Category Archives: reviews

RIT’s 36th Annual Expressions of King’s Legacy

Yesterday I attended RIT’s 36th Annual Expressions of King’s Legacy, with keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill. The event started with the beautiful Reenah Oshun Golden and Dee Ponder sharing their powerful words and music.

Dr Hill spoke about the neutering of MLK’s legacy, his reduction to the ornamental, to the insipid postage stamp. Yet when he was alive, he was an enemy of the state, deemed a bad influence for the younger generation, someone who had been to jail too many times. He would never have been invited to RIT to give a keynote lecture.

Dr Hill spoke about the radical imagination – how our goals and actions do not have to fit the limits of our present circumstance. He also talked about radical listening, by which he meant the ability to listen to every voice and connect social justice struggles all over the world. It was a wonderful (and much needed) reminder of the internationalism of Black power movements. For example, one cannot dismiss war because one is committed to the alleviation of poverty, one cannot talk about prison reform without talking about school reform. MLK saw the interconnectedness between the triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism – forms of violence that validate and reinforce one another in order to create a vicious circle.

Capitalism, of course, is the fountainhead of this systemic violence, for what is war but economically marginalized people in one country killing other poor people in another? What is environmental degradation but the placement of power plants and waste dumps in certain neighborhoods? In Flint, car companies had refused to use water that was causing car parts to rust, yet that same water was deemed potable for Black children.

Dr Hill wants MLK’s “I have a dream” speech to be retired because of how it has become a trope for American diversity. The speech is not about dreams, it’s about broken promises. It’s about capitalism’s inability to deliver any kind of equality.

Yes, it can be lonely to talk about racism, transphobia, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It can be unpopular to focus not just on Trump’s excesses but also on Obama’s drones and our ongoing wars. But make these links, we must, and link our radical imagination to radical action in order to fight and resist together, we must.

I found Dr Hill at the end of this event and shook his hand. As a woman of color from the global South, as a Muslim American, I thanked him for saying the word “Palestine” and for acknowledging Obama’s drones. It’s a challenge to get activists, let alone people in the larger community, to stand by these truths. It was incredibly important to hear these words spoken loud and clear in such a large forum.

Denzel Washington And Viola Davis On Adapting ‘Fences’ And Honoring August Wilson

finally watched “fences” last night and loved the film. viola davis and denzel washington are both absolutely stunning but what really got me were the words. august wilson has famously said: “blues is the bedrock of everything i do” and so i like how jake coyle reviewed the film:

The blues music of “Fences” sings with a ferocious beauty in Denzel Washington’s long-in-coming adaptation of August Wilson’s masterpiece of African-American survival and sorrow. Transfers from stage to screen often serve up only a pale reflection of the electric, live-wire theater experience. But Washington, in his good sense, has neither strained to make August’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play particularly cinematic nor to “open it up” much from the confines of the staged settings. What we have, instead, is a meat-and-potatoes drama, delivered with full-bodied, powerhouse performances and an attuned ear to the bebop rhythms of Wilson’s dense, musical dialogue.

denzel washington has signed a deal with HBO to translate the remaining 9 plays into film. what a treat that will be. listen here.

The Agitators at Geva

Last Thursday I went to see “The Agitators” at Geva Theatre Center. It’s a play about the “enduring but tempestuous friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.”

Two actors, minimal/slick set design, and some good music. It was a full house, as expected, but I have to be honest and say I was disappointed. I found the script, by Mat Smart, to be too facile, too flat, too “glib” as one of my friends said.

The play was a crowd pleaser to be sure – it had humor and some good dialogue, especially when Anthony and Douglass slugged it out – first on the subject of the 15th amendment which was passed in 1870 (why should Black men get the vote before women?) and then on the issue of segregation within the Suffrage Movement (Black women were excluded from conventions in Southern cities such as Atlanta as well as from the 1913 parade in Washington, DC). The 19th amendment, which guaranteed all American women the right to vote, was finally passed in 1920.

During the first act, I felt like Frederick Douglass played a supporting role to the formidable Susan B. Anthony. She was the one who challenged and chided and got most of the laughs. To me Douglass has always been a towering figure, physically, intellectually, and in terms of presence and charisma. It’s incomprehensible to me that he was born into the savagery of slavery, that he not only managed to escape but was able to build from scratch immense moral and mental capital. Sadly I didn’t feel this power in the way Douglass is written. Perhaps if the script had been populated by other characters, not just two icons, there could have been a frame of reference, something to anchor but also project these historical giants in all their vivid peculiarities and complexity.

