Finding Fela is a (long) cautionary tale: be original, be defiant, build knowledge, but don’t be an egomaniac. There were a few too many gratuitous booty/crotch shots in the film, and I found myself saying over and over in my mind, “Lord, don’t ever let me be a prop in someone else’s play.” Someone really needs to make a movie about Fela’s wives. His daughter by his first wife, Yeni, provided some insight into her father’s chaotic household/lifestyle, and his African American lover, Sandra Izsadore, got to share her point of view. But the only funeral they covered was Fela’s; he died of AIDS and refused to practice safe sex, so what did that mean for the dozens of women fighting each other to have sex with him each night? The footage in the film shows his wives endlessly applying makeup, smoking joints, styling their hair, and sitting silently behind Fela during interviews when they aren’t gyrating on stage. Much of the film focuses on Bill T. Jones’ experience bringing the musical Fela to Broadway, and it helped that he expressed his discomfort around Fela’s treatment of women. He also insisted on Fela’s “madness,” which I found interesting because those who were close to Fela only wanted to focus on his greatness. He was a genius but does that make his destructive behavior inevitable?
I left the theater trying to think of an ending for “The Last Bunny in Brooklyn.” It’s an allegory about race and dislocation. Every time another Black person is killed and it makes the news I think to myself, “It won’t be long now.” But as my wise pigeon explains in the story, “Extinction is a lengthy process.” When angry outbursts occurred following the murder of Mike Brown, I thought of the well-known passage anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells once wrote in her diary:
I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things for my people generally. I have firmly believed that the law was on our side and would, when we appealed to it, give us justice. I feel shorn of that belief and utterly discouraged, and just now, if it were possible, would gather my race in my arms and fly away with them.
In the 19th century, Ida advocated for migration—if they’re lynching your people in the South, go west. But today, in the 21st century, where should Black people go to avoid “gradual extermination?” If it were possible for me to “gather my race in my arms,” there are a few fools I might leave behind. I’m listening to R&B on Pandora as I write and half the time I have to click on the album cover to see whether the person singing is Black. Whites have learned to sing like Blacks, white writers win acclaim for writing about experiences not their own. Chloe, the last bunny in Brooklyn, asks the wise pigeon, “What’s an artifact?” And he explains, “an artifact is something or someone that is no longer of use to anyone.” Allegories are meant to be subtle and subtlety isn’t a strength of mine…but I’ll see if I can find a way to wrap this story up. Maybe another trip to the garden is in order.