I didn’t see “For Colored Girls” this weekend. I had every intention of doing so. I wanted to have an opinion. I wanted to join in on the inevitable conversation that I knew would occur around the preview. I really, really wanted to. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I chose to attend a screening of Black August: a Hip-Hop Benefit Concert a documentary directed by noted journalist and filmmaker Dream Hampton.
The film tells the story of the origin and rise of the popular concert series, Black August.
The benefit concert, produced each year by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, began as a way to spread the message about the existence and struggle of political prisoners in the United States. Dream Hampton masterfully weaves archival video of performances by dead prez, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Black Thought and more with commentary from activists and scholars such as Professor Marc Lamont Hill, Lumumba Bandele, Assata Shakur and Nahanda Abiodun. The result is a documentary that details the history of the Black August movement from which the concert series takes its name. Hampton shows her audience how the Black August movement started within prison walls, spread outward and continues to be relevant today.
Black August is a study in the power and potential of hip-hop. MXGM uses hip-hop in a pure way, to bring attention and support to an issue that definitely won’t get much light from mainstream media. Hampton explores the way that the much maligned genre touched audiences worldwide in a positive way by showcasing the restorative and redemptive powers of hip-hop as an educational tool.
Second, activism starts with you. We don’t all have the power or talent to perform or produce a concert. Black August tells the story of Mutulu Shakur who used his gift for acupuncture to pioneer using the procedure to cure addicts. We all have special talents or propensities that can be utilized in some form or fashion.
While I’m sure Tyler Perry’s latest work was….a piece of work, I chose instead to watch something truly uplifting and I was not sorry. Throughout the film I laughed, nodded in agreement, learned something new and sang along with Mos Def’s “Umi Says”. At the end, I walked out silently wondering what I could and should do to contribute to what I feel is a worthy cause. If you advocate prisoner’s rights, the right to a fair trial or just want to learn more about the history and purpose of Black August, I urge you to support this film.