Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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A State of Conflict

I haven’t blogged in a week because I’ve been unsure how to write about what’s been on my mind, namely the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy. I don’t usually post about politics and current events, but I really can’t move forward without addressing this event which has affected my country and me personally on a deep level. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, and that’s okay. All I ask is that comments remain respectful.

What I find so upsetting about this tragedy is that a man shot a teenager and the teenager died… and it could have been so easily avoided. The man could have not jumped to conclusions about the teenager’s purpose in the neighborhood, conclusions which turned out to be wrong and lead to the teenager’s death. The man could have stayed in his car and waited for the police to arrive. The man could have identified himself to the teenager immediately. The teenager could have continued walking home and ignored the man. The teenager and the man could have confronted each other in a more diplomatic way.

The law in Florida says the man had the right to defend himself if he thought his life was in danger. And the teenager? All he knew was a man was following him in a car. In his eyes, the man could have been a murderer, a sex offender, a pervert, or just an asshole.

How many times had this young, Black teen been looked at suspiciously in his life? How many times had he passed a White woman and felt the tension and fear in her body language? How many times had he been followed in a store? Could that night have been the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back?’ Instead of ignoring this “crazy ass cracker” or running home, he decided to confront him. Would he have done so if he knew the man was carrying a loaded weapon?

When I was discussing this with an elderly Black man the other day, he countered that the teenager should have known better than confronting the man. “Where were his parents?” “Why hadn’t they taught him how to act?”

What he meant was that every Black man in America has been conditioned to act a certain way when confronted with a person of authority, especially a White person of authority. Even if you’re not a Black male, if you’ve ever had a run-in with the cops, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a right way and a wrong way to behave, and the wrong way can get you physically harmed.

But the teenager was not a man. He was only a few weeks into his 17th year. Should we expect him to have known how to “behave?” Should he have been chaperoned while walking to the store for some candy?

My feeling is that when there is an altercation between a teenager and a grown man, the onus is on the grown man to behave responsibly, especially if he’s carrying a loaded weapon. Why would a grown man who is not a police officer get out of his car to search for (what he perceives as) a potentially dangerous criminal alone on a dark and rainy night? What if the potential criminal (in the man’s eyes) had had a weapon too? The man knew he was dealing with a teenager, and he knew the teenager had seen him. Did he expect to pursue him  and NOT be confronted?

The case upsets me on so many levels, I find myself going in circles in my mind about what could/should have happened that night, how this death could have been avoided, what would that teenager have become had he lived, what the parents must be feeling, what do other parents tell their children now, and how something like this could be avoided in the future. I think the answer to the latter lies in PERCEPTION… as in, how do we perceive each other?

Would you perceive a Black male wearing a hoodie walking slowly through your neighborhood as a threat?

Would you perceive a Hispanic man following you slowly in a car through your neighborhood as a threat?

If so, what would you do about it? How would you handle the situation?

There’s a reason why this 1973 photo taken by Joe Crachiola of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral. It captures a spirit of innocence and acceptance that so many of us yearn for. If you’ve ever watched children at play, you know that they have no concept of these matters. They have no life experience upon which to build assumptions. They relate to each other on a core basic level.

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

Is it only possible when we’re young? Or can we see each other as human beings, not labels, races, genders, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, etc.? Can we not jump to conclusions about each other and instead base our reactions on the individuals before us? Can we see each other as HUMAN BEINGS first?

I believe we can, and we must.


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The Love of Cinema

Do you remember your first movie? Mine was STAR WARS. At least, that’s the first movie I remember seeing. I was 6 and 1/2 when it came out in May 1977 and went to see it with my father and brother. Everything about it was awesome and new and I believed all of it, from C-3PO and R2-D2, to the creatures in the bar, to Darth Vader (who scared the shit out of me).

The next year I went to see a very different kind of movie with my mother called THE LAST WALTZ, Martin Scorsese’s documentary on The Band’s final show. It might seem strange to take a 7-year-old to see a film about coked-out musicians but I’m sure my mom was thinking about the music… Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchel, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and countless others. When the lights came up she turned to me and said, “Want to see it again?” I did. We sat through the second showing. Then she bought the soundtrack and played it every weekend for the next 10 years.

In 1979, my older brother and sister snuck me into a screening of ALIEN, which makes me laugh every time I think about it. I’m not sure either knew what it was about when we snuck in. For most of the movie my sister was covering my eyes while squealing beside me, but I could still hear it and I still saw that infamous scene with John Hurt because neither my sister, nor anyone else in the world seeing it for the first time, saw THAT coming. To this day, it’s one of my favorite films.

Around the same time, I became obsessed with musicals. From the Busby Berkeley spectacles, to the fantastical WIZARD OF OZ, to the romantic WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to the grittier HAIR and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, to the super corny OKLAHOMA, MARY POPPINS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and so on. It didn’t matter what year it was made or the genre. And if Barbara Streisand was in it, forget about it.

As I got older, my mother started taking me to an art-house theater in Philadelphia where we saw foreign films by Truffaut, Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa and Bergman. I remember walking out of a screening of AUTUMN SONATA (about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, played by Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann) saying with a sigh of relief, “I’m so glad we’re not like them.”

I grew to love certain directors, especially Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Ridley Scott, Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick and others. Each had his own style. Each brought out the most amazing performances from their actors, music from their composers, editing, production design, costume design…

It wasn’t until college that I considered making a film. That was a task for other, far more glamorous people, who lived very far away in a place called Hollywood. I never thought I’d be living there. Once I learned the basics of the craft I wanted to study film in NYC where my idols Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee worked and lived. But those schools didn’t accept me, so I went to the school that did. I thought film school was heaven. Imagine seeing the epic Sergio Leone film ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or the beautiful Caroll Ballard film THE BLACK STALLION (both in all their 70mm widescreen glory) for the first time in a pristine theater with only 10 other people… and then talking about them

Cinema has changed over the years. I’m rarely blown away by a film like I used to be when I was young. I admit, I also don’t go to the theater as much. But I’m trying to get in touch with it again, trying to reconnect with that initial thing I loved about movies… to be transported to another world, to be enlightened, to feel compassion for characters I would normally never meet in real life or never love, to feel a togetherness with the other people in the audience, to witness the unique vision of the filmmaker.

I’m trying to remember the difference between cinema and movies, as so eloquently explained by the director Steven Soderbergh‘s in his recent keynote speech at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival:

“The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.”
http://m.deadline.com/2013/04/steven-soderbergh-state-of-cinema-address/

Do you like movies? Was there a film that made a big impact on you?