James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, on film


This video says about itself:

I Am Not Your Negro Official Trailer 1 (2016) – James Baldwin Documentary

5 January 2017

Directed By: Raoul Peck

Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.

On 10 June 2017, I went to see this film.

Unfortunately, not so many people in the cinema for this important work. It includes both historic footage of Baldwin, and texts written by him, spoken by actor Samuel L. Jackson.

The subject is James Baldwin and three fighters for African Americans: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Baldwin started to write a book, Remember This House, about these three, but it was still unfinished when he died. Baldwin noted that these three men were all different, yet had common ground. Eg, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X got closer to each other’s positions as time progressed.

Baldwin knew all three of them personally, and was deeply shocked when all three were murdered in the 1960s. He was older than all of them, and had expected that King, Malcolm X and Evers would all survive him.

The film is also about another person, younger than Baldwin, whom he survived: fellow African American author Lorraine Hansbury. The film tells how Baldwin and Hansbury in the 1960s had a conversation with Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the USA. Baldwin and Hansbury told Kennedy how African American children, when going to newly integrated schools, were attacked by white supremacists. They suggested that Robert’s brother John F. Kennedy, then president of the USA, should walk along these children into a school as a sign of government commitment to anti-racism. Robert Kennedy rejected that idea.

This hurt Baldwin, as school integration was why he had returned to the USA. He had left his native country for Paris because of racism. In the 1950s, he had returned as he had seen in a French newspaper a photo of a 15-year-old black schoolgirl, Dorothy Counts, harassed by racists in North Carolina in the southern USA. The film shows clips of white demonstrators against school integration, brandishing nazi swastika signs.

In the meantime, the FBI spied on Baldwin whom they considered a public enemy because of his criticism of racism. Baldwin’s 1,884 pages long FBI file attacked him for being gay. They thought they could use that against him; in a time when there was homophobia, including in more or less progressive sectors like the world of literature, sections of the black liberation movement, sections of the women’s liberation movement and sections of socialist movements. The FBI spied on Lorraine Hansberry and many other African American authors for many decades as well. Lorraine Hansbury, contrary to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers was not murdered: she died, 34 years old, from lung cancer, and according to Baldwin (not quoted on this in the film) from the stress in her strenuous fight against racism and homophobia.

Baldwin wrote that he had not joined the organisations to which his three murdered fellow fighters against racism belonged. He had not joined Medgar Evers’ NAACP. He was from the north of the USA, where in his experience the NAACP was too middle class, while he was from a poor background. He also did not join the Nation of Islam (NOI; Malcolm X’s organisation in the 1950s) or the Black Panther Party, ‘because I don’t believe white people are all devils’. That might have been a reason not to join the NOI; but it was inaccurate for the Black Panther Party, which militantly opposed white supremacy, not individuals who happened to be white; though the media often wrongly depicted them as ‘black racists’. Baldwin said he had a good white teacher at primary school, to whom he was grateful.

The film does not tell why Baldwin never finished the book Remember This House. I do know that in his later years, Baldwin suffered from cancer; which killed him in 1989, like it had killed Lorraine Hansbury.

The film does not stop with Baldwin’s death. It also includes recent scenes, eg, of the Black Lives Matter movement after the deaths of people like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The film mentions war, including a clip of a Martin Luther King speech against the Vietnam war, shouting: ‘Stop the bombing! Stop the war!’

Baldwin says on violence in the film: ‘If Israeli armed forces – I have nothing against that country, I am not anti-Semitic – use violence, they are often depicted as heroes in the USA. If Irish people use violence against British occupation, many Irish Americans and other white people see them as freedom fighters. If Poles use violence against Russians, they are often depicted in the USA as freedom fighters. However, if negroes, if black people, do similar things, then suddenly they are depicted as criminals or monsters’.

In the beginning of the film, Baldwin tells about films he saw when he was small. The ‘heroes’ were often white men killing native Americans. Young Baldwin identified with these ‘heroes’, until he found out that as a ‘negro’, white people, especially white people in authority like policemen, treated people like him rather similarly to those ‘Indians’.

