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NAJEE’S NOTES: Black filmmakers keep turning out quality product

The film projects of African-American directors are the talk of black America.

Compton’s Ava DuVernay, director of the movies “Selma” and “13th,” has made a docudrama in four parts —- about the Central Park Five.

“When They See Us” premiered on Netflix last week and continues to be one of the hottest topics across black America. “When They See Us” chronicles the arrest and wrongful conviction of five black and Latino Harlem juveniles for the 1989 rape and beating of a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park.

Growing up in South Los Angeles at the time of the arrests and trial of the Central Park Five, I remember quite vividly watching news reports of the trial. I felt tremendous empathy for the victim, but I also felt tremendous empathy for the juveniles on trial who all pleaded not guilty and never wavered from their innocence and wrongful conviction.

I have always believed that black defendants don’t get fair justice in a criminal justice system that has shown historical racial bias against minorities.

DuVernay’s work as a writer and director has been brilliant, and she doesn’t disappoint us with her latest project, which is one the most emotional and compelling dramas I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. She brings humanity in her storytelling to all the victims in this tragedy.

When the Hollywood awards season begins later in the year, expect DuVernay’s name to be called quite often with another masterpiece she created.

On a personal note, DuVernay has been a longtime friend of mine who is responsible for me having the courage to begin writing. She called me more than a decade ago and asked me to contribute to a blog she had created.

I said no, her telling I’m an activist, not a writer. Five minutes later, she talked me into it and I’ve been writing a blog ever since.

Reggie Hudlin, an award-winning screenwriter, director, producer and Academy Award nominee, is also a good friend of mine. When I use the term friend that means we have each other’s cell phone numbers. Hudlin has hit a home run again with his latest work, “The Black Godfather.” This upcoming Netflix documentary chronicles the life of music industry executive Clarence Avant, who has been an iconic figure in black America for decades. 

The documentary will air on Netflix and in select theaters on June 7, but already it has had rave reviews. The documentary was produced by Avant’s daughter, Nicole Avant, and directed by Hudlin.

It includes interviews and comments from industry icons that include Bill Withers, Lionel Ritchie, Snoop Dogg, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who states “There’s the power that needs the spotlight, but there’s also the power behind the scenes,” in the trailer for “Black Godfather.”

Avant, who throughout his career fought successfully against racism in the music industry, has worked as a label executive, music publisher, radio broadcaster and civil rights activist.

Congratulations to both my friends DuVernay and Hudlin on their work and involvement in bringing these important respective stories to Netflix for the entire world to see. Black America is talking and watching your projects and appreciates you and everyone involved in them.

And finally, the California Democratic Party elected Rusty Hicks as the new state president last weekend in San Francisco. Civic leader Dallas Fowler, whose name is being circulated throughout South L.A.  as a possible candidate to replace termed-out L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson in the 10th Council District next year, wrote a very compelling post on Facebook which she gave me permission to share.

“I just completed my last convention this past weekend as a delegate to the California Democratic Party. I have been a delegate for over 10 years. I used to be a member of many caucuses, but I slowly pulled back membership over the years from the caucuses that I was either not acknowledged in or saw no African Americans in leadership. 

“In the last five years I have supported a black woman to be elected to executive offices of the CDP and it never panned out. How could this be that in 2013, 2017 [and] 2019 the most diverse state party would not elect a black woman to be an executive officer? How is it that in 2019 not one black woman chairs a caucus?

“The truth is, I have watched young white males, some of whom I helped and trained come into the party and hold leadership positions in caucuses or become DNC members or even party chair overnight. In 10 years, I have never been appointed to a committee. With the exception of the Women’s Caucus and the African American Caucus, I am otherwise invisible in the CDP but my vote at the ballot is not. So that’s what I am going to focus on; getting even more black women on the ballot and encouraging the next generation to run and serve.

“For me, personally, I can no longer waste my time, money, and talent on the California Democratic Party. Congrats to Rusty Hicks the newly elected chair of the CDP. We are about the same age, yet have two completely different experiences in this party. I hope he will do the work to end the racism, sexism, and bully culture in the CDP.

I look forward to seeing him promote the next generation of young African-American women in the party. I’m still a proud Democrat as my values have not changed, but I must move on and give others an opportunity to keep chipping away at the seemingly concrete ceilings to executive leadership of the CDP. Fowler out!”

Well said, Dallas. Keep speaking truth to power.

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