Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Interview with Controversial Playwright Shehu Sani, author of The Phantom Crescent, on Sumaila Isah Umaisha's blog "Everythin Literature"

Having moved out of my apartment last week, I check in to the blogworld from my "cage" in the library where I attempt to finish revisions on my dissertation proposal. Checking through my blog roll, I find a fascinating interview with Shehu Sani, the playwright whose play The Phantom Crescent is critical of the application of shari'a law in Northern Nigeria, on Sumaila Isah Umaisha's blog Everythin Literature. Critics attempted to get a shari'a court to ban the play, and the play is currently "stopped [...] from further circulation, distribution or performance."

Some excerpts from the interview:
"many people have reached out to me from both within and outside the country, that they want to reproduce the Phantom Crescent and that I should even perform it in London, Paris and other places. But I’m not interested in performing in London or Paris, because I want to simply educate and enlighten the people that are here where I come from. I’m not intending to make it a show business kind of thing; I wrote my book to reach out to my own people and to send a clear message and it is here that it should be performed and not anywhere else."
"what I will say is that we cannot have laws in a society where the leaders are lawless themselves. We cannot have one kind of law for the poor and another one for the rich. I think for the implementation of Shari'a to be effective certain things are necessary. One, there should be enlightenment and education. Those who are for it and those who are against it must be enlightened. Secondly, there must be a serious attempt to solve the problem of poverty. For instance, if you have money as a government, you have two options; either to solve the problem of water or solve the problem of water borne diseases. They should know it that when you address the problem by providing clean water there will not be water borne diseases. But if you think you can allow people to drink from the mud and then cure those who are affected by the diseases that come from that sources of water, I think you are simply wasting your time. So you must solve the problems that lead people into crimes or else you will only succeed in punishing and jailing people and the problems will not be solved."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vote for those who Can't

Just a quick note. There is a group of young people on Facebook who had the idea, last night, of starting a website with the names and comments of people who can't vote in this election (whether because they are not American or are too young) who would vote for Obama if they could. They have started a blog at, where you can post comments. Here is what one of the brainstormer/organizers wrote me, when I queried how people could participate:

We just got this started last night, so as of right now, we are simply asking people to send their info (name, age, location - reason they can't vote and reasons they support Obama) to the gmail address! We're already combining efforts to get a website started so we can show the collective global support for Obama!If you'd like to participate, you can also send your ideas to the same gmail address: voteforthosewhocant @ gmail . com. Thanks!!!

In a later email:
Thanks for your support!!! I actually just created a blog for this effort as well. I'm not sure how long it will take to get a website up and running and I thought it was imperative that we get this started. Thanks so much for posting the email address on your blog. If you have the time, we would be so appreciative if you could also reference the upcoming blog:

He's electric!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Frank Schaeffer, Derrick Ashong, and A.N.T. Adaptive

A short post to pull together a few things that have been on my mind lately. Yesterday, I did another first: I phone banked for the Obama campaign calling Obama supporters in Louisiana to remind them to vote. I've always been terrified of talking to strangers on phones, but this was unexpectedly addictive--the feeling of connection with these good, ordinary people, calling in a state that I have an ancestral connection. I let my voice slip in to the slightest hint of the Southern accent that comes when I visit my grandparents who live near Alexandria, Louisiana.... "Hi, my name is [Talatu-Carmen]. I'm calling from Barack Obama's presidential campaign. How ya doin' today? I'm just callin' to see if you've voted yet today in the Loooziana's Democratic primary?" I talked to lot of children, "Momma, she wants to know if you voted? Yeah, she did" and a lot of answering machines with "God bless" at the end. It felt like calling home.

I only had one person who hung up on me, and everyone else said that, yes, they had voted. The most touching moments were the old people (at least they sounded old on the phone). One old man said that he was doing all right; he was just heading to the shower, but, yes, he had voted." An old woman with a Caribbean accent told me that she was at the poll right now. "I just love him. He's my boy." We talked a few minutes about how much we loved Obama, and she seemed almost disappointed when I said goodbye. After 40 calls (many of which had not gone through), I decided I better get back to my dissertation proposal, which I ended up emailing to my advisor around 12:45am.