The film has many clips from Hollywood movies. Nut just Westerns with much violence: also films, and TV commercials, in which everyone seems to be white and everyone seems to be happy. Baldwin comments that superficial imagery like this leads to narrow-mindedness and denial of social problems in the USA.

A sharply critical review of Baldwin as a political activist and of the film is here. The reviewer reproaches the film with saying too little about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; and saying these two came closer together, but not elaborating in what sense. It also criticizes Baldwin and filmmaker Peck for neglecting class and capitalism and their relationship with racism. That is not completely fair. In the film, Baldwin connects the white supremacist United States society to ‘the Chase Manhattan bank‘. Also, in the limited time of a documentary film one cannot extensively discuss too many intricate subjects. This harsh criticism of the Baldwin film is a bit surprising as the same site was rather more positive on another Peck film; and on yet another one.

Finally, Baldwin said that, in spite of being aware of many bad things: ‘I am an optimist; because I am alive’.

An important film worth seeing!

Cuban flamingos, tricoloured heron and Ernest Hemingway


Flamingos, 12 March 2017

We saw these beautiful Caribbean flamingos on 12 March 2017 off Cayo Guillermo island north of Cuba, after seeing a piping plover and egrets earlier that day.

Flamingos, Cuba, 12 March 2017

Before we saw the flamingos, we had seen a yellow-crowned night heron. And two black-necked stilts.

We reached the bridge to Cayo Guillermo.

Hemingway sculpture, 12 March 2017

On the bridge, statues commemorating the stay of United States author Ernest Hemingway in Cuba. Hemingway‘s books Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea are inspired by the islands north of Cuba.

Near the bridge, royal terns. And a ring-billed gull. And red knots.

Spotted sandpiper, 12 March 2017

And this spotted sandpiper. Not really spotted yet, as it was still in winter plumage.

Tricoloured heron, 12 March 2017

A tricoloured heron.

White ibises, 12 March 2017

Two white ibises flying. White ibises are locally called ‘coco’. Cayo Coco island is named after these birds.

Kite surfers and brown pelicans, 12 March 2017

A bit further, two kite surfers and two brown pelicans flying.

A snowy egret.

Stay tuned for more 12 March 2017 Cuban birds!

Nobel laureate Soyinka leaves USA in anti-Trump protest


This video from the USA says about itself:

28 October 2016

I will tear up my American green card if Donald Trump wins the American election says Prof. Wole Soyinka, first African Nobel Laureate.

From the Dhaka Tribune in Bangladesh:

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka relocating to South Africa

April 02, 2017

Nigerian born poet and playwright Wole Soyinka is leaving America and moving to South Africa to join the University of Johannesburg as distinguished visiting professor, reports Africanews.

Soyinka won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 and spent the last 20 years in the United States as a scholar in residence at New York University’s Institute of African Affairs.

In the wake of Trump’s election, however, Soyinka tore up his green card having decided he could no longer live in America.

“The horror of it all was to see these hundreds of thousands of people in the process of applauding when he [Trump] outlined his feelings. Then I just said: I do not want to live here,” he said.

Many in South Africa have high hopes for Soyinka to guide and lead them in their national debate on the decolonisation and the Africanisation of knowledge as the country attempts to overhaul its Eurocentric higher education system.

Russian poet Yevtushenko dies


This video says about itself:

28 October 2011

Yevgeny Yevtushenko recites his poem “Babi Yar” with music from ShostakovichSymphony No. 13. Kurt Masur & The New York Philharmonic.

Today, Yevgeny Yevtushenko has died. He was 84 years old.

His best known poem, Babi Yar, is about the mass murder by nazis of Jews in Kyiv, capital of the then German nazi-occupied Ukrainian soviet republic.

Translation of Babi Yar:

BABI YAR

By Yevgeni Yevtushenko
Translated by Benjamin Okopnik, 10/96

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself. *1*
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok *2*
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”

It seems to me that I am Anne Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

-“They come!”

-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”

-“They break the door!”

-“No, river ice is breaking…”

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring *3*
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!

**************************************************

NOTES
—–1 – Alfred Dreyfus was a French officer, unfairly dismissed from service in 1894 due to trumped-up charges prompted by anti- Semitism.

