell you with a straight face. And it’s unnecessary anyway, since now Jeffrey McHale’s documentary is here to do those things for us. You Don’t Nomi approaches its subject from myriad angles, but mostly that of serious admirers (including our own Peaches Christ, who pioneered Showgirls’ late-night theatrical revival), film scholars, and critics (like Barbara Shulgasser, who originally reviewed it for the San Francisco Examiner). Showgirls’ genesis, production, publicity, public immolation, eventual re-evaluation, its placement within the pantheons of Verhoeven movies (it’s noted he went from making films too shocking for Holland to ones that bit the Hollywood hand which fed him) and general camp cinema (from Cobra Woman and Plan 9 to Valley of the Dolls and Mommy Dearest) are all given serious but by no means stuffy consideration.

Who we don’t hear from, outside archival interviews, are the people who actually made it. And no wonder: Not only do they still not seem to fully grasp what they wrought, their story keeps changing to accommodate shifting perceptions. Kinda like Tommy Wiseau started calling The Room an intentional “comedy” when he realized people were never going to stop laughing at it.

We can still dream that one day a tell-all book might reveal the real story behind what one observer muses might be a moviemaking story “about two men who maybe did a lot of cocaine and found themselves drunk with power in Hollywood after making a shitty movie about a lesbian icepick killer.” But meanwhile Showgirls goes on, needing no introduction and no explanations. Or perhaps it remains so inexplicable in its shrill, misogynist, racially weird, “unapologetically tacky” valley of ultra-slickness that to an extent we don’t even want to know how it happened.

You Don’t Nomi is one of those rare movies about a movie that (like Room 237 or The Disaster Artist) goes beyond simple “making-of” or glorified fan rave to encompass something larger—just as the film it discusses transcends 131 minutes of prurient dreck by being exactly that, albeit more vehemently than you’d ever thought possible.

TOMMASO
Abel Ferrera’s first narrative feature since 2014’s Pasolini (though that movie didn’t reach the US until last year) seems to be an autobiographical fiction reflecting his own status as an expat American artist now living and working in Rome. As the titular alter ego, his frequent collaborator Willem Dafoe sports other real-life overlaps: Tomasso is an ex-addict, has a much younger wife (Cristina Chiriac as Nikki) and little daughter (played by actual daughter Anna Ferrara), with a past including a broken prior marriage and two adopted children he’s estranged from.

A looser, lower-key personal 8 1/2 with fewer (and less flamboyant) fantasy elements, the long film drifts along from day to day, following Tommaso as he attends AA meetings, takes Italian lessons, teaches an acting class, works on a screenplay, goes shopping, and so forth. Dafoe has aged like a fine wine; so watching him perform these simple tasks in an often ebullient, perhaps semi-improvisational mode is a pleasure. But the film also feels like a directorial indulgence that is at once egotistical and less revealing than it thinks.

Tommaso’s primary source of angst is that he sometimes feels shut out by his wife, a Moldovan emigre herself who needs to assert her own independence. OK, sometimes she is distant and thoughtless, but he’s also frequently petulant and demanding. Besides, he’s in the classic Rich Famous Old Dude predicament, which earns little sympathy: If he wanted a mature soulmate, why did he marry a model-looking woman half his age? You choose a shiny package, don’t whine that it lacks content. Eventually this conflict leads the film to drive off one of several narrative cliffs, with the viewer uncertain whether they’re meant to be taken literally or not.

Given Ferrara’s own turbulent history, it’s welcome (as well as somewhat surprising) that he’s still alive and creating. But despite Dafoe and the confident craftsmanship on display, I’m not sure this tortured artist self-portrait does anything but make its creator look like another perpetual manchild, still whining that he can’t “have it all” while pushing 70. A few extraneous scenes of unidentified-female nudity don’t help dispel the notion that even this late in life, Ferrara still prefers his “muses” young, nekkid, and blank. Does a bongo come with that old-school beatnik-artiste crap, daddy-o?

Even hoarier: This is the kind of movie in which the director’s stand-in figure actually, truly does assume an eventual “Christ on the cross” pose…and I’m pretty sure it’s not meant as a parody of the stereotypical Pretentious Artist. Nope: That Abel Ferrera, he’s the real thing. Streaming rentals through Roxie Virtual Cinema (here) and Rafael Film Center (here) benefit those local venues.

SHIRLEY
A much better portrait of madness as artistic method is this latest from Josephine Decker, whose prior features (notably Madeline’s Madeline two years ago) had a poetical wooziness that was distinctive but also bit exasperating. It turns out, however, that her sensibility is exactly right for what is anything but a straight biopic of Shirley Jackson, self-destructive late author of such classic contemporary Gothic tales as The Haunting of Hill House and short story The Lottery.

Elisabeth Moss, fresh off her smashing turn in The Invisible Man, is back in nettlesome Her Smell terrain as this alcoholic, misanthropic New England recluse, who’s bullied by her professor husband (Michael Stuhlbarg as Stanley Hyman) but also dishes it out in return. It’s a fine, showy performance, yet this isn’t the star vehicle you might expect. Instead, it’s a gleefully perverse psychodrama that utilizes the real-life couple’s mutually abusive dynamic as fictionalized fodder for a four-way in which they draw a young couple (Logan Lerman’s teaching assistant, Odessa Young’s equally bright newlywed wife) into their domestic purgatory, then toy with them as cats do mice.

It’s sort of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mixed with the ambiguous menace and unsettling laughs of early Harold Pinter, as filtered through Decker’s dreamlike visual imagination. Shirley isn’t perfect, but it’s arresting and frequently inspired—a movie that, not unlike You Don’t Nomi, ultimately has more to say than simply addressing the real-life thing that it’s ostensibly about. It’s also available through Roxie Virtual Cinema. More info here.

THRILLERS: BECKY AND HAMMER
If you’re looking for something more in a less complicated mode of genre chills and thrills, these two new indie features are each a cut above average. Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott’s Becky stars Lulu Wilson as a 13-year-old only child whose fury at her cancer-robbed motherlessness and dad’s (Joel McHale) moving on with girlfriend Amanda Brugel gets a whole new outlet when their lakeside vacation home is raided by four dangerous escaped convicts—the worst of them played by comedian Kevin James, no less.

