January 26, 2004
Black Power Quote of the Day
"I wrote it as a training manual so that people would do it right."
- Sam Greenlee, referring to his novel, The Spook Who Sat By The Door, in which the first Black man trained as a C.I.A. field operative returns to his native Chicago to train street gangs to become the basis of an underground armed insurgency against the U.S. government.
After years of languishing in bootleg Hell, the film version of the book, directed by Ivan Dixon (whom you may recognize as the brother in "Hogan's Heroes") is now being released as a DVD by Tim Reid's Obsidian Home Entertainment.
Many of you may only remember Tim as Venus Flytrap from "WKRP in Cinncinati", or as Frank in "Frank's Place", but ever since the cancellation of that great show, the brother has been working tireless to build an infrastructure to support thoughtful and original black films. Not only has he stepped behind the camera to direct the films Asunder and Once Upon A Time.... When We Were Colored, but he's also been trying to construct a studio lot in Northern Virgina as an economic development project.
Dixon, who is now enjoying a quiet retirement in Hawaii, also directed the Blaxploitation classic "Trouble Man".
But, in a bit of sad irony, the actor who played the epymonious "Spook", Lawrence Cook, just died on December 27th, 2003, exactly one month before the DVD release of this film.
We'll miss you, brother.
For those of you who've never seen this movie or read this book, I cannot stress enough what a powerful effect it had on me. I saw it for the first time as an undergrad, where it was buried in a nearly forgotten video library in Princeton's late and lamented Third World Center. At the time, the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. riots were still very fresh memories. Hip-hop had yet to turn into the bling-bling pablum pop crap that it's devolved into today. Most of what we were listening to in college hovered somewhere between the consciousness of Digable Planets & A Tribe Called Quest and the absolute unbridled anger of Ice Cube, Onyx, & occasionally Paris. Malcolm X had just come out in theatres. EVERYBODY had some article of clothing with a Kinte pattern.
It's only now, with the decade of hindsight, that I see the early '90's for what it was - a minor rebirth of Black Power among the Talented 10th.
For a bunch of overly educated Black 19-year-olds living literally in the belly of the white establishment beast, the idea of an armed rebellion was more than plausible.
It was intoxicating.
Which only makes me sadder to realize how much of a fad that really was. Three years later, instead of red, black, and green, Black college students all around the country had discovered Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, and the red, white, and blue. The 5% wisdom of the Wu-Tang Clan loses to Puffy Daddy at the Grammys.
And the world has been poorer since.
Somewhere, I think we decided that cash=justice. But I think we've skipped a step in between, where cash must transform into power before justice can roll down like a mighty stream. Folks like Greenlee and Huey and Stokely got the power=justice part, but they also missed the point. Sure, there's power in a shotgun, but the establishment will almost always have better firepower. Something tells me that the real answer lies somewhere between Rockafella and the Black Panthers.....