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(I have some new picks to add, and will do so shortly.)

a scene from When We Were Kings

When We Were Kings (1996, Leon Gast, director) is a documentary about the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between heavyweight champion George Forman and previous champ Mohammed Ali. I am not a boxing fan, but I was mesmerized and inspired as I watched the two US fighters, their entourage, and all the promotion and entertainment (B.B. King, James Brown, and Don King among others) that packed up and went to Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The humanity of individual experience: Ali thinking out loud about the huge cultural difference between living in an almost entirely black country and what he has experienced as an African-American in the United States; the Zairians’ joy in seeing the charismatic Ali; the global politics and economics that brings the fight to the same Kinshasa stadium Dictator-President Mobutu used to for executions and torture until the floors ran red with blood.

 

Charles Brunett, film maker

I can’t remember now how I came across a reference to director Charles Burnett, but I have been watching everything I can find that he has had a part in. First I watched To Sleep with Anger (1990) in which Danny Glover shows up on the doorstep of a couple he vaguely knows from the small southern town they all grew up in. The older couple lives in a solid working-class black neighborhood of LA. They let Glover move in for an indefinite visit. Glover is Evil, far more complex than “evil incarnate” because his very nature is evil. As he explains to someone who challenges him, he is just being who and what he is, which means everything and everyone goes bad when he is present. Next up was Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003), a consideration and enactment of various interpretations of Nat Turner, from William Styron’s to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s to that of the lawyer who interviewed Turner in jail before his hanging. My latest Burnett film is Warming By the Devil’s Fire (2003), a fictionalized tribute to numerous blues masters. It mixes live footage with a moody narrative about a young boy at the crossroads between the life and music of conservative Christian Gospel and the blues.

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