They are bad, violent people. But surprise!: Becky is a girl aching for an excuse to wreak major mayhem, which these villains all too soon provide her with. Not quite a black comedy, though it certainly requires a certain suspension of disbelief, this vigorous little number does not spare the gore, yet one must admit its revenge fantasy is quite appetizing nonetheless.

Likewise raising some plausibility issues, although within a more serious action-suspense context, is Christian Sparkes’ Canadian Hammer. Here, a hijacked drug deal leads prodigal son Mark O’Brien straight to the doorstep of Will Patton, the father who’d distanced himself from junior’s considerable substance and criminality problems. Once the shit hits the fan, however, they reach together for those Handy Wipes.

Over the course of a few very hectic hours, the two men, O’Brien’s very angry ex-friend (Ben Cotton), a not-so-innocent little brother (Connor Price), and others are pulled into an ever-escalating crisis from which there will surely be a body count. The screenplay may be a bit overloaded with incident, but the strong performances and execution keep Hammer’s 81 minutes strung taut.

Bandcamp Day picks: Support these great California artists directly

Ryan Porter. Photo by Ruff Draft

Music fans spent $7.1 million dollars the last time Bandcamp waived its 15% sales fee, on Friday, May 1st That’s a new daily record for the locally-based site, and almost double the $4.3 million that fans spent via Bandcamp on March 20 when the company did its first fee-waive sale. Around 800,000 releases were purchased on May 1, which works out at 15 times the usual amount sold on a Friday, according to the platform. (Bandcamp was so busy its site went down several times.) These fee-wive days were so successful that Bandcamp decided to dedicate the first Friday of the month to them—the next one is June 5.

But the world has changed, and Bandcamp has also decided to put its more where its music is. The recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the ongoing state-sanctioned violence against Black people in the US and around the world are horrific tragedies. Bandcamp (and we at 48Hills) are standing with those rightfully demanding justice, equality, and change, for Black People and people of color everywhere who live with racism every single day.

So starting this Juneteenth (June 19, from midnight to midnight PDT) and every Juneteenth hereafter, for any purchase made on Bandcamp, the platform will be donating 100% of their share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education. Bandcamp will also be allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

Here are some Bandcamp suggestions for this upcoming Friday and beyond. FIGHT THE POWER!

RYAN PORTER, LIVE IN PARIS AT NEW MORNING (WORLD GALAXY RECORDINGS)
There is a non-performative sincerity that always leaps from Ryan Porter’s trombone and personality. Recorded in France on October 16, 2019, one day before the late great Roy Hargrove’s birthday (RIP), his new project, Live in Paris at New Morning, sees the Los Angeles player exploring works from his last two full-length albums, The Optimist and Force For Good. Digitally it’s out June 12th, but you can purchase the single “Madiba” and pre-order the recording.

Joining Porter were Kamasi Washington (tenor saxophone), Jumaane Smith (trumpet), Brandon Coleman (piano; keyboards), Miles Mosley (upright; electric bass), and Tony Austin (drums). This was Porter’s first voyage into Europe with his own band. Once he describes the song “Madiba” as a dedication to the way Nelson Mandela would walk to work, the added meaning gives more weight to the song. Then, over an 11-minute performance, you experience West Coast Get Down, and feed off the energy reset they provide as a collective. Bandcamp link here.

THEE SINSEERS, “WHAT’S HIS NAME” (COLEMINE RECORDS)
As part of the Brighter Days Ahead campaign from Colemine Records, this new single “What’s His Name” represents the retro doo-wop soul accent Joey Quiñones has fortified. His project, Thee Sinseers, is the premier band in Southern California’s “souldies” scene. He produces, writes, and plays nearly everything under this moniker. Keep on the lookout for more of this time-traveling project. Bandcamp link here.

KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH, THE MOSAIC OF TRANSFORMATION (GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL)
“I guess in one sentence, this album is my expression of love and appreciation for electricity,” declared west coast composer, artist, and producer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith in The Mosaic of Transformation liner notes, her most recent release. It’s the type of statement that makes a wisecracking cynic believe the kombucha Smith is sippin on, may have gone bad. And we’re talking past SCOBY bad, for all you Bucha’ heads.

But this is serious listening for times that benefit from concentrated meditation. Since 2013 the Los Angeles musician has continued to explore the endless possibilities of electronic instruments as well as the shapes, movements, and expressions found in the physical body’s relationship to sound and color. This pursuit brings about a weighty labyrinth of synths, blankets of textures, and overall repetitive, calming sense of center-lowering blood pressure by the second—for any non-believer in such New Age pursuits. As weird as this audio presentation may sound to the non-yoga set, The Mosaic of Transformation works first as a coping mechanism settling the caustic nature of these disparaging times. Then, for those seeking ambient compositional pursuits of the avant-garde nature, a disarming sonic pattern unfurls itself, in vivid technicolor for the futuristic devotee. Bandcamp link here.

MOOR MOTHER AND NICOLE MITCHELL, “OFFERING – LIVE AT LE GUESS WHO”
MC/poet Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, released this week a performance recording from Le Guess Who Festival in Utrech, the Netherlands in 2018. Understand. ANY release from Ayewa is always worth our time on this swiftly tilting planet. Her command of the written word, vocal presence, and musical output-from punk rocking free jazz to space electronic transmissions-puts the Philadelphia native in rare distinction. Offering – Live at Le Guess Who is an auditory science fiction experience piped directly into your subconscious by noise musician Moor Mother and the indefatigable flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell. Get ready to lock-on. Bandcamp link here.

BENT ARCANA, “THE GATE” (CASTLEFACE RECORDS)
Ever since John Dwyer used to conduct jam sessions in his living room during his San Francisco days, he always had a factory-type plan for releasing music. (Coming back from DJ gigs, work, or just snagging a taco, I would hear those living room rehearsals from the first floor of his 17th Street apartment in the Mission. It let me know I was home.)