2 – Belostok: the site of the first and most violent pogroms, the Russian version of KristallNacht.

3 – “Internationale”: The [original] Soviet national anthem.

Yevtushenko, born in 1932 in the small town of Zima in Siberia’s Irkutsk region, became one of the leading Soviet poets of the “thaw period” under Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Those years were bound up with official condemnation of the “cult of personality” around Joseph Stalin and the widespread hope within the Soviet people that the country could be renewed on a socialist basis: here.

Bertolt Brecht on nazi Germany


This video is called Poem From A German War Primer: Bertolt Brecht.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

Instructive indignation

Saturday 1st April 2017

The biting satire in Bertolt Brecht’s German War Primer is a lesson from history we can’t ignore, writes Andy Croft

THE CRIMES of the Third Reich were so great, wrote Bertolt Brecht in 1945, that the nazis had even succeeded in giving war a bad name.

“I am told that the best people have begun saying/How, from a moral point of view, the Second World War/Fell below the standard of the First. The Wehrmacht/Allegedly deplores the methods by which the SS effected/The extermination of certain peoples…

“Even the bishops/Dissociate themselves from this way of waging war; in short the feeling/Prevails in every quarter that the Nazis did the Fatherland/A lamentably bad turn, and that war/While in itself natural and necessary, has, thanks to the/ Unduly uninhibited and positively inhuman/Way in which it was conducted on this occasion, been/Discredited for some time to come.”

This tragic, mocking irony sets the tone of Brecht’s extraordinary War Primer, translated and edited by John Willett, which is republished by Verso Books at the beginning of next month.

Brecht started the book in 1940 when he was living in exile in Finland. Sticking photos from newspapers and magazines into his journals, he soon found he was adding short satirical verses to the photographs.

Many of the images are propaganda photos from what Brecht called “the Bayreuth republic, featuring Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Noske. Like John Heartfield’s AIZ photomontages, the effect is to subvert the original meaning of the images by suggesting their real context. Beneath a propaganda photo of Hitler in a trance-like oratorical ecstasy, Brecht wrote: “Like one who dreams the road ahead is steep/I know the way Fate has prescribed for us/That narrow way towards a precipice./Just follow. I can find it in my sleep.”

Because Brecht kept adding to this scrap-book until the end of the second world war, it serves as a kind of running commentary on the conflict, generals and politicians, the dead and the wounded, soldiers and civilians and the terrible destruction of European cities.

A military photograph of a German firing squad in France in 1944 appears above the following text: “And so we put him up against the wall:/A mother’s son, a man like we had been/And shot him dead. And then to show you all/What came of him we photographed the scene.”

To the photograph of a Russian woman grieving for her son, one of 7,000 Soviet civilians shot by German forces in Kerch in 1942, Brecht added: “I say all pity, woman, is a fraud/ Unless that pity turns into red rage/ Which will not rest until this ancient thorn/is drawn at last from deep in mankind’s flesh.”

First published in book form in the GDR in 1955, some of these poems were set to music by Hans Eisler, while others later turned up as part of longer poems by Brecht. None are great, but there is a greatness to the whole project in the “savage indignation” with which Brecht tried to address the brutality of WWII.

War Primer is comparable to the work of Goya, Kathe Kollwitz, Vassily Grossman or Tony Harrison, whose A Cold Coming about a dead Iraqi soldier clearly echoes Brecht’s verse here about a dead Japanese soldier.

And, although the book ends with victory in 1945, it also looks beyond the defeat of fascism in Europe.

Beneath a press shot of Hitler raging on a platform towards the end of the war, Brecht wrote: “That’s how the world was going to be run!/The other nations mastered him, except/ (In case you think the battle has been won) –/The womb is fertile still from which that crept.”

Fittingly, the final photograph is of university students in the GDR. Brecht wrote beneath the photo: “Never forget that men like you got hurt/So you might sit there, not the other lot./ And now don’t hide your head, and don’t desert/But try to learn, and try to learn for what.”

War Primer, price £12.99, is published by Verso Books on May 2

Jewish Dutch poet Jacob Israël de Haan, theatre play


This February 2017 video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Salaam Jeruzalem, by theatre organisation De Nieuw Amsterdam, about Jewish Dutch author Jacob Israël de Haan.

