School of Communications, Department of Radio, Television and Film, Howard University

As can be understood from the conversation between Shirikiana Aina Gerima and Haile Gerima, Skip Norman must have come to Howard University in Washington, DC after his return from Germany, at a time when Gerima had already started teaching in the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Howard’s School of Communications in 1976. Howard University is considered one of the preeminent Black academic institutions in the United States, “the capstone of Negro education” since its foundation in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, in 1867. It is named after its founder, the white general Oliver Otis Howard, also the Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau at the time. Through the work of Africanist scholar and collector Alain Locke, which attracted the likes of Zora Neale Hurston, who studied at Howard between 1918 and 1924, the university gained a reputation as one of the centers of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and ’30s. Subsequently, the campus became a hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement and student activism from the early 1940s and into the ‘60s.

In 1971, the School of Communications was opened. Comprising various broadcast facilities—a United Press International (UPI) teletype service, a Speech and Hearing Clinic, an electronic writing laboratory, a student-operated radio station (WHBC), and the first Black-owned and operated television station (WHMM-TV 32)—it was composed of the departments of Communication Arts and Sciences, Journalism, and, finally, Radio, Television and Film—the place where Gerima and other Black filmmakers such as Alonzo Crawford and Abiyi Ford taught. In Howard’s yearbook The Bison: 1979, Gerima is quoted as saying, “We must not be spectators of our own struggle nor must we be the victims or casualty of history, but we must assert in making and writing our own history; for a history paternalistically given, donated or made by others, does not guarantee or insure our true human existence.”

In 1978, while Skip Norman was one of the two cinematographers (together with Norma Jean Bialock) working on Gerima’s 128-minute-long, but hardly known documentary Wilmington 10U.S.A. 10,000—on the case of nine Black men and one white woman convicted of firebombing a grocery store in Wilmington, North Carolina—he also began teaching at Howard. Although traces of his teaching activity, while fondly remembered by the Gerimas are scarce, if not missing altogether, in all likelihood Norman held mostly practical classes at undergraduate level at the department.

Around 1978, another Ethiopian filmmaker, Abiyi Ford (who died in 2018), started to teach at the department, alongside Alonzo Crawford, author of the critically acclaimed 1978 short documentary CrowdedBaltimore Prison Cell, who had begun lecturing at Howard a little earlier. An extensive profile about the department’s film program, published in Howard’s journal New Directions in 1983, speaks of a “small, struggling, innovative and potentially revolutionizing movement of Black filmmakers who deliberately have turned their backs on that sultry, flashy, dollar-bedecked siren—Hollywood—to inscribe on celluloid their own personal visions. Not surprisingly, many of these most forceful visions have to do with the liberation of Black people from oppression, whatever its particular form. As [Alonzo] Crawford has written, ‘It becomes obvious after analyzing the content of most films on the Black experience by Black filmmakers that they are all, in one way or another, films of resistance. Consciously or unconsciously, overtly or covertly, they have elements or images that resist forces in society that oppress Black people.’”

In the same article, Ford is quoted as saying, “Western cinema has successfully introduced the Western man in the manner he thinks of himself, maintained his culture in the manner that he thinks it should be maintained, amplified it in the manner that he wants it amplified and set the conditions of behavior, if you will, for imitation on the part of non-Western peoples to behave in a manner that satisfies Western man more so than anyone else. Film is enormously influential. It is one of the heavy artillery weapons in the battle for control of the human mind. That is why it is imperative that we use it and make it synchronic with our culture and needs.”

And since seventeen-year-old Arthur Jafa Fielder enrolled at Howard in 1978, soon proving to be the most talented and unruly student in the department, it may well be that he attended one or several of the classes or workshops that Skip Norman offered during these years. In another 1983 article on the department, “AJ” is described as having made “experimental films and videotapes, […] designed his own movie camera, which he’s trying to market, and considers film a ‘voodoo kind of thing’ to be used to combat negative images of Black people.” Jafa is further quoted with the following evidence of his pedagogical ambition: “I’m into this thing about tradition, passing certain things down, influencing people.” Enter Skip Norman?

From Howard University, The Bison: 1983 (1983), Howard University Yearbooks, 153. https://dh.howard.edu/bison_yearbooks/153

References

Walter Dyson, Howard University—The Capstone of Negro Education. A History 1867–1940, Washington, 1941.

Harriet Jackson Scaraupa, “Filmmakers at Howard,” New Directions, vol. 10, nos. 3/4: 10th Year Anniversary Special Double Issue (1983), n. p.

November 11th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / Contexts
Interface

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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