Sonia Sanchez’ Documentary Screens For The First Time at Annual BlackStar Film Festival

“My first real poem was bout you Mama and death. My first real poem recited an alphabet of spit splattering a white bus driver’s face after he tried to push Cousin Lucille off a bus and she left Birmingham under the cover of darkness. Forever. My first real poem was about your Charles White arms holding me up against death…My life flows from you Mam. My style comes from a long line of Louises who pick me up in the night to keep me from wetting the bed. A long line of Sarahs who fed me and my sister and fourteen other children watery soups and beans and a lot of imagination.. A long line of Lizzes who made me understand love. Sharing. Holding a child up to the stars. Holding your tribe in a grip of love. A long line of Black people holding each other up through silence!”

Early this August, the annual BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia showcased a tremendous list of films that celebrated cinema touching on work by people of African descent. One of those people is Black Arts Poet Sonia Sanchez, whose film ‘BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez’ screened for the first time at the Festival, and won the people’s choice award at the event for being the fan and audience favorite. ‘BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez’ is a documentary about Sanchez’s prominent role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and details her impact and influence on African American culture over the past half century.

Following the screening of her film at BlackStar, Sonia, and WURD Program Director Stephanie Renee provided Afrocipha with musings on Film, the Festival itself, and honing the Independent mentality.

WURD UP! Media and Social Justice in 2015: Philly’s Black Radio Station Illuminates Transnational Black Arts

Veteran mass communicator in radio, television, stage and film, Stephanie Renee, is once again providing color commentary from the 4th Annual Black Star Film Festival in Philadelphia.  Since bringing The Mojo to WURD radio station she has consistently and brilliantly reported on global afrodiasporic arts. Stephanie historicizes Philly’s own Black Star Film Festival and her relationship to this groundbreaking film festival: “I can’t remember if I was able to make the Black Star Film Festival the first year but I know that WURD radio station has been a media partner for the past three years.  We feature interviews with some of the filmmakers and/or the stars of the films, depending on whether it is a Feature or Documentary. This year we did a live broadcast of their “Media and Social Justice” panel to make sure that our listening audience is familiar with all of the wonderful offerings that Black Star has but also to assure our listeners that they are supporting the independent mentality. So it doesn’t make a difference whether it is our radio station’s mass media organization or a film entity. It’s the idea that when we describe ourselves as independent it definitely means that we are going to need community support.”

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                                       “School Daze” and “A Different World”

When asked about the origins of her relationship to independent black film, Stephanie smiles warmly and says, “I think my first conscious orientation toward black film was “The Wiz” which we initially saw on Broadway and it is memorable because Quincy Jones is one of my favorite musicians of all time. The fact that Quincy did the soundtrack for the film means there is a lot of emotional investment in it for me. But I don’t know what my initial entry was to black film. I mean, I definitely supported Spike Lee’s ventures as I was going to college at the time. “School Daze” came out my freshman year at Penn and so did, “A Different World.”  The whole idea of a black going away to college and being able to see all of these things, as a black girl changes spaces and begins questioning and positioning herself all resonated with me as I came from D.C. to Penn.  My interest in film came about because I am a visual person. My first language was music but music came along with language. in my head. I think I’ve lived my life like a music video. My mother and my father sang. I’m a fifth generation creative person. I mean literally, before I learned words I was going to choir rehearsals with my parents.”

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Complete Respect for Mama Sonia”: BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez

Stephanie Renee turns to the highlight of this year’s Black Star Film Festival, Sonia Sanchez’ BadddDDD documentary. When asked about her expectations before entering a packed house where there were over one hundred people unable to enter this sold-out Philadelphia premiere at the Black Star Film Festival, Stephanie explains, “I wanted to walk in the Sonia Sanchez film screening not expecting anything. I had interviewed Barbara and Janet, producers of the film, both when they were crowd-funding for the post-production and a few days before the screening of my show, “The Mojo” on 900 A.M. WURD. We had a great discussion about the making of the film but I really didn’t want to have any expectations walking in. I had not seen the trailer. Nothing! I just knew that it existed and out of complete respect for Mama Sonia and her life work, I came ready to see the film.  What I was reminded of while watching the film ‘BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez’ for more than an hour is that we cannot allow fire in your belly to remain in our bellies. Those things that make us politically charged, those things that make us artistically charged, whatever gives us that feeling needs to be expressed. Sonia Sanchez has been a fearless advocate for truth and that is such a rarity these days! Sista Sonia has been doing that her whole life and she is a teeny tiny woman. Her physicality makes that even more of a miracle.  I’m in the communication and entertainment industry and there have been times I have felt disrespected and I’m not a little girl, right.  People try to stand on top of you and talk over you and intimidate you. I’ve literally almost been Sugeknighted in my office. So for Mama Sonia to be so fearless and in your face about her feelings and about her love for our people and about government is incredible. She’s like, ‘You can intimidate me but this needs to be said. So I am going to teach. Im going to to sit-in and protest about it.’ Being reminded of all of that in one 90 minute film was so incredibly powerful! ”

                     Sonia Reflects on Her Documentary and the Origins of ‘BadddDDD’

S = Spady

SO = Sanchez

S: Now with the term BaaaddDDD, where did you first hear it said that way?