Dwyer, who now lives in Los Angeles, has crafted this Motown machinery delivery system for his roster of musical projects. While Oh Sees remains the ultimate breadwinner, Damaged Bug, OCS, and the newly formed Bent Arcana represent different projects he chooses to release music under. This new supergroup, which features modular synthesist Kyp Malone, another former SF resident, (of TV on the Radio), drummer, percussionist, and vocalist Ryan Sawyer, electric and double bassist Peter Kerlin, saxophonist Brad Caulkins, keyboardist Tom Dolas, guitarist Marcos Rodriguez, violinist Laena “Geronimo” Myers-Ionita, tenor saxophonist Joce Soubiran, and percussionist Andres Renteria, promises to be yet another special occasion to check out what Dwyer got going on.

Bent Arcana are releasing their self-titled debut LP on August 21 (“The Gate” is the first single). Self-described as “very much on the ECM / ’70s hard fusion / prog-kraut tip,” it provides more templates of the ever-expansive universe of sound Thee Oh Sees keep on stretching out towards. “This is the first interstellar transmission from five days of electrified & improvised sessions recorded at Stu-Stu-Studio, edited down to 40 minutes for your earballs,” Dwyer said in his statement. “Bent Arcana is the inceptive chapter in what I hope to be several releases showcasing these types of off-the-cuff musical compositions. So you can try your fry on and turn off. It is a many-pronged weapon, swung by the spontaneous sentinel.” Right, thee fuck on, Dwyer. Bandcamp link here.

For Pride, all queer people must stand up for Black lives

Mack Johnson, Sydney Baloue, Christian A'Xavier Lovehall, and Sunny Marks at the Philly Trans March in Philadelphia, PA on October 7, 2017. Photo by Sydney Baloue.

Black queer people exist. Stonewall was a riot against police. The fight for Gay Liberation was lead by queer and trans women of color. Why do we need to learn these things over and over?

June is Pride month, and the streets are full of protesters against police murder and for Black lives—never has the connection between queer and Black struggles for justice been more plain, even if the histories of both those struggles are very different. With Pride going virtual this year due to COVID, this month is an opportunity to reconnect with its radical roots, and stand up for Black lives.

It’s been heartening to see many commentators drawing a line from the direct action of the 1969 Stonewall Riots—a grassroots revolt against homophobic police violence which is celebrated annually as Pride—to the George Floyd protests taking place all over the country today, without erasing the tremendous work Black activists have done in the past.

The uprising after a raid on the Stonewall Inn bar on New York City’s Christopher Street remains the default birth of the contemporary LGBTQ rights movement, far from finished, but considered a successful spontaneous uprising that changed the world for the better. It was a days-long conflagration, rowdy and celebratory, which brought a then-diffuse community under one banner to agitate for civil rights. Bars were graffitied, windows were smashed, businesses were damaged, and some stores were looted.

Young people celebrate outside the boarded-up Stonewall Inn after riots over the weekend of June 27, 1969. Photo by Fred McDarragh, whose photos from the first Pride celebrations show the movement’s diversity from the beginning.

And while we will forever be arguing over “who threw the first brick at Stonewall” there is no doubt that one of the loudest voices right at the beginning was that of Black butch lesbian Storme DeLarverie, who may have thrown the first punch. The early Gay Lib movement was led by two emphatic and fabulous trans women of color who were at the riots, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. They didn’t advocate for the warm fuzziness of “equality,” with its comforting assimilationism in support of an immoral system, but the hard work and utopian vision of Liberation with a capital L for all people.

Future trans, AIDS, and prison justice leader Miss Major was also at the riots, and later brought that revolutionary energy with her to California. Here in San Francisco, we sparked our own queer rebellion three years before Stonewall. The 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in the Tenderloin was an uprising of trans woman and sex workers, Black women included, against police harassment and abuse.

But it’s another, more violent, local revolt from 41 years ago whose memory has been revived as a queer correlation to the George Floyd protests. The White Night Riot—when cops descended on gay people in the Castro protesting Dan White’s conviction of mere manslaughter instead of murder for killing Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone—is being talked about more than I’ve ever heard before, and by mainstream media figures. On May 21, 1979, SF gays fought back after being beaten down, burning police cars, smashing storefronts and City Hall windows, and blocking streets. “No Apologies!” was the rallying cry.

Searing images of the White Night Riot, paired with scenes of radical resistance from ACT-UP and other AIDS activists, have been making the rounds on social media, helping to connect today with yesterday. And an inspiring wave of queer Black activists who have inherited that spirit, like Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Transgender Cultural District co-founder Honey Mahogany, have been leading us onward.

So why is this queer history of violent police resistance and Black and trans leadership continually erased in the popular image of Pride? It has a lot to do with its history of commercialization. Pride, of course, hasn’t always been about corporate sponsorship and glitzy floats leading thousands in matching company logo t-shirts up Market Street. It used to be authentically freaky and homespun, a potluck with sly intentions. As latest GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives newsletter “How was Pride born?” puts it:

“It all started with an impromptu march and a picnic. On June 27, 1970, a small band of hippies and ‘hair fairies’ marched down Polk Street, then San Francisco’s most prominent LGBTQ area, to celebrate an event they called ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day.’ The following afternoon, some 200 people congregated for a ‘Gay-In’ picnic in Speedway Meadows at Golden Gate Park. These two modest gatherings inaugurated the annual celebration we now know as San Francisco Pride.

A 1970 poster for the Speedway Meadows Gay-In, featured in the GLBT Historical Society’s ‘Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride, 1970–1980’ online exhibition

“As difficult as it is to believe that every single Pride participant in 1970 could fit into a small area of the park,” the newsletter continues, “it’s also remarkable that just 10 years later, Pride was drawing some 250,000 participants and spectators.” (The Society’s online exhibition “Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride 1970–1980” opens June 15.)

This phenomenal growth attracted money and power. For a while, seeing corporate participants and sponsors declare themselves gay-friendly, and witnessing workers step out in public as queer, felt truly liberating. The police want to march with us instead of beat us? Wow, neat, even if they arrest us later for cruising in the bushes.