On 25 March 2017 I went to see this play in Leiden.

Jacob Israël de Haan (1881-1924) was from an Orthodox Jewish family. He broke with that religion and became a socialist journalist. In 1903, he collected money for the children of railway workers who had been sacked because they had gone on strike. He was also a gay rights pioneer, writing novels like Pijpelijntjes. He is seen as a predecessor of Amnesty International. Because of his activity, inspired by a meeting with exiled Russian anarchist Kropotkin, against human rights abuses in pre-World War I czarist Russian prisons; jointly with socialist poetess Henriette Roland Holst.

De Haan himself wrote poetry as well.

This video shows some of his 1919-1924 poems.

He had contacts in the Dutch literary avant-garde around De Nieuwe Gids magazine. And he wrote works about laws; he was a Legum Doctor.

De Haan’s experiences in czarist Russia made him aware of the evils of anti-Semitism. That contributed to De Haan’s re-conversion to Judaism. He also became a Zionist. In 1919 he emigrated to Palestine, then a British colony.

In the video at the top of this blog post, one of De Haan’s poems, written in Palestine, is recited. It is (my translation):

Unrest

Who in Amsterdam often said, “Jerusalem”
And was driven to Jerusalem,
He now says with a dreamy voice:
“Amsterdam. Amsterdam.”

As the poem shows, De Haan had become ambivalent about emigrating from Amsterdam. Zionism as practiced in Palestine turned out to be different from De Haan’s lofty ideals when he had been in Amsterdam. De Haan became an advocate of negotiating with Palestinian Arabs so that Jews and Arabs might live together peacefully.

That made him an enemy of the Zionist paramilitary organisation Haganah. On 13 June 1924, Haganah fighter Avraham Tehomi murdered De Haan, as ordered by Haganah commander Itzhak Ben-Zvi (later the second president of the state of Israel). A crowd of 5,000 people attended De Haan’s funeral in Jerusalem.

Left Zionist Moshe Beilinson reacted to the murder:

The flag of our movement must not be tarnished. Neither by the blood of the innocent, nor by the blood of the guilty. Otherwise – our movement will be bad, because blood draws other bloods. Blood always takes revenge and if you walk down this path once, you do not know where it would lead you.

A line from a De Haan poem is inscribed in the monument in Amsterdam for LGBTQ people murdered by the 1940-1945 German nazi occupiers of the Netherlands. The line is ‘Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen’; ‘Such a boundless desire for friendship’.

A review of the play is here. Another review is here. And here.

There are five actors in the play. Two of them play Arab music. Egyptian Dutch actor Sabri Saad El Hamus plays both De Haan and, at the end, an Arab singer. Ludo van der Winkel plays the cynical antagonists of De Haan; like Arnold Aletrino (named in the play only by his pseudonym Sam from De Haan’s gay novel Pijpelijntjes), the older fellow author who betrayed Jacob Israel when Pijpelijntjes caused a scandal in homophobic public opinion. And P.L. Tak (named in the play), newspaper chief who sacked De Haan because of Pijpelijntjes.

Randy Fokke plays both De Haan’s wife and Carry van Bruggen, De Haan’s sister and also a famous Dutch author. Carry van Bruggen never got over the murder of her one year younger brother.

This English language video is about De Haan.

In the play, by Dutch playwright and director Gerardjan Rijnders, there are several allusions to happenings after the death of De Haan; including recent ones. When talking about De Haan joining the marxist Dutch Social Democratic Workers’ Party, actors say: ‘the predecessor of the Dutch PvdA labour party … or what is left of it’. In the recent 15 March 2017 Dutch elections, the PvdA went from 38 to 9 MPs because they had been junior partners in a right-wing coalition government. The play also mentions French playwright Jean Genet’s solidarity with Palestinians in the 1980s. This is followed by a xenophobic, Geert Wilders-like rant by Ludo van der Winkel.

The play includes a theory about right and left halves of the human brain, supposedly linked to the origins of religions. It is unclear what this has to do with De Haan. I think it is one of the weak sides of this interesting play about an interesting person.