SO: I don’t know when I first… My gut tells me that it is something that we all experienced hearing in New York. But I had never seen it written down. I got ready to write it and the guy said to me, ‘You are supposed to put the vowel there.’ I said, ‘that might be so but I want to have it so people will know that it’s BaaaddDDD. That’s why I did the DDDD and capital D’s and small d’s, lower case d’s. And all of that. Because what was important to me was just so people could see it. Ah. Ah. It seemed to me a natural thing after we talked about how bad we were, to make the second book, ‘We a BaaaddDDD People.’ That title, ‘We a BaaaddDDD People’ was with Dudley [Randall, from Broadside Press].

S: I don’t think there was any book with BadddDDD spelled that way in the title before

SO: That was the first book that was BadddDDD!

S: Did Dudley ask you to change it to Bad?

SO: [Sonia laughs] No, but we had a conversation about it. That’s interesting you asked that at this time. I just said, ‘No.’, I wanted to leave it at that. The thing about Dudley is that he left us alone. We came with stuff that was, you know, that he did not always understand or even agree with, right. He still left us alone because he recognized that there was a different thing going on there. Uh huh.

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S: What was it like seeing the documentary of your life for the first time and in the presence of hundreds of people?

SO: Well, you know my dear brother, I had not seen the documentary, I had seen little snippets of it along the way. And I had said to my son and to others that I thought I would have difficulty watching it because I never watched myself on the screen. And I said I don’t know how I’m gonna do this because that’s not how we were trained. In the civil rights movement and in my head the black arts movement you didn’t get up and praise yourself. You had work to do so you praised the people out there who were doing the work. But a strange thing happened to me during the screening, I closed my eyes at the beginning, and heard myself talking, so I opened my eyes with my head back and I looked and I always took a detached point of view about what is being presented to me, and then at some point I got involved with what people were saying, what each person was saying. They were analyzing what they say about me, as a person and as a writer. And I wanted to hear that because we don’t always do that with each other, you know. I mean critics will do it in odd ways. And so I began to say this is somebody’s life, you know, it’s my life up there. And, you know, it’s been a long life and I just want the younger people to know that this is not something that is quick-lived. That in order to really truly understand what it means to be human on this earth we have to struggle for it each and every day. Because a lot of countries, society, the people, really are trying to put us in a box of inactivity, non-human acts, ridiculous ways of speaking to each other. And so I really listened to some of the things that they were saying about not only the spirituality but the legality of black words, of black thoughts, of black living.. if that makes any sense to you.

S: Yes it does make sense. I had never seen you before in Birmingham [referring to the scene in the film where Sonia goes down to Birmingham and sees how people respond to her], I wonder what kind of memories came back to you when you went back to give that particular presentation.

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SO: Ohhhh my goodness. I mean, when that plane set down, I had tears in my eyes, because I had been back a couple of times before. When I went back to Alabama this time, the black graduate students at the University of Alabama picked me up. They said, ‘Professor Sanchez, we’re grad students, and they’re not giving us enough money to stay in school, will you say something about it?’ So I get up on the stage and the president is there, and I turn to the president of the university and say ‘you had beautiful grad students pick me up at the airport, but they are not getting enough money.’

S: What was the process in deciding to do this retrospective film?

SO: I don’t know, I just said I had to think about it, and then I just went on about my business, and they kept calling, and I said I’ll get back to you. I mean I wasn’t in a hurry.

S: So it wasn’t like a couple of days decision

SO: Oh noo. Because the question I had was who would be interested in this film, who would be interested in this life? I mean a lot of people in the movement of it identified as such. And then they talked about the need for people to see the life that I had lived. And then I talked to my children. I talked to my sons. You know, one is in the film business. They said, ‘you know, you should do that because you need to talk to younger people and let them see it’s possible to come out okay even as you struggle, when you struggle. America says that the only people who survive are the people who told the lie, who say what you want them to say. That’s not true. Other people survived also who have challenged the sucka, who have said simply this is not the way this country should be.’ So you need to let people see that, that survival, you know, the love for life, the love for our people, the love for all people, you know, the love for literature, the love for teaching. All that should be there. People should know what that’s about.

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SO: I did a long piece at the Apollo many years ago

S: Apollo theatre?

SO: And it was impromptu, and it was on tape, and some people never gave up that tape, you know. And I started with [the poem] ‘when you remember me,’ which said, ‘don’t think of the applause, and don’t think of clothes, and don’t think of whatever. Remember that I loved you, I loved you with a passion.’ And I went on and on. And people literally stood up at the Apollo and stamped their feet. I hadn’t written it down. But people taped it. And I said to the people who taped it I would love to get that back so I could write it down. I think that it’s important that people know that people love them. I think its also important that, in that piece, that I was laughing at myself and all of us. You cant take yourself too seriously.

                     © James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015