Increasing commercialization was a trap, though, transforming Pride into a marketing opportunity: Corporations have to target consumers—mostly straight, white, middle class—and guard their “neutral” brand image. Cries to tone down our radical, sexual, and diverse past often came from white gay men themselves, terrified of losing a growing grip on mainstream acceptance.

Thus Pride gradually became the weirdly sanitized spectacle it is, a Disneyfied White Party in the public mind’s eye, albeit one where young queer people can still encounter others like themselves, strange magic can happen, and older people can find community. (I cry every year at the PFLAG contingent, come on.)

An update of a famous White Night Riot commemoration poster, by Nick Moss.

And even though corporations need us now way more than we need them, Pride may be unable to escape their strangling, rainbow-feathered embrace. Earlier this year, I attended a meeting of the new Pride Board of Directors intended to address a non-binding vote from Pride members to ban Google and the Alameda Sheriff’s department from participating in the 2020 event.

Google was in the hot seat for its lax policy around homophobic YouTube harassment and resistance to workplace organizing. The Alameda sheriffs, who had never marched in the parade, were being spotlighted due to of their militarized crackdown on Moms4Housing, a group of homeless Black women who had occupied a vacant home in Oakland. (The police in general were also on the outs for arresting protesters who blocked the 2019 parade, who were calling for, yes, an end to police and corporate involvement in Pride.)

Board President Carolyn Wysinger declined to implement the vote due to its non-binding nature and  “legal and financial concerns”—including the possibility that Google might sue the Board members themselves. Wysinger described the vote as a perilous move that could endanger her as a Black woman who was herself experiencing homelessness, which demonstrates how racial and housing injustice block advancement on all sides. The sheriffs issue was left unaddressed.

An image of heaviy armed police in front of a rainbow-lit City Hall, posted June 2 to Gay Shame’s Twitter account.

The whole matter was made moot when COVID forced Pride to move online, but Google was recently exposed as rolling back diversity initiatives to please conservatives and cops are out here teargassing people as they protest for Black lives. Groups like Gay Shame, which have creatively protested the commercialization of Pride for years, could have seen that coming. But watching a proposed experiment to wield Pride’s power for social change being quashed by a potential corporate threat was chilling.

My hope is that Pride going virtual for its 50th anniversary may be just the reboot we need to re-engage with its original spirit, minus the Mentos floats and Lite Beer banners. While we’re fighting against a pandemic virus that very much triggers AIDS trauma, in a country that still endorses public, extra-judicial executions of Black people in the name of “law and order,” we need to channel our inner irascible Larry Kramer (RIP): Get out there, put our (masked, socially distanced) bodies on the line for Black people, and be totally loudmouthed pains in the ass for justice.

Screen Grabs: Into ‘The Vast of Night’—and beyond

'The Vast of Night'

A couple restored minor classics, plus new features about recording-industry sexism, Islamic fundamentalism and UFO invasion, make this another wide-ranging week in the streaming world.

THE GREY FOX
Released into the brand-new century of 1901 after serving thirty-three years on and off for stagecoach robberies, Bill Miner couldn’t stay on the right side of the law for very long. In this 1982 depiction of his later career, he (played by Richard Farnsworth, who’d just begun acting in earnest after decades as a stuntman) is roused by a trip to the nickelodeon. There, he sees The Great Train Robbery—a twelve-minute silent western credited with greatly advancing the new medium’s technical and narrative sophistication. But it’s not the film’s artistry that excites him. With stagecoaches now history, it’s the depiction of a successful locomotive heist that gets his attention. Crossing the border into Canada, he soon sets about turning celluloid fiction into reality, even as he flirts with the respectable life by romancing a lady photographer (the eccentric actress Jackie Burroughs).

En route Miner became something of a folk hero, dubbed “the Gentleman Bandit.” This bemused chronicle of one brief stint between his serial jailings was the rare Canadian film about a Canadian subject to be a significant critical and commercial success abroad. It remains a very handsome affair, taking full advantage of spectacular scenic locations, with much music by Ireland’s beloved The Chieftans on the soundtrack. If you didn’t see it in the ’80s, or have wanted to see it again, Kino Lorber’s 4K restoration (now available in various arthouse “virtual theaters,” including BAMPFA’s) is definitely worth a look. Beyond its other pleasures, it’s also a testament to the talent of first-time feature director Philip Borsos, who sadly would only make a handful more before dying of leukemia in 1995, aged just 41. More info here.

ON THE RECORD
Last week brought two major new documentaries about high-profile, high-powered sexual predators. Lisa Bryant’s Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich on Netflix devoted four hours to the misdeeds of the late financier pedophile and Trump party pal who conveniently committed a much-disputed jailcell suicide last August, just before his testimony might’ve incriminated other well-connected panderers. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s latest is a feature-length examination of a still-living tycoon trailing a slew of assault and harassment accusations. All of which Russell Simmons vehemently denies—while at the same time he’s moved to Bali, a nation with which the U.S. has no criminal-extradition deal.

On the Record begins with numerous African-American women discussing how they’ve felt the MeToo movement was mostly for “the beautiful, the wealthy, the popular”—and white. Whereas people like themselves often feel obligated to “race loyalty” above all, because “America destroys our men,” so complaining about their behavior only adds to negative stereotyping. Also, when black women have levied assault accusations against the likes of Clarence Thomas or Mike Tyson, it’s the woman who’s disbelieved, and whose reputation gets dragged through the mud.

“Godfather of hip-hop” Simmons was a dream boss and mentor for many women who sought entree into the music industry. But at least twenty of them have recently come forward to accuse him of inappropriate behavior, up to and including rape. Among them are aspiring rappers, filmmakers, even his own erstwhile chief A&R executive. The latter, Drew Dixon, eventually fled his Def Jam for Arista. There, artists she signed scored more hits and Grammys. Yet she says she found herself all too soon facing exactly the same “put out or get out” demands from new CEO L.A. Reid—a “last straw” that drove her out of the business entirely.