I have, admittedly, been obsessed with American politics for the past couple of weeks, in part procrastination technique against finishing my proposal and in part fascination with what will go down in history as a very significant primary season, but I have been disturbed by the implication of those who are not supporting Obama that that those of us who do are merely supporting him because of insubstantial emotional reasons. That we support him because we get a high from his inspiring speeches or because "we've drunk the Kool-Aid" to quote Fred--and not because we have done any research on his positions. There is this assumption that Hillary (or McCain or whoever else) is naturally the most qualified candidate, but that Obama's charisma has disguised his inexperience and inability to lead. I've seen these condescending accusations both by Hillary supporters and in acquaintances who are hard-core Republicans. And to be fair to these people, there are plenty of folks going around saying they are inspired, who have not done their research. However, I am not one of those people, and neither are a great many of Obama supporters. (NOTE 8:17pm, See, for instance, this blogger's reasonable and well-thought out take on why he is voting for Obama and the possible drawbacks to Obama's candidacy.) On this blog, I have praised Obama's (and Oprah's) rhetorical abilities. I think such an ability is admirable and a good quality in a leader. It is one reason I am supporting him, yes, but it is certainly NOT the ONLY reason. It would be a patently BAD reason to vote if I didn't have other good reasons. To see his position on issues, see here. I don't stoop to insulting Hillary's supporters saying that they are supporting her only because she is a woman. Why is there this assumption that Obama supporters must have such simplistic reasons?

I do not agree with Obama on everything. I do not think he is the Messiah. I think he will make mistakes, as any president does. And I am worried when I hear certain supporters talking as if once he is president all will be well. All will not be well--not in this global climate--especially not after the past 8 years of irresponsible and even criminal leadership. There are long-standing structural inequalities both within the nation and within the world that need serious attention, thought, and change. And, as Obama has pointed out plenty of times, he can not effect change by himself. He will need his supporters to continue their activism after the election, to continue their volunteerism and their sense of civic duty. Obama, by himself, won't accomplish anything, but I do believe that Obama as the leader of an informed and impassioned populace, a candidate who embraces nuance and who is willing to consider multiple perspectives on a situation, will be able to help shepherd this complex and contradictory country in a new, more positive direction. I believe that he, more than any of the other candidates in this race, will be able to accomplish this.

Some of the things that have fascinated me are the often very intelligent debates going on online--and debates that allow for the discussion of far more complexity than I've remembered in past presidential campaigns where positions of candidates often seemed to be summed up in soundbites. You can't do that with Obama. The reason people think he is a lightweight is because they are only listening to the soundbites. If they actually went online and looked at his positions, If they read his books and the legislation that he has worked on, it would be difficult for them to make such easy accusations. (And here is a remarkable clip of a young Obama supporter (Ghanaian-American musician and actor), Derrick Ashong, who completely bowled over one of those condescending critics who thought he was going to interview "your typical emotional Obama supporter." Completely off the cuff, Ashong responded to this "reporter's" questions about Obama's health care plan showing that he not only had a good reason to support Obama but that he understood the issue far better than the reporter did. I only wish I could be so eloquent.This is a MUST watch. )

I have also been impressed by the multiple facebook discussions on the Obama site. In just one example, there has been a serious and nuanced discussion on abortion on Obama's site--including plenty of Catholics who are pro-choice, athiests who are pro-life, McCain, Huckabee, and Clintons supporters and every imaginable position in between. Of course there are the people who try to shut the discussion down with slogans and cliches, but the discussion has not been shut down.

In part this has less to do with Obama than it has to do with the internet. I think part of the genius of his campaign is that his young supporters have taken advantage of their experience on the internet to campaign in revolutionary new ways from the viral Black Eyed Peas song to the grassroots fundraising of 32 million in one month from 224,000 new voters (including myself) to the 472,947 supporters (and counting, there seem to be about a 100 new sign ups every minute when I'm on there) on Facebook (compared to the 108,485 supporters [and counting much slower] for Hillary). The internet savviness of Obama's supporters compared to the others point to the the way Obama has appealed to a younger generation, while the older candidates practice politics as usual. Clinton has taken a few cues on internet fundraising from Obama's success, although not before she had to loan herself 5 million. (Did anyone else find that rather embarrassing?) The closest comparison in this change of political climate which coincides with new technology and generation I can think of is the televised debates between Kennedy and Nixon---there we go with the old JFK reference again....

