Houston Celebrates the African Diaspora
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend Houston’s first African Film Festival. This was my first time attending an event of this nature, so I was unsure what to expect. After three days of films, music, dance, and food from many countries across the continent, I was left with some profound revelations and questions. As I watched the Ghanian film, “Gold Is Here,” I could not help but wonder about the Ghanian government’s role in the country being robbed of its resources and the natives dire living conditions. The ecosystem is being destroyed by foreign mining companies, finding clean water is next to impossible, the food is contaminated with Mercury, people get killed in the same mines that little kids have to go off to work in so that they may take care of themselves.
Despite the film saying Ghana had over 30 million ounces of gold- in addition to the diamonds and other natural resources- the local citizens lived in abject poverty. Why? Why do these people live in such destitute conditions in a country that is so rich in resources? Why are countries, such as China, able to come in, take what they want, wreck the land, and not really have to give much back in return. At least if they are trading something, it has not trickled down to the local communities.
As I reflected upon this question, it made me think about another time African people were sold out to the highest bidder- the slave trade of centuries ago. Why were the slave traders then so willing to sell their own people for money just as the those in power now appear to be willing to sell-out their own for money? It may not be the slave trading of days past, but those in charge, at minimum, have the appearance of sitting by and watching natives die as a result of the financial deals they make with foreign countries. I ask myself, “Was nothing learned from their ancestors mistakes of selling out their people to the highest bidder?”
In Christianity, there is a phenomenon referred to as generational curses. A generational curse is when God continues to punish the children for the fathers’ sins. In the present instance, one may ponder whether the events in Ghana are a case of a generational curse? Are modern day Ghanian’s bound to repeat the sins of the past because they are cursed? This is not a new question. I’ve heard it in a variety of contexts; however, I do not believe in generational curses. I do believe in generational choices. Children continue to make the choices made by their fathers until they know something different. This may be an explanation for why Ghana cannot break the cycle that made them the center of the British Slave Trade for over 100 years.
Something else that struck me during this movie, was parallel I noticed between the current treatment Africans and Jews. For instance, I have witnessed Black Americans blaming today’s Africans for our plight in America. The argument is that the betrayal of selling us into slavery is what got us to the point we are today. They condemn the children for the fathers’ choices. I also see this today within Christianity and some of the views held against Jewish people. Some Christians still blame living Jewish people for the crucifixion of Christ. By doing so, they do what some Black Americans do when they blame the people of today for the sins of those who came before them. While I do not discount that being sold, surviving a Middle Passage, being stripped of your identity and humanity, and beaten into slavery plays apart into the current Black experience, I believe it is an error to blame the children for the fathers’ sins. People today are not at fault for the choices of their ancestors. They can only seek to be better. Forming this type of understanding about human behavior, could go a long way in helping heal the tension between Black Americans and Africans.
Africans, Christians, and Jews
Speaking of generational curses and parallels, “Gold Is Here” also made me think of those moments when people say someone suffered- or is suffering- a catastrophe because of their ancestors actions. If this is true, one of the questions becomes, “Are the African people who are in deplorable conditions getting what they “deserve” for selling their own people into slavery? Is this some form of payback? This line of thinking is similar to the contention that the Holocaust happened because God was punishing the Jews for what they did to Christ. I am not God. I don’t presume to speak for Him or know His mind; however, given the little I do know about His character, I have a difficult time believing that either of these are true.
Another thing I gained from the film festival was the knowledge that the African Diaspora is not a homogenous group. The collective is full of uniqueness. From their food, to their hair, to their rules of life, they are unique individuals. You cannot put them into one box. It was a beautiful thing to witness this great diversity through these films. That is something that you do not see in Hollywood.
The individuality of the people was on full display in the nature of the topics chosen, the film presentation styles, and even in the discussion sessions held after the films. The Houston Museum of African American Culture and Silicon Valley African Film Festival did a great job bringing awareness to lesser known filmmakers as well as issues within the Diaspora. I do hope that next year’s festival, however, includes ratings for the films.
Though billed as an event for the entire family, I had to leave early on opening night due to some of the language in the film, “Horizon Beautiful.” Although the movie was in subtitles; my son can read and outside of taking him to see “Selma,” a move I do not regret, I do not intentionally put him in situations to hear (or read) “adult” language. Moreover, even if a family is not as sensitive as mine to language, I found some of the subject matter to be too mature for young children. Whether it was the graphic scenes of domestic violence in the short, “When Is It Enough,” the young man getting hit by the car in “Motor Bike Dreams,” or the woman killing her husband after cursing each other out in “Entropya,” it was a little much even for me. I’m certain many others do not share this opinion, as I saw a lot of kids at this event, and the parents seemed to enjoy themselves. That is a wonderful thing. After all, different perspectives on life is what this festival was all about.
I look forward to seeing what brilliance is brought forth in next year’s event.