Pressure from those men presumably led to executive producer Oprah Winfrey severing her association with the film before its Sundance premiere, which resulted in it also losing its original distribution deal. On the Record isn’t quite as powerful as the filmmakers’ prior documentaries The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground, which detailed respective systemic sexual abuses and cover-ups in the US military and on college campuses—if only because those indicted entire institutions, while this is ultimately about power-corrupted individuals insulated by celebrity and wealth. Still, it’s a forceful expose that raises important issues about entertainment, privilege, gender, race and silence. It’s now on HBO Max.

PAPICHA
Sexism in an entirely different context is the focus of this first feature by Russia-born, France-based Mounia Meddour, the daughter of late Algerian director Azzeddine Meddour. “Inspired by true events,” it’s a fictional narrative set in 1997 Algiers, where political and terroristic pressure is being exerted to force strict interpretations of Islamic religious law on all of society. That’s anathema to Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri), a carefree university student aspiring towards a career in fashion design. She’s introduced sneaking out of the dorm with bestie Wassila (Shrine Boutella) to grab a cab, blast Technotronic, and give themselves a glam makeover en route to an underground dance club.

While many of her peers and their families are seeking to flee abroad, escaping an increasingly repressive culture, Nedjma intends to stay put—lent perhaps a false sense of confidence by her own reckless, borderline-bratty youthful high spirits.

That light is dimmed a little when a member of her own family is assassinated, apparently for exhibiting overly “Western” values. Nedjma turns grief into the determination to stage a fashion show, even if that sends a red flag to fundamentalists who’d readily kill for far less of a blatant provocation.

It’s hard not to share the film’s sense of outrage at institutionalized misogyny and violence in the name of religion. But Meddour overstacks the deck, piling on too much melodrama, forced lyricism, a breathless tone, and too many scenes in which Jessica Alba-looking lead Khoudri is encouraged to stay near or over the brink of hysteria. A quieter film might have made its points more powerfully; Papicha has a worthy message, but almost no dramatic restraint in delivering it. It’s currently part of the Roxie Virtual Cinema programming. More info here.

SECRET CEREMONY
1968 was such a stupendous year in film—with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Yellow Submarine, Planet of the Apes, Faces, Teorema, Stolen Kisses and Shame, just for starters—that movies which might’ve stood out at any other time have been largely overshadowed. A good example is this starry oddity from Joseph Losey, a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist who moved to England, where he re-established himself to the point of becoming one of that nation’s leading directors in the talent-clogged Sixties. After exploring scenarist Harold Pinter’s provocative psychodramas in The Servant and Accident, he plunged into even more bizarre “psychological thriller” territory with this script by an expat Hungarian (George Tabori) adapting an Argentine novel (by Marco Denevi).

Elizabeth Taylor, then at the apex of her stardom, plays Leonora, who’s become an apparent prostitute after a failed marriage and the death of her only child. Visiting the latter’s grave, she is accosted by Cenci (Mia Farrow, fresh off the same year’s Rosemary’s Baby), a weird, somewhat infantile young woman who mistakes her for her own mother. She drags the bewildered Leonora to her sprawling, palazzo-like London home (Debenham House, a location used in several films), where Leonora realizes from photos that she does indeed strongly resemble the parent whose cancer death Cenci refuses to acknowledge.

Made vulnerable by her own maternal instincts and material poverty, Leonora accepts this role-playing relationship. But a snake turns up even in this false Eden: Cenci’s stepfather Albert (Robert Mitchum), an American professor who blandly admits  lusting after the child-woman since he first saw her “sliding down a bannister” at age 11. A manipulative changeling, Cenci pits the two “adults” against each other, even going so far as to fake her own rape by “daddy” before she actually gives herself to him.

In a way Secret Ceremony is just one of the more pretentious children of Psycho—not that it’s a horror film, really, but one of many ’60s films indulging the celluloid fetish for baroque, deadly behaviors excused under the broad umbrella of twisted “psychology.” This kind of theatrical hysteria tied to taboos (incest, et al.) can easily curdle into camp, as it nearly does here in Taylor’s performance. She’s too literal-minded an actress to attack this borderline-preposterous material any way but head-on, to occasionally strident, coarse effect. But Farrow dives right into her character’s creepiness, a doe-eyed victim one minute and malevolent sprite the next, while Mitchum’s middle-aged predator is an insouciant master class in banality-of-evil. This very stylized, rarified cabinet of celluloid curiosities isn’t exactly a “good” movie, but it’s a rather fascinating one. It’s now out in a new HD master on DVD and Blu-ray.

THE VAST OF NIGHT
Andrew Patterson’s debut feature starts out feeling like American Graffiti meets The Last Picture Show, as elaborate tracking shots capture everyday life in a small New Mexico burg on the night of a high school basketball game circa 1960 or so. Among the few not headed there for the evening are garrulous teens Fay (Sierra McCormick) and Everett (Jake Horowitz)—she’s doing a shift on the town telephone switchboard, while he’s doing the same at the local radio station. It’s while both are at these solitary tasks that they become aware of something odd occurring, with callers suddenly cut off and a strange interference noise in the area. Investigating, the duo eventually get pointed towards mysterious “people in the sky.” Is some sort of Roswell/alien abduction scenario unfolding in this sleepy backwater?

It takes nearly all of this film’s 90 minutes for that question to get answered, making The Vast of Night one of those films in which showy directorial style and cranked-up performances cover for the fact that not much actually happens for a long time. It would be one thing if the extended buildup led to some real surprise, but in fact it leads to something very familiar. Patterson’s choice to frame all this as a sort of mock vintage Twilight Zone-type TV show seems like another level of filigree that disguises without actually adding to the slim narrative content. Still, Vast is earnest and resourceful; I can see why some are considering it a major find, even if I can’t quite share their enthusiasm. It’s now on Amazon Prime.

Travel back in time, daily, with Emperor Norton

Like all tourist functions, Emperor Norton’s Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine Tour, a delightful peregrination amongst various sites of historical importance, has ceased temporarily. But you can still enjoy golden nuggets of San Francisco’s past courtesy of the new-fangled Internet machine.

