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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rome Capitol Theater' s Showing of Birth of A Nation: Educational?

At 7:00p.m. on April 17th Rome's Capitol Theatre will be host to a viewing of D.W Griffith's controversial 1915 film: Birth of a Nation.
For those of you in the dark, Birth of a Nation, filmed in 1915, is the first epic Blockbuster in American History. Noted by film scholars for it's technical breakthroughs in directing and editing it is equally reviled by civil rights activists and older African Americans for it's stereotypical depictions of Black folks at their worst.
Due to the subject matter, centered around the civil war and reconstruction, many consider it a lightning rod for old school southern racist.
The images of too dumb to know any better, happy slaves and chicken eating, toe picking black Congessman is just too much for some to handle.
Many blame the movie for attributing to a climate of violence during the times (20's). When it was released in 1915 lynchings were on the rise and would eventually reach a statistical peak several years after. The early 20's were also wrought with race riots all over the United States . These were not typical riots. They were attacks on Black communities by armed white people. The theme was always the same, domination of the 'uppity' black community.
What gets lost is the subject of the film: Reconstruction. Reconstruction, a few years after the Civil War was the first time Black Americans were on any type of equal footing with white people. Blacks held office taught in schools served as Postmaster, you name it.
What happened?
The Federal troops left and the dominant planter class, ex-plantation owner waged war with prosperous black ex-slaves to 'set things right'. This began a bloody terroristic campaign that would forever taint the image of The South to African Americans.
To racist whites it was called Redemption.
It is natural for people who have witnessed the outcomes of these events to feel a little uncomfortable with any imagery that reminds them of the causes.
For those lined up in protest against the showing, their reasons are simple.
It's racist.
"Why now" asks Utica's Loretta Johnson, a longtime member of the NAACP.
"Why do they have to show it now? I mean, look at the current climate, people are freaking out over health care and there seems to be an unusual amout of veiled racism". Johnson was reffering to the historic passage of healthcare legislation that has been the source of intense debate for almost a year.
"Now that it's over some people are angry, especially around here(Mohawk Valley)".
On March 22 a group of African Americans along with mayor James Brown of Rome met to discuss alternatives to showing the film.
The group, with the Mayor in agreement, want the showing moved or cancelled.
"Cancelling is out of the question, we have put too much into planning this, we have been thoughtful with our planning as well" said Art Pierce the artistic director at Rome Capitol Theatre.
Pierce has invited Hamilton College Professor of Film History Scott Macdonald to introduce the film and he has also assembled a multi-cultural panel of Mohawk Valley residents to keep it all in perspective.
"We are also going to play a live musical score, the original" Pierce said.
Despite his care in planning Pierce said they were unable to reach a compromise.
Sharing his emotions Pierce said "I think emotions are high right now, we tried to have discussion but we could not get anywhere...they walked out, a few stayed, but most of them left".
Those that stayed were able to share their fears and discuss possibilities. Never the less, Pierce feels he is misunderstood, but sees a positive in establishing a dialog with the Black community in Rome.

Why Now?

The Rome Capitol Theatre has been doing a silent film series since 2002. "We have been getting a lot of requests for this film, in fact it is the most requested movie since we started this" Pierce said.
One could wonder why this movie? Why do soo many people want to see it.
"Well, it is a materpiece" Pierce added.
Morbid curiosity? A reminiscence of times past perhaps? Let us all hope it is all about how far we have come from the dark days of ignorance and violence. Let us all hope it is about learning from our mistakes.
"It is a racist film" admits Art Pierce, the man responsible for organizing this viewing.
"It also has a lot of value as an educational tool"
Yeah I agree but we need to know our history before we can learn anything from it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Op/Ed Gotham City News

You Can Get it Somewhere Else-

Tearing down the walls of Corporate media is hard work. Especially if you have no money or power to speak of.

This grand idea - a local media source unencumbered by the financial obligations of leveraged business owners - is a refreshing situation for anyone looking for some real objectivity in Mohawk Valley Media (MVM).

Gotham City News is the result of frustration. Frustration with the status quo. The lack of tough questions, the blatant agendas overshadowing the pursuit of truth.

The idea of what is news, worthy of reporting, being routinely decided by a handful of people. And lets be honest, when Topix is referred to as a legit source of information, we need to clear the air.

We, the people, need clarity.

The tacky jingle,'You can't get it anywhere else' trumpeted on WKTV news, will no longer be true.

You can get it somewhere else.

Some stories need more attention than others. Social justice, fairness and equality are our measuring sticks. We will keep it real simple at Gotham City News. We will go to the Legislator meetings , we will attend The Utica Common Council meetings, we will try to get information from the very people we are reporting on, that includes our governor and even POTUS.

If something is printed about you, rest assured we gave you a phone call or approached you first. Our primary focus is politics. As a fledgling news outlet, we are limited in our ability to cover every aspect of Mohawk Valley life and it is our hope your interest grows with our ability to bring it to you. With some help, we will expand our scope and give all issues their fair share of print.

There are cases, like our current Mayoral Administration and bombshell health code issues, that just beg to be probed.

But first things first.

Personal Attacks

You won't see them here. At least not the type of orchestrated political grudge articles we are so used to reading lately in the MVM.

Elected officials will be held accountable (even the ones we have voted for). The personal attacks that do nothing but retard the progress of a place (Utica/Rome)who's development was arrested a long time ago are not a part of our formula for success. Grass roots involvement is (a part of our formula).

It is our job to remember and document what is said and hold them (elected officials) to it, not use it against them.

For Utica, the variables are the same. A small market rust-belt town with nothing to offer, or to lose, comes up short again and again and again.

To knock us out of this social malaise, this lack of awareness, we will be sure to wrankle some feathers. And just like an elected official we are definitely going to be the object of criticism. That goes with the territory.

We are big boys and girls.

Players in a Small Market

But lets think about the immediate impact of yet another source of news in this small market.
Advertising plays a huge role in the delivery of news. We all know that if an advertiser does not like something that is printed they will often times remove their advertising from that publication.

In MVM it is a discomforting reality and an effective tactic, especially in hard economic times. I can't remember how many times during a marketing stint at the O-D I heard, first hand, about knee-jerk cancellations due to something the O-D printed. to The O-D's credit it was usually some very accurate, badly timed expose on someone or something that got an entire demographic up in arms.

Utica , unlike New York City and Syracuse does not have a lot of businesses to begin with so if you are unpopular and you rely on business to support your operation than you have to tread lightly.

We will undoubtedly take some of the pressure off the O-D so they can go back to printing fluffy articles about South St in the 70's and James St when there was no black people, or crime (what a crock). Their advertising revenues should go up even if they continue to lose subscribers.

We won't bend. We rely on business owners in the community who care , people who , regardless of what is printed, believe in a free and open forum that is beholden to the ethics of journalistic integrity.

Third World vs. Utica

People angry at a newspaper is nothing new. Journalist have been the subject of scorn nearly as often as lawyers and car salesman. In third world countries reporting the news is a dangerous occupation, one of the quickest ways to find oneself on a slab in the morgue.

Utica has lot in common with the Third World. Little economic development. Exploitive business climate that is reliant on low wages and undereducated workforce. Land distribution favoring a small minority of people who lord over the population. The list is long. We challenge the reader to come up with a few more comparisons.
But at the end of the day we all love this city. We love it enough to try and transform it to something better. And we cannot do it without you.

Thankfully, for all of us, Utica is not a Third World Country so the cup is officially half-full.