May 2019 Theme : All these people we see without really seeing them (A tribute to John Singleton)

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A few days ago, on April 29, 2019, John Daniel Singleton, one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation, died after suffering a stroke. He was barely 51 years old.

His body of work is not gigantic in number, but it is monumental in its content. None of his films will leave you indifferent, on the contrary. Almost all of them will bring to the surface so many feelings and emotions we didn’t know were buried deep inside of us. The dominant word that come to my mind is pride, pride in our heritage. He also craftily reminded us that life is made of choices, however big the problem is or however unjust the barriers and separations imposed on us.

He is one of those filmmakers who brought the causes of black people to the forefront. He knew how to find stories that would provoke a passionate discussion about ghettos, institutionalized racism, stigmatization. He would daringly and unapologetically portray the violent reactions to these social ills, and we loved him for that. He also covered lesser polarising topics, from the ordinary to the mainstream.

I can say that I am one of the people his artwork helped awakening to their own consciousness. Boyz n the Hood, this instant classic released in 1991 will come to everybody’s mind, story of a single mother trying to protect her teenage son from the dangers of the ghetto. And Rosewood, released in 1997, a sober setting for the heaviest of topics: the America of 1923, which many would like to be forgotten, a time where innocents were lynched just because they were black. And Shaft, and Higher Learning!

This recollection reminds me that I must give myself a time to view these masterpieces again as inpay tribute to this genius who disappeared too soon.

He was an awakener of the sleeping masses if one can say, an activist, an educator, a poet but also and especially a professional of the most dedicated kind.

Undoubtedly, his films left an indelible mark in our lives. Yet I must admit, as I too often do, that it is only now that I am seeking to ‘see’ the person behind this Legacy we’re inheriting today.

It is ironic that when I learned of his passing, it is only images of his cinematography that instantly flashed in my head. No image of his life came to me, except of the few photos we have always showing him at public events, posing with a sly smile. It is only after his departure that I started looking for details of his journey, what inspired him, what his life was like, as if though I am trying to prolong it, to keep him a little bit longer among us.

It will sound obvious, but I will say it all the same: let's do more to get to know people better in their lifetime, to appreciate them in all their humanity, as complete human beings, while we still have them in our lives.

In this month of May, we will try to take more time to know the human beings behind the bodies of works, behind the inventions, behind all these material and intangible things that help make our lives easier and sometimes even help us become more aware of our own potential.

This extends to our daily lives: let’s try to pay more attention to all those people who made things easier for us at a given point of our life journey.

Let's go back in time if we need to, and discover anew our former teachers, the doctors and nurses who treated us or cared for a loved one, colleagues and employers or employees, strangers turned friends who welcomed us into our new lives, new countries , new neighbourhoods, new buildings, even the grocer and the local baker.

And if they are no longer of this world, let us learn to appreciate the ones they left behind as they carry in them a little of the compassion that their parents once expressed to us.

Regarding the artists who helped us learn so much about ourselves just by watching their movies, listening to their songs, or reading their prose and poems, lets vow to complete their unfinished work by expressing all the potential they helped us realise we had.

We are resuming the posting of portraits starting next Friday. This month, we’ve chosen four known and less known personalities who, by their creations or their work, have also broken-down barriers in their respective fields. They are not filmmakers or musicians, but they’ve also awaken consciences in their own way or simply did us a favour by changing preconceived ideas the world has about us.

We are together. Turi kumwe


Um’Khonde Patrick Habamenshi