Specifically, Emperor Norton’s Youtube Vlog—in which the grand figure, who proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States in 1859 (we think we have it bad with male egos now!), holds forth from his charming little Bernal Heights home with tidbits of history and culture every day on Youtube.

It’s delightful, and there are even appearances by the Countess Lola Montez and others. I spoke with the Emperor (embodied by Joseph Amster) about his Emperor Norton Fantastic History Vlog, and how he’s carrying on through a—very familiar, to history buffs—pandemic.

48 HILLS Salutations, Emperor! I’m enjoying your videos, firing up the Youtube vlog from the comfort of my hearth. I especially love the backdrops—where are you filming the vlog? And who helps you edit and film it?

EMPEROR NORTON Hello! The vlogs are shot at our home in Bernal Heights. Some are in the downstairs studio, some are on our patio, and some are in our garden. I film and edit them on my iPhone.

48H Whoever thought that Emperor Norton would be making Youtube videos? Can you tell me how the vlog translate the vibe of the tour?

 EN I started this after a few days of boredom from the quarantine to give me something constructive to do and stay in touch with my fans. It began as a lecture about being safe, but after a few episodes morphed into the “this day in history” format. The vibe from the tour is that I doing them in character  gives me lots of leeway for being over-the-top on occasion, but also the instructional vibe from my tours remains as well.

48H How do you choose which tidbits of history to highlight, and what have been some of your favorites? I also love that you have special guests, do they also often appear on the tour? 

EN I utilize John Ralston’s book This Date in San Francisco for my lead-off San Francisco story of the day. Other than that, I scour various websites for other events, as well as births and deaths for that day.

Probably my favorite episode was the earthquake commemoration one. Since there wasn’t a commemoration that day, I got up at 4:30 a.m. and began a Facebook live video that I later posted on YouTube (episode 21).

I also really like my retrospective (episode 50), and the weekend special with the Countess Lola Montez of Landsfeld (episode 52). The Countess always is my guest on the weekend, others are our upstart neighbors. The Countess (who is my husband) does tours of his own: Drag Me Along Tours.

48H What do you think the Emperor Norton tour might look like when you can bring it back? And ho are you weathering all this? 

 EN The tour won’t change too much when it comes back, whenever that is. I will probably incorporate some stories from the current pandemic, as well as the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and how it impacted San Francisco.

I’m doing OK overall. I worked three days a week for Big Bus Tours, so I’m getting unemployment from that, but it’s not much. The extra $600 per week extra as part of the stimulus is what’s helping the most, I’m not really sure what will happen if they don’t renew that. For my own business, however, I am not able to collect unemployment. That’s a pity. Other than that, I’m cooking a lot, gardening, and making pickles.

A guide to free food in San Francisco

Fiorella Pizza

If you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity in San Francisco right now, immediate help is available, including programs that are open to everyone. (Many programs are also looking for volunteers.)

Most prominently, the SF-Marin Food Bank has launched 19 weekly Pop-Up Pantries in various San Francisco neighborhoods. Visitors to the Pop-Up Pantries will be asked how many people are in their household and will receive an average of 30 pounds of food, made up of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, plus rice, a protein such as eggs or frozen chicken and a canned item. No advance signup or identification is required.

Families who have been severely impacted by COVID-19 can order a complimentary Che Fico Family Meal that feeds two to three people at Che Fico. Make an appointment online to be given a specific time slot to pick up the meal; you can indicate whether you’d like a vegetarian or omnivorous meal.

Tuesdays are now Pay It Forward Tuesdays at the two locations of pizza parlor Fiorella. Thanks to a partnership with the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses, 100 free meals are given away at each Fiorella location weekly to employed or recently laid off health care, grocery and restaurant workers who can provide proof or current or recent employment in these fields. Choose from pizza (margherita, mushroom, or pepperoni) or pasta (cacio e pepe or pomodoro); both are served with a seasonal Bi-Rite salad. Place an order for pickup at the Polk Street location by calling 415-829-7097⁠ or the Clement Street location by calling 415-340-3049.

San Francisco’s free breakfast and lunch restaurant Martin de Porres House of Hospitality is still providing free meals to the community, though the dining room is closed so the organization is offering one daily bagged, mostly vegetarian or vegan meal to-go.

Glide continues to offer the Daily Free Meals Program with no eligibility requirement or forms to fill out. The church also serves breakfast to seniors, families and adults with disabilities at 7:30 a.m. every morning.

The Food Pantry is serving pre-bagged groceries every Saturday starting at noon, for residents of 94107 and 94110 zip codes.  No registration or identifications needed. The address is 500 De Haro Street—and they are looking for volunteers who have not been exposed to COVID. Call 415-255-8100 for more info.

North Beach Citizens offers a weekly Community Food Pantry on Wednesdays from 10:30am to 12:30pm for San Francisco residents who live in participating SROs and have identification and a rental receipt.

The city-sponsored Great Plates Delivered SF mostly delivers up to three free meals per day to eligible seniors over 65, although some who are aged 60-64 with certain underlying health conditions will also qualify. The program is income-based, serving seniors who earn less than $74,940 in a solo household or $101,460 in a two-person household. Call (415) 355-6700 for help, with support available in multiple languages.

Project Open Hand has a Community Nutrition Program for seniors and adults with disabilities that offers daily meals as well as seven-packs of frozen meals for pickup at various locations (onsite delivery to your car is also available). Call (415) 447-2335 for more info on eligibility.

Finally, Food Not Bombs celebrated 40 years this month. You can check their schedule here for pop-up service in San Francisco and beyond.

New Music: DJ Josey Rebelle tells a rarely celebrated story

Josey Rebelle. Photo by Lou Jasmine

DJ Josey Rebelle, a Black woman born in the North London neighborhood of Tottenham where she still lives today, uses her records to speak to, not at, Black electronic music culture on both sides of the Atlantic. She’s from a generation of kids who grew up on estates (the equivalent of the projects in the US) building sound systems, attending raves, and loving the jungle genre, and this era shows through in her selections. Her reputation took off into legend through sets at the legendary Shoreditch basement club Plastic People.