Complexity is what was missing from the play. It needed more research, more meat, a better sense of how Anthony and Douglass spoke back in the day, how they interacted with friends, how they moved and gestured, and created discomfort around them.
Although this is a great celebration of Rochester’s history, what about the inconvenient reality of what Rochester is today? Number 1 in poverty and number 4 in childhood poverty in America. What would Douglass and Anthony say about that? This could have been an interesting frame for us to explore our past. And perhaps this is why the smooth, lightweight easiness of the play sticks out like a sore thumb.

My friends and I looked around the audience. There were hardly any people of color present. One could count them on the fingers of one hand. There were no young people. It might have had something to do with the fact that tickets were, for the most part, in the $50 to $70 range and that Rochester is painfully segregated, along racial/economic lines. What an irony to produce a play about Frederick Douglass, in the city where he did some of his most important work, and exclude the vast majority of those he fought for, those who know him best?

During the Fringe Festival I was lucky to attend “Anatomy of a Black Man” by Anderson Allen and Shaquille Payne. It was anything but slick or even, it was down to earth and abrasive and real. It had substance, it had heart. This is the kind of material I’d like to see Geva pick up and Logan Vaughn direct. Let’s say it like it is. We owe it to Douglass and Anthony’s legacy.

The Agitators at Geva

In the Mood for Love – Shigeru Umebayashi

my favorite film ♥

love how meticulously each shot is framed – all doorways and corridors and alleyways. love the warm, rich colors, silk prints, and beautifully tailored, close-fitting, stiff collar dresses. the film has a sparse elegance, a subtle refinement and polish, like a japanese woodblock print. its aesthetic sits well with southeast asia. what i love most is how love can be about a look, a lovely neckline, or how someone walks away or takes a turn. it doesn’t have to be loud and torrid, it can be measured and mostly in the mind. am going to angkor wat because of this film.

timely political drama plays out on stage

last night i saw this thought-provoking play directed by Nigel Maister. loved the staging – how the set is constructed (which is tied into how audiences view/experience the play), the effective use of multimedia technology including cameras, projections, sound and music, and the rotation/reversal of roles such that cast members play both oppenheimer and his accusers. the content is politically charged and relevant. i was afraid that oppenheimer would come off as some kind of socialist hero simply caught in a witch hunt but there was some discussion about the extent to which he was involved in the detonation of the atomic bomb. he didn’t just “birth” the bomb, he helped select the cities that would be targeted (to maximum effect) and opposed announcing the bomb’s completion by testing it in an unpopulated area. it’s a 3-hour play but the dialogue is fast-paced and the interchanges between the actors dynamic. projections add an element of visual intrigue and structure to a script that’s dialogue-heavy. what i loved most was the striking diversity of the cast and their captivating energy. more here.

Nazareth’s Bethlehem exhibit depicts every day (occupied) life

thank u for this brilliant review of a unique exhibit, rebecca rafferty! u are a treasure for our community.

When Bshara Nassar moved from Bethlehem to the US in 2011, he didn’t expect to end up starting a museum. He was working on a graduate degree in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and by the end of 2014, he had plans in motion to create the Museum of the Palestinian People, which through October is co-presenting the traveling exhibit “Bethlehem Beyond the Wall” at Nazareth College. Through photographs, paintings, and artifacts, the exhibit aims to shed light on the history and enduring culture of Palestine from the perspective of Palestinians. More here.

Becca reviews “Anatomy of a Black Man”

saw “Anatomy of a Black Man” last night and was blown away! congrats Anderson Allen!

Rebecca Rafferty: Two philosophers took the stage tonight, coming together to help one another artfully understand their experiences, emoting about the under-appreciated burden on black men to, against heavily stacked odds, be overachievers and still not be seen. To bear the responsibility to be their brothers’ keepers and become teachers to a sometimes unwilling audience, but to show up and do the work anyway. To struggle to be present for the journey toward love in the time of war waged against them. To swallow righteous anger because society won’t make a place for it any more than society will make a change. To shoulder the responsibility of explaining it all, day in and day out, to those who don’t want to get it. More here.

STOP MOTION – start action at the Fringe

wonderful show – “STOP MOTION – start action” – at the fringe festival today. our multimedia piece “other echoes” was strong and beautiful. when some of frantz fanon’s words appeared on screen along with larissa pham’s description of microaggressions as low grade radiation, i heard a definite reaction from the audience. thank u to Mariko Yamada for being such a perfect collaborator, thank u to all the dancers for understanding the spirit of the piece and embodying it so passionately, thank u to Rajesh Barnabas for his gorgeous cinematography, thank u to Artists Coalition for Change Together for giving us this opportunity and thank u to all my fam and friends for being there. just as this piece was informed by my film on racism, the film will be informed by this piece and how it came together. we need to go deeper, we need to talk more. so much work to be done.



Yo Soy Muslim

“Yo Soy Muslim” is a lyrical picture book about a parent who encourages their child to find joy and pride in all aspects of their multicultural identity – from Muslim and Latino poet Mark Gonzales.

