Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Death of Two Sons

Back from an amazing week and a half long trip to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Maybe I'll post more about it later, but I wanted to highlight an amazing documentary that I saw last week: Death of Two Sons (2006), a 64-minute documentary directed by New York based filmmaker Micah Schaffer. The film sensitively juxtaposes the lives and deaths of two young men, the Guinean Amadou Diallo who was shot forty-one times by New York police, and Jesse Thyne, the American peace corps volunteer who was living with Diallo's family in Guinea at the time of Amadou Diallo's murder. The film subtly illuminates the global inequalities that surround these two tragedies: while the taxi driver whose negligence caused the accident in which Thyne died is given a harsh sentence of three years in prison, the police who shot Diallo forty-one times were acquitted of all charges. The Peace Corps lead a march to raise awareness about road safety and a high ranking Guinean official dedicates a memorial plaque with the name of the two Peace Corps volunteers who died (as if there were not hundreds of other deaths in car accidents every year), yet when some women attempt to protest Diallo's murder outside the American embassy, the demonstration is quickly shut down: the government does not want to risk offending America. These points are not hammered out into a fully-formed polemic but rather emerge in the quiet laments of Diallo's family and friends in Guinea and those of Thyne's family in California, out of the understated but powerful way the two stories are woven together.
The back story of Amadou Diallo's life also emerges. A young man from a cosmopolitan family, he had travelled in Africa, Asia, and Europe. He had gone to school in Thailand and studied computer science in Singapore. Already posessing academic qualifications, he worked on the streets of New York to raise money to attend an American university. Yet the dreams he had pursued in his life were overwhelmed by the clamour of his death. Films like Death of Two Sons move beyond the symbol Diallo has become to remind us of the person he was and the personal grief of those who loved him.
For more information about the film, which I highly recommend, see the home page: Death of Two Sons.


Fred said...

Welcome back, C.

Yet another documentary, yet another barely concealed piece about the American Monster. Sigh.

Need I point out it is fallacious to attempt a comparison of these deaths?

Talatu-Carmen said...


And you seem to find it easy to completely dismiss a film without seeing it just because you assume that it is about "the American Monster." Of course the deaths are completely different kinds of tragedies--they are not compared but rather juxtaposed in a rather powerful way that is respectful to both families. In the words of Jesse's father: "Jesse's death was a tragedy. Amadou Diallo's death was a travesty."

Please do us all the favour of seeing a film or reading a book before you jump on a bandwagon to condemn it. I'll take your criticisms seriously (whether or not I agree with them) when you know what you're talking about. But if you don't (ie. having not seen the film)then your comments are irrelevant.


Fred said...

Kai, C! As we Ibos say, otapiapia!

First, how do you know I haven't seen the film? How about asking that first before assuming I'm dismissing or condemning it and calling my comments irrelevant?

Second, juxtapositions are useless per se. No one juxtaposes for no reason, abi? If one puts two concepts or whatever, side-by-side, what is the reason for that, h'm? Of course the filmmaker is comparing both deaths and of course, ensuring or attempting to ensure viewers draw the same conclusions as Jesse's father. And according to Papa, note which particular death—both tragic—was the worse of the two.
The ensuing action (or inaction, as the case may be) on both sides further serves to cement the idea that the American Monster once again rears its ugly head.

Third, how about greeting me before the lambasting? I did you! ;-)

Anonymous said...

thanks for the heads up. will be checking it out.

Talatu-Carmen said...

hi fred,

greetings. sorry i no greet you properly, oh. vex dey catch me.

I'm sorry I assumed you had not seen the film. I assumed that because 1) it has only played at festivals and is not currently widely distributed on video or dvd, 2) I would have expected you to cite examples of what you had a problem with had you actually seen the film, but instead you merely showed a vague suspician of any such documentary that raises questions about the greatness of america.

Yes, juxtaposition is different from comparing because juxtaposition is placing something side by side and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions, while comparison is, in my understanding, pontificating on the similarities between the two. The deaths were NOT similar, but to talk about them side by side (related as the two young men were in their complex relationship to Guinea, America, and the Diallo family and dying within months of each other) is extremely powerful. Art is not always a logical algarithm that you can plug one thought into and get out another--art is that which provokes, questions, leaves one deep in thought after the experience. Thus it is "fallacious" to say that it is "fallacious" to compare/juxtapose these deaths. This is not a logic problem; it's a human story.

The film could have been polemic and preachy, ala Michael Moore. It wasn't. But, yes, there were certain points that were made in a subtle way that an audience will come away thinking about. Is this not what most good documentaries do?

So, my question is: what is your point? That the story is not worth telling? That storytellers should not tell stories that raise question about justice (et al.) in America? That two stories should not be juxtaposed together?

Talatu-Carmen said...

p.s. sorry my reaction is coming back a bit "hot." I haven't slept much in the last few days--and thus not in the most diplomatic of moods. I'm heading for bed now to get myself on a better schedule.

Everchange said...

hey carmen. did you stay in any hotels when you were in California? If so which ones?

Talatu-Carmen said...

Hi Everchange,

No, I stayed with a cousin in L.A., and then we were at a conference at Westmont College in Santa Barbara where we stayed at dorms on campus. (One of the most beautiful campuses I have ever been on...)

Not sure where in California you are going? For a conference in November I found a wonderful little hotel in San Francisco: The Mosser The prices may have gone up now since it looks like they have their elevator fixed, but I highly recommend it. If you are in L.A. or Santa Barbara, I suggest checking through or one of those other travel engines--they can usually find good prices on hotels. (That's how I found the Mosser) (Or you could try the olde alumni network... I believe there was some effort made a few years ago to link up alumni who would be willing to open their homes to other alumni travelling in the area...)

Good luck... (BTW, you might consider looking into this website for grad school funding. I just came back from a week long conference (for those who got the fellowship--and it was an amazing experience. I might blog on it later).


Fred said...

Sorry didn't answer before now.

Two things: 1.) You're right to assume I hadn't seen it. {grin} 2.) While I agree that technically, juxtaposition is not comparison, an unscrupulous choice of what to juxtapose is tantamount to manipulation, don't you think? That's my point.

I will promise to watch this documentary though, and will try hard to keep my biases in check when I do.

So, truce?

Talatu-Carmen said...

{-; no problem. I expect it of you.

Here's one thing that I DO agree with you on. i finally finished Graceland a few weeks ago and I can't describe how much I dislike it. I will try to write a review of it at some point for this blog.