Now Rebelle’s one of Britain’s most esteemed DJs—her BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix was voted the best of 2019 by listeners—and her style embodies the yin and yang of Afrofuturism. Championing Jamaica-derived soundsystem culture and UK warehouse raves, her connectivity to those roots goes beyond personal. That affection gets conveyed when she’s dealing out: broadcasting the nasty sped-up blues of marginalized folks. Between radio and club DJing, she tells a rarely celebrated story.

“It wasn’t even about mixing, it was about hearing music. Someone could mix gospel into techno and it would make sense. That’s what being a ‘selector’ is really about” she told DJ Mag in February, about how it felt to embrace music in a space with like-minded folk, coming from all different backgrounds.

“Being around people like that at Plastic People was really important to me because straight away I could see myself in it. I realized I could play it all.”

Josey in Space, her 20-song, one-hour compilation—the second installment of the Beats in Space curated mix series—celebrates US house and techno history along with UK soulful bass, breaks, and beyond.

From jump, she establishes that transitions will be what they need to be, in order to serve the moment.
Home cooking. Amplified. She could be putting this together in her living room, or deep in the dark of her residency at the Pickle Factory in Hackney where her marathon kitchen-sink sets, often sell out.

Allowing “Dub” by DJ Marcelle, the first song in, to just disintegrate like ash, casually frittering away into the walking-on-the-moon dub-electronic blues of “What’s The Plan” by rRoxymore, is a genius unforced execution. As for the selections? All encoded communication pieces tied together by peaks and valleys in the mix. Not cookie-cutter, publicity pushed, hot joints that fizzle out after a month being released.

Photo by Lou Jasmine

Nope. We get proof of this later on from serious bass-bin drone on the minimal breaks warbler “Sunrise 777” by Nubian Mindz circa 2000, stepped-up bleary-eyed gold in “Glitch Bitch” from Loraine James, which parlays directly into the great hang and balmy gusher, “Route II Romeos” by Shy One. Rebelle is weaving through history and culture by way of those crates.

There’s a tricky R&B dripped rework of Uschi Classen and Robert Owens’ “Only in Your Eyes” from 2002 by Nwachukwu that just glides like vintage Jordan, never hitting the ground. Owens’s voice, forever angelic, with the ultra-fine broken-beat strain gives way to the metropolitan glow of 2001’s tech-house classic “Avenues” by Ohio’s Titonton Duvante. He puts that thriftstore-bought keyboard and drum machine through their paces, resulting in the 19-year-old track hitting stronger than any whitewashed blog-house rip off ever could.

“Been rinsing Fotomachine’s ‘BBoy’ in my sets for a couple of months now,” Rebelle stated in a March 17 social media post, prefacing an emotional center of the mix. The track is an overflowing mood—optimism and elation by way of expansive synths, acid basslines, bubble gum keyboard play, and tripped up breakbeats—that sees Rebelle bubble-wrap The Culture, place it on spaceships and keep it pushing, seeking refuge in the nebula. By letting the entire cut run on the mix, those subtle acknowledgments towards Derrick May, gently asking listeners ‘what do you know about Deeeeetroit’—these textures cut through patios and colloquiums. Shooting retro-future hope into the collective psyche.

Unlike top-flight presenters on other DJ series, who dart through 29 tracks in 60 minutes, applying a bullet train mentality to your earbuds, flossing “here are my tricks” aesthetics, Rebelle wants you to absorb it all. Letting the records go a bit longer in the mix-a smattering of house, techno, breaks, jazz, soul, and related electronic music-get to properly enunciate their blues.

“Josey urges you to listen closely to the story, to feel the energetic shifts in style, sound, speed, mix; up, down, rough and smooth,” the liner notes correctly outline. By letting those pieces of vinyl speak their talk, this medley of polyrhythms and frequencies, causing sheer rave euphoria in some glorious stretches, forms one global electronic sound, borne out of the African diaspora.

Screen Grabs: Big hearts and summer lovin’

'Angelfish'

Summer romance is the foundation on which many a movie used to be built, before summer moviegoing became primarily about comic-book heroes and other forms of juvenile spectacle. (Admittedly, we’re not getting much of that latter stuff in 2020, because theater shutdowns are delaying release of those popcorn features too expensive to just be released digitally.)

While not all were released in the balmy months, frothy films from A Summer Place and Where the Boys Are through Summer of ’42 and Grease, as well as such relatively recent exercises as The Notebook and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants all traded on notions of amorous fun in the sun. Even the vintage drive-in cheese of umpteen Beach Party and Elvis movies were largely designed to provide an audiovisual excuse for heavy petting.

Most of these films take place in vacation-y settings, but there’s also been a subgenre of movies in which sweltering mid-calendar city life prompts protagonists to shed inhibitions as well as clothing layers. These often have a “grittier” feel, and not infrequently have been bound up in the conventions of tragic melodrama, with West Side Story’s barrio Romeo & Juliet one obvious example.

Spielberg’s remake of that legendary musical is slated for year’s end, but in the meantime you can get a more modest indie echo of the same basic themes—minus the balletics and knife fights—in Angelfish. This very appealing first feature by director/co-writer Peter Lee is set in the Bronx of 1993, after the 70s peak of blight (and arson), but before subsequent major gentrification waves.

Living in adjacent neighborhoods but very different cultures, Brendan (Jimi Stanton) and Eva (rapper Princess Nokia) are alike in that they’re both recent high school graduates whose futures are on hold due to different kinds of fatherless-family obligations. He’s working a deli counter to support his drifting-into-trouble younger brother (Stanley Simons) and appallingly selfish aging-party-chick mother (Erin Davie), neither of whom can be counted on to fend for themselves. Eva would like to explore acting, but in that as in most things bows she to the somewhat heavy-handed wishes of her own mother (Rosie Berrido), which include more “sensible” career plans and a “nice” Puerto Rican prospective husband.