Generational variances might also be seen in the widespread support of young evangelical (or other) Christians for Obama. Previously on this blog, I have expressed my frustration with the way evangelical Christians have been objectified and stereotyped in the past by so-called "neoliberals." Well, no longer. We are a populace as complicated as any other. We are also a population that is disillusioned with the way the previous generation fell in line behind ideologues like James Dobson, who conflates being Christian with holding certain cultural and political positions, and politicians who cynically used the "values" vote to gain power and became even more corrupt than those they replaced. We still hold to many of those core values, such as having serious ethical questions about the consumer society of America--a society that thinks it is all right to manipulate human life in such a way as to dispose of or create embryos on demand. I am one of these Christians, who has maintained my belief but disposed of the "evangelical" label because it has lost its meaning. I am one of those Christians who are disturbed by the ethical implications of abortion, stem cell research, cloning, and, yes, even in vitro fertilization, but also the callous way that politico-evangelicals have treated issues of poverty, war, class, human rights, have promoted xenophobia over compassion, profit over care of creation. I am one of those Christians who have realized we cannot afford to vote on a single issue, but who sees in Obama someone who encourages an open space where we can meet together with those who do not agree with us and try to find some common ground. This is the more practical position, much more so than standing at two opposite ends of a room and yelling at each other, which is what the previous partisan politics has felt like. Obama is not perfect, but, in opening that space for dialogue, I think he is our best option. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the legendary Francis Schaeffer and the filmmaker who made those documentaries about abortion with the endless pans of plastic dolls (had to watch them in an ethics class in high school), puts it much better than I could in his essay, "Why I'm Pro-life and Pro-Obama."

This post has turned much longer than I intended, but one last note. One does not expect to find the best hiphop one has recently heard in church, but that's what happened today. One of the musicians in our church today performed his testimony, and I had to go buy his cd (A.N.T. Adaptive) immediately after church. It was timely, relevant, and amazingly good. I have been hitting replay on the cd for the rest of the day. Take for example part of this lyric from the opening song "Ready."

Get ready,
it's about to drop so heavy.
Bumpin in the Lex or the Chevy.
Make sure
system got this song on blast,
cause only the truth gone last.

The truth is
my nation is under attack
but not just because of the oil that's under Iraq
because of the fact that a lot of Latinos and blacks
will end up in jail maybe layin' flat on their backs.

The truth is
the rich get richer while the picture for the poor
is sitting there on the bottom floor.
No more health care. We can't get no health there.
Actin' like the sick people chose to put themselves there.

The truth is,
sex sales
so well that it has men buying sex from little girls with pigtails
Maxin' out their credit cards, surfin the net for porn
and the crazy thing is it's been accepted as a norm

The truth is
some kids don't eat every day but your dog do
I ain't tryin to dog you
I thought to address it from the booth
now ask yourself am I telling the truth?
Then holla at the youth...

Get ready, it's about to drop so heavy.
Bumpin in the Lex or the Chevy.
Make sure
system got this song on blast,
cause only the truth gone last.

The truth is
too many single moms seen the struggle
Gotta work all day and keep the kids outta trouble
while their baby daddy chillin' with his other baby mommas
Can we learn how to live without all this crazy drama?

The truth is
Martin Luther King had a dream
Racism is alive and well, just behind the scenes
Only forty-five years removed from civil rights
Even Rosa in her death sayin' we still gotta fight

The truth is
are you a Republican or Democrat, homo or hetero,
I'm asking you, you better know, Christian or athiest
I love you, now I'm hatin this.
Can't we come together, it seems like we're still debatin' this.
Throwin up a peace sign or maybe you can raise a fist
and kill all the injustice they get paid to miss,
like being locked up when you're innocent
looked at as guilty
the system is filthy

Get ready,
it's about to drop so heavy.
Bumpin in the Lex or the Chevy.
Make sure
system got this song on blast,
cause only the truth gone last.

etc. I don't want to quote the whole thing, but go to the website and listen to it/buy it. I wish the song he performed in church "This is my Story" were on the website, but it's even better than this one...

His performance is just one of those little reminders I have from day to day, whether reading theory on storytelling, listening to 2-Pac, or listening to those old speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. that make me alternately thoughtful and delighted in my faith. The inspiration may not be anything specifically religious but it suddenly strikes me as TRUTH--something that helps me understand God better and reminds me of the purpose of my own life--how it fits into the larger pattern.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What more do we need in a president?

