Wednesday, January 04, 2006

#33: “Many Fronts, One Struggle: On RIZE & YESTERDAY” * 12/01/05 * Nancy Keefe Rhodes * Welcome back to Women’s Voices Radio. On this International Human Rights Day, World AIDS Day & anniversary of Mother Rosa keeping her seat, tonight’s show has been about art & cultural upheaval. In that spirit, some film clips in brief. If you’d like to watch some of the dancing that Martha Cooper documents in her book, WE B* GIRLZ, there’s RIZE – with a Z – the first feature documentary by fashion photographer/music video director David LaChapelle. RIZE depicts the break-dancing battles that one participant calls “ghetto ballet.” RIZE debuted to standing ovations at last year’s Sundance Festival. Despite some tantalizing previews, it never screened locally but now it’s on DVD. RIZE is about as overtly tied to upheaval as can be. It opens with news footage of burning buildings in South Central L.A. – first the 1965 Watts riots, then the fires that followed the 1992 Rodney King police verdicts. Instead of a voice-over narrator, the dancers speak for themselves about what that means, & what choices there are, in communities whose schools have – beyond more obvious woes – zero arts budgets. RIZE manages to portray women who dance – Miss Prissy, Daisy, La Nina, Termite & others – as both integral & articulate. Ostensibly RIZE is about Tommy the Clown, Dragon, Lil C, their crews, & the styles of clown, krump & stripper dancing. But RIZE interviews a number of dancer’s mothers. After the third one appeared seated formally on her “good” couch in the living room, it dawned on me how deeply RIZE is about endangered families & taking seriously the chance to be heard. RIZE is a mother’s film, perhaps even about Mother Africa in a weird, spine-tingling way. Documentaries often carry disclaimers about digital special effects, but RIZE is the first I’ve seen that starts out promising nothing has been speeded up. The dancing itself is incredibly fast, strenuous, gorgeous. The organized “battles,” where contestants dance “at” each other in front of sometimes stadium-sized audiences, provide a sizzling enactment & transcendence of aggression. The moments that cut back & forth between LA dance battles & almost mirror-image footage of West African dancing are riveting. If you don’t think these South Central kids are channeling something, check yourself for a pulse. Then there’s another mother’s story, the South African movie that debuted Monday evening on HBO & will air again – on PBS – January 4th. YESTERDAY stars Leleti Khumalo, the memorable South African actress from 1992’s SARAFINA!, as a woman named Yesterday. She & her small daughter Beauty live in a remote village while her husband works in the mines outside Johannesburg. On a rare trip home, he infected her with HIV. The film covers a year’s time, from her persistent cough to Beauty’s first day of school. Although the film addresses Yesterday’s marriage & her husband’s death, it really concerns how women get on with one another when the men are gone. Some are gentle & brave, some fearful, some superstitious & petty. There is one lovely, resonant image of Yesterday & her only friend, the teacher, meeting one another on the road each takes through life. The story-telling is spare. A great deal is told by the land’s vast expanses, the ever-present barbed-wire fences, & the quiet, nuanced acting of the principles. If you’ve opened the paper or turned on the news today, you’ve heard again the statistics. South Africa has figured prominently in this year’s HIV/IADS observances. More than a million there have died, five million may be HIV positive & women are now about three times more likely to be infected than men. But this one simple story, manages – as Wendi Alexis Modeste used to tell us here in Syracuse – to put a face on the epidemic. There are many fronts, one struggle. (624)