Once they meet, however, Brendan and Eva forget about everyone else, or at least can do so briefly; their connection is no less palpably fervent for being presented in physical rather chaste terms. Despite the similar ethnic/gender dynamic, this is no West Side Story redux, ending in a pool of blood and tears.

But the expectations these two young people are yoked by similarly makes their union furtive, then endangered. Angelfish has more dramatic heft to it than you initially anticipate, particularly as Brendan must shoulder the brunt of domestic problems that acquire an aching, urgent poignancy. With its adorable leads, strong performances overall, and likably low-key Big Apple atmospherics, this is a small movie with a very big heart.

Other new arrivals this week—all, like Angelfish, available on most streaming platforms on or before Wed/27:

A TOWERING TASK: THE STORY OF THE PEACE CORPS
It would be hard to think of a widely popular public mission more antithetical to our current times than that of the Peace Corps, a high-water mark in prosperous mid-century America’s desire to share its expertise and wealth with struggling other nations. These days, of course, a more common ‘murrican attitude towards the very existence of our countries is “Who cares what they do/think? Their woes aren’t our problem! And keep those needy freeloaders away from our borders!”

Not that there wasn’t considerable resistance even sixty years ago, when incoming President Kennedy pushed the Corps concept—itself partly a pushback to the notion forwarded by then-recent bestseller The Ugly American that we were losing the Cold War by doing little to integrate ourselves, learn local languages or culture in diplomatic and business posts abroad.

Still, the Corps were envisioned as not a direct political tool but something more idealistic, an offer to raise up poorer nations with free expertise. Realizing that few applicants had relevant skill sets, rigorous training was instituted for volunteers, who’d then be assigned to a two-year stint overseas. In its first year, the Peace Corps had personnel in eight countries; just three years later, that had become nearly fifty.

Narrated by Annette Bening, Alana DeJoseph’s documentary draws on a mix of archival footage and alumnus interviews to chronicle the organization’s complicated history, which suffered under some hostile Presidential administrations (notably Nixon’s), but was supported by others, some of them surprising (Reagan was an unlikely fan). At times there was pressure to use the Corps for political reasons. At others, Corps volunteers found themselves opposing interfering U.S. governmental policies, particularly in Central America.

This largely valedictory overview makes room for some criticisms, such as the failure to have any institutional means for dealing with sexual assault issues until quite recently. Yet it’s a primarily inspiring portrait. “It was in the Peace Corps that I really learned empathy,” one veteran says. As the film ends with our current POTUS spewing xenophobic rhetoric, it’s clear that lesson is one rarer and more valuable today than ever. Among other outlets, A Towering Task can be rented through Roxie Virtual Cinema. More info here.

TORPEDO: U-235
In recent years, war movies from Saving Private Ryan to 1917 have tended to be quite serious, emphasizing the deadly perils and sacrifice of battle. With the major exception of Tarantino’s willfully incongruous Inglourious Basterds [sic], we’ve had little of what used to be the norm in vintage hits like The Great Escape or The Dirty Dozen—those very matey “rollicking adventures” in which gallows humor and comradeship make war almost seem like a manly lark. More than a bit of a throwback to such things is this new Belgian feature, which starts with an outrageously improbable trick played on some dastardly Nazis, and continues apace in “nonstop thrill-ride” fashion.

The idea is that a unit of Belgian resistance fighters, having generated a little too much heat on occupied home turf, are drafted to take a purloined German U-boat from the coast of Africa to New England. They’ll cross the Atlantic smuggling uranium to assist the Allies’ race to create a mega-bomb first—no matter that none of them has any nautical experience whatsoever. This premise is exactly as plausible as the oil-rig crew sent into space to save Earth from an asteroid in trash-action “classic” Armageddon. At least Sven Huybrechts’ film doesn’t take itself with quite the degree of blowhard this-wide-stance-is-needed-for-my-massive-balls machismo Michael Bay specializes in.

When an Axis attack forces hasty departure, the crew ends up encompassing unintended members including a lone spunky female, a towering African laborer, and a captured Nazi. Perils aplenty occur en route, making this a Das Boot with a whole lot more hokum—particularly as amplified by the English-dubbed version I watched. Still, it’s an entertaining, well-crafted movie that will scratch that itch for people who prefer their war-flick excitement more giddy than grueling.

I WILL MAKE YOU MINE
White on Rice writer-director Dave Boyle created a couple favorites on the festival circuit and beyond with 2011’s Surrogate Valentine and the next year’s Daylight Savings, two droll slackerish comedies in B&W starring indie-rock singer/songwriter Goh Nakamura as a fictionalized version of himself. After that duo, Boyle felt he’d taken the concept as far as he wanted, but frequent past collaborator Lynn Chen felt otherwise. Her own writing-directing debut provides a kind of autumnal followup to the prior films that shades their lighter content with a dose of mid-life crisis.

Nakamura is back, albeit now ostensibly no longer doing music, working at a nondescript day job in order to support a five-year-old daughter he’s raising with Erika (Ayako Fujitani). Their relationship otherwise appears to be on the rocks, but he still accompanies her to LA for her father’s funeral. There, he reunites with two other women with whom he’s had enduring if ambiguous attachments: Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen, also kinda-sorta playing herself), a fellow musician who’s stayed the creative course, even if that means still living like a college student; and his long-ago high school prom date Rachel (Chen), whose dissatisfaction with her own too-settled life as a yuppie wife kindles hitherto subterranean yearnings towards Goh. For each of these fortyish women, he represents something unfulfilled—though as ever, he may be too amiably passive a personality to fulfill it.

Sticking to the earlier films’ B&W aesthetic, but with a more melancholy tenor this time, I Will Make You Mine belies its title with an emphasis on uncertainty. These characters are all old enough now to have learned from youthful mistakes (even when they keep making them), but they keep discovering that supposedly “mature” adulthood doesn’t necessarily make decisions going forward any easier. It’s a charming seriocomedy that doesn’t necessarily require familiarity with the movies that preceded it to be enjoyed.