He can speak, he can imagine, he can inspire.... he can dance and sing.... what more does America need...?

Barack OBollywood

Oprah Winfrey and Toni Morrison on the Creative Imagination

I'm not a bit Oprah groupie, but this was an amazing speech.

"For the first time, we can vote as we believe, and we can do that because that is what the struggle was for.... I have been a woman my whole life, and every part of me believes in the empowerment of women, but the truth is I'm a FREE woman ... and being free means you get to think for yourself and you get to decide for yourself what to do. I am not a traitor [to my gender], I'm just following my own truth, and that truth has led me to Barack Obama."

To those who accuse her of voting on race, she says, "I say that, too , was insulting to me. Don't play me small. I'm not that small... I would never vote for anyone based on gender OR race. I'm not voting for Barack Obama because he's black . I'm voting for Barack Obama because he's BRILLIANT."

Her quotation of Toni Morrison's letter (and I'm a big Toni Morrison fan) sent me to google to read the letter, which I am copying here. I copied the letter from where it was posted on the New York Observer:

Dear Senator Obama,

This letter represents a first for me--a public endorsement of a Presidential candidate. I feel driven to let you know why I am writing it. One reason is it may help gather other supporters; another is that this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril. I will not rehearse the multiple crises facing us, but of one thing I am certain: this opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it.

May I describe to you my thoughts?

I have admired Senator Clinton for years. Her knowledge always seemed to me exhaustive; her negotiation of politics expert. However I am more compelled by the quality of mind (as far as I can measure it) of a candidate. I cared little for her gender as a source of my admiration, and the little I did care was based on the fact that no liberal woman has ever ruled in America. Only conservative or "new-centrist" ones are allowed into that realm. Nor do I care very much for your race[s]. I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me "proud."

In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.

When, I wondered, was the last time this country was guided by such a leader? Someone whose moral center was un-embargoed? Someone with courage instead of mere ambition? Someone who truly thinks of his country's citizens as "we," not "they"? Someone who understands what it will take to help America realize the virtues it fancies about itself, what it desperately needs to become in the world?

Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb.

There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time.

Good luck to you and to us.

Toni Morrison

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ousmane Sembene on Nigerian video films

I have spent all day reading articles on Nigerian film that I realized I had not yet read and needed to do so speedily before finishing my proposal. Via my library link I was able to get access to a fabulous issue of Film International (2007) 5:4. Most of the articles seem to have gotten beyond the cliched and simplistic haranguing of Nigerian films for not fulfilling some "universal" standard of "quality," and instead delve into the complex and revolutionary contributions Nigerian film is making to world cinema.

However, when I finished reading John McCall's article “The Pan-Africanism we Have: Nollywood’s invention of Africa”, I had to post his postscript, which described what tha Ousmane Sembene, (may he rest in peace), often proclaimed the "Father" of African cinema, recently said about the Nigerian film industry:

I quote from John McCall:
"A few years ago I was fortunate to be among a group of American scholars gathered in Dakar for an NEH Institute to discuss the current state of African cinema. Over the course of the Institute, the question of whether Nollywood movies should be taken seriously became a point of heated discussion. One day we were fortunate to have Ousmane Sembene as a guest speaker. When he completed his presentation, the first question he was asked was what he thought of the new Nigerian video movies. We were all eager to hear what the venerable father of African cinema had to say on this subject. Sembene smiled just a bit, removed the ever-present pipe from his mouth, and said that the Nigerians had found a way to reach the African audience--and that, he acknowledged--was a very great accomplishment. A true revolutionary, Sembene said that the Nigerians had shown the way to reach the African audience, and that African film-makers should rethink their devotion to celluloid film and recognize that video was better suited to the vital task at hand" (McCall 96).

McCall, John C. “The Pan-Africanism we Have: Nollywood’s invention of Africa.” Film International. 5:4 (2007): 92-97.

And, so, my brothers and sisters, I stand vindicated for, in a recent paper, comparing the farcical portrayal of a neocolonial elite in Sembene's film Xala to the farcical portrayal of said elite in Kingsley Ogoro's Osuofia in London, (for those who have seen it think of the "mirror scene" in which the British-Nigerian lawyer begins to lose his accent). I rest my case....