Dear little one,
… know you are wondrous.
A child of crescent moons,
a builder of mosques,
a descendant of brilliance,
an ancestor in training…

Yo Soy Muslim

Becca reviews “There is a Field”

Rebecca Rafferty: My evening wrapped at MuCCC with a staged reading of Jen Marlowe’s based-on-reality play, “There is a Field.” The premise of the story is that a young man is murdered by police at a protest. His sister, a medical student, seeks answers as her family and community grieve their loss. But the answers aren’t forthcoming, and each of the characters struggle in different ways with the concept of the futile pursuit of retribution, and if and how to engage in forgiveness.

Scraps of narration punctuate and pull together bits of live acting and flashbacks, as slowly the audience learns the story of a Palestinian Arab family living in what is now Israel. It’s important to phrase it that way, because the family did not move to Israel; they never left what was once Palestine. Through anecdotes of discrimination and conflict, the play conveys a strong picture of second-class citizenship.

Both the script and the way it is presented are important in a number of ways. The story presents the brother-sister relationship in a realistic rivalry-meets-undying-love kind of way, which feels very relatable across cultures and borders.
But crucially, the show is acted entirely by a black cast. Solidarity between black Americans and Palestinians makes a world of sense. The themes of massively imbalanced power structures, police and military brutality, and authorities investigating themselves to zero effect are all too familiar. More here.

there is a field photographed by annette dragon

U2’s “The Joshua Tree” Tour

Yes, I know that Bono is an idiot politically (as late as May this year he was hanging out with George W Bush at his ranch in Texas – need I say more?) but “The Joshua Tree” has always been one of my favorite albums, since those days back in Lahore when my brother and I used to rock to it, so I had to go to the U2 concert in Buffalo yesterday – it didn’t hurt that Beck opened the show (what a wonderfully modest guy).

Before the band appeared on stage, powerful words from a series of poems were projected onto a screen, starting with “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes. There were poems by Whitman, Pinsky, and Sandburg, but also by Lucille Clifton and Palestinian American poet Naomi Shihab Nye and “The Border: A Double Sonnet” by Alberto Rios. The discovery for me was Jamila Woods and her “Ghazal for White Hen Pantry.”

The film projection that continued through most of the concert was gorgeous, riveting. It spoke to the vastness and beauty of American landscapes and lingered fittingly on the faces of the indigenous peoples of this land. There was some preoccupation with the American flag, which I could have done without.

In typically confused Bono fashion, there was a tribute to women (to She Moves in Mysterious Ways) which started with the pictures of Sojourner Truth, bell hooks and Angela Davis. I have to confess I was moved. The pictures continued. Begum Rokeya who was a Bengali writer, educationist, feminist born in 1880, Wangari Maathai, Rosa Parks, Saffiyah Khan, Heather Heyer. My eyes welled up. But then guess who came next – Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Broke the spell in a rather unpleasant way.

As far as the music, the band was spot-on (The Edge still got it) but Bono’s voice is gone, so much so that they’ve had to slightly reconfigure their songs in order to accommodate the cracking. But he’s a trooper and the encore was great – Elevation got everyone jumping again when it was close to midnight. So yeah, good music, some emotional moments, a fight between two drunk guys right next to us, and the thrill of sharing music from so long ago with my 17 year old daughter 🙂

U2’s The Joshua Tree Tour

clouds of sils maria

enjoyed “clouds of sils maria” probably because i love juliette binoche, but also because it’s an interesting (almost literal) look at the imbrication between art and life, it keeps the lens focused on three distinct women and their candid (non-melodramatic) interactions, and because it talks about the passage of time in a poignant, beautiful way. i don’t mind the ambiguity or so-called loose ends – welcome to french cinema and olivier assayas’s work. on netflix.

clouds of sils maria

The Whitney and the High Line

Today the Whitney Museum of American Art and its beautiful city views. Started with Alexander Calder’s Hypermobility. Many of his gorgeous, delicately balanced sculptures were activated at certain times by the Museum and they danced elegantly, like three dimensional musical notes, producing ethereal shadows all around them. Hélio Oiticica’s installations were premised on the idea that artists need to be free to create – there were sandy beaches to explore barefoot, rooms filled with colorful projections, Jimi Hendrix music and fitted with hammocks for us to swing in, a pool table, and much more. Finally an Incomplete History of Protest had fantastic posters, videos and installations, all extremely relevant today. After the Whitney, my daughter and I walked along the High Line to get to Chelsea Market. Had some cheesecake at Sarabeth’s, looked at some of the artists’ stalls and then back to the hotel. The day ended with excellent Mexican food at El Rio Grande with both my kids 🙂

view from the whitney museum

alexander calder’s hypermobility

the whitney museum

an incomplete history of protest at the whitney

the high line