Notes From Berlinale - Ignore #BerlinaleSoWhite; Black Film Thrives Regardless

Notes From Berlinale - Ignore #BerlinaleSoWhite; Black Film Thrives Regardless

Meryl Streep’s contribution to the lack-of-diversity conversation at the Berlinale was disappointing, pitiful and laughable. The star of films as charged and as incisively relevant as Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady used a cop-out excuse for a glaring industry omission. It darkened the tone of the festival (pardon the expression), and continued the blatant disregard of a desperate issue.

Thankfully, the films weren’t as ignorant. Take for instance, the films by black people about black people. Chi-raq, a rabble-rousing delight from a revived Spike Lee used the classic Greek comedy Lysistrata to address gun violence in Black Chicago. It is a satirical, abrasive and indulgent story featuring a refreshing all-star cast. And damn, is it powerful.

 The buxom Lysistrata (Teyonnah Paris) orchestrates a sex strike to bring peace to inner city Chi-town.

The buxom Lysistrata (Teyonnah Paris) orchestrates a sex strike to bring peace to inner city Chi-town.

Spike Lee didn’t make this film to laud black people, but to wake them up, like he did with School Daze and the seminal Do The Right Thing. He uses colour, flair, and an unforgettably rendered sex strike to show the folly of gun violence and the destruction of a community.

Meanwhile, in the Senegalese documentary The Revolution Won’t Be Televised, Rama Thiaw directs a story of Dakar rap duo Keur Gui, who start “Y’en a marre” (“We Are Fed Up”), a grassroots movement using concerts and campaigns to protest President Abdoulaye Wade’s unfair control over his presidential reign.  At a special Berlinale forum discussion, Rama and her two rapper subjects Thiat and Kilifeu, spoke to a panel of African and European filmmakers, journalists and officials.

 Senegalese rap duo Keur Gui: Thiat (l) and Kilifeu (r)

Senegalese rap duo Keur Gui: Thiat (l) and Kilifeu (r)

At the end of the event, as we had lunch, a German government official walked up to Thiat and gave a well-intentioned wish to “help” the situation. Thiat bellowed out an unexpected monologue that hushed the lobby. His sentiment: “We don’t need help from you. What we need is collaboration.”

The echoes faded, conversations resumed and his words failed to make any headlines. I wish they did. And I wish Miss Streep read them.

This article originally appeared in the Berlinale Blogger magazine, a collection of stories about the festival from 13 bloggers from around the world.

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