Sunday, December 14, 2014

Marcus Jones, Father of Jena Six Student, Killed in Truck Accident

Marcus Jones, father of Mychal Bell, one of the defendants in the Jena Six case, was killed yesterday in a highway accident, according to local news reports.

In 2007, six high school students became an international cause. Tens of thousands of people from around the US descended on Jena, a small town in northern Louisiana, to protest against racial injustice.

Six Black youth facing decades in prison over a school fight involving a white youth who had no serious injuries symbolized an unjust system in some of the same ways that today Ferguson Missouri has come to represent police abuses. The fight occurred not long after white students had left nooses under a tree in what was seen as a warning to Black students. Mychal Bell was the first (and, ultimately, only) of the six youth to face trial, he was convicted and spent nearly ten months in prison before his sentence was overturned.

Marcus Jones was a dedicated, passionate, and outspoken advocate and activist for his son and the other young men, appearing frequently on radio and TV and speaking frankly about racial dimensions of the case, calling the charges a "modern day lynching."

According to a report today in the Jena Town Talk:
A Jena man helping a friend move some wooden pallets died Saturday afternoon on La. Highway 8, according to Louisiana State Police. Marcus W. Jones, 43, died in the incident, although troopers aren't sure exactly how yet. Around 5:41 p.m., troopers responded to a crash on La. 8 after a 2007 Chevrolet pickup truck, driven by 22-year-old Brittany N. Walker of Jena, struck Jones, who was lying in the eastbound lane. Walker tried to avoid hitting Jones, who was wearing a black jacket and black pants, reads the release. A friend of Jones' arrived at the scene, telling troopers that Jones had been helping him move wooden pallets. Jones had been standing in the bed of the friend's pickup truck, holding down the pallets, according to the release. The friend said that, when he arrived at his destination, Jones no longer was in the truck. The friend had been retracing his path, searching for Jones, when he came upon the scene.

In the years since the case, the six young men who had been facing life in prison went on to various colleges, including Grambling State, University of Louisiana at Monroe, Southern University, and Hofstra. One of the youth went on to work for Southern Poverty Law Center. Mychal Bell just graduated from Southern University, days before his father's death.

Photos by Jordan Flaherty.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gulf Coast Communities Join People's Climate March

From our friends at Advocates For Environmental Human Rights:

Groups to Urge a Southern Initiative on Climate Change at People’s Climate March and Summit

From Texas to Maryland, a delegation of students and professors of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), environmental and social justice advocates, leaders of faith-based organizations, and survivors of Hurricane Katrina will join the People’s Climate March and Summit in New York, which precedes the United Nations Climate Summit.

“The painful experiences of Hurricane Katrina compel us to change our thinking that a climate treaty will save the day,” said Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University. She was displaced for two years from her home and predominantly Africa American neighborhood in New Orleans, which were under eight feet of water during Katrina. “We need a southern initiative on climate change that supports the people who are most vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and tornadoes and most likely to suffer from racial, social, and economic inequities which set back our ability to be climate resilient,” she said.

Although some of the loudest voices denying climate change in the US Congress and Senate come from southern states, the delegation points to the critical role that the South has in climate change. Much of the fossil fuel energy produced in the United States come at the expense of communities in the South, where there is significant air and water pollution and coastal erosion. In both scale and magnitude, climate-related disasters in the South outnumber those in other regions of the country. In addition, the largest number of people who are less likely to rebound from a climate-related disaster as a result of social and economic disadvantages live in the South.

“A southern initiative is critical to the United States making and keeping a commitment on climate change,” said Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Policy at Texas Southern University in Houston. “The work of people, organizations, and institutions represented in this delegation is about climate action as part of the long fight for human rights and civil rights to bring about racial, gender, environmental, economic, and social justice in this country,” he said.

Members of the delegation have organized teach-ins at Empire State College on Saturday, September 20. The first teach-in focuses on how HBCUs can support communities in being climate resilient and effective advocates for transforming environmental and economic policies. This teach-in is followed by a workshop on the actions being taken by organizations in the south to sustain communities and ecosystems.  The delegation will be near the front of the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21, where organizers have reserved space for marchers who hail from communities on the frontlines of climate change.

“The People’s Climate March and Summit are about our human rights and how we want to live free from the control that the oil, gas, and coal industries currently have over our laws and economy,” said Monique Harden, who co-directs Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans. “This is a critical time as our coastal cities in the South are projected to be under water if we don’t take control,” she said.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Protest Against Police Violence Takes Over French Quarter Police Station

On Thursday, August 14, New Orleans activists held a moment of silence in solidarity with protests in Ferguson, Missouri, at 6:00pm in Lafayette Square. After the silent vigil, hundreds of attendees initiated a spontaneous protest march.

The march grew as it went, as people spontaneously joined and at least 400 people protested in the French Quarter, pausing across from Jackson Square, where speakers included a cousin of Mike Brown, the young man killed by police in Ferguson.

The march then traveled to the NOPD 8th District station, where at least 200 activists occupied the police station and spoke against law enforcement violence.

While news of the takeover of a police station spread across the US on social media, the local media for the most part failed to cover the protests, just as they had ignored the 600 people marching for justice in Palestine two weeks before. This media silence is part of a long history of New Orleans white media companies ignoring struggles led by people of color.

Photos by Abdul Aziz. Videos by Foster Bear Films, So-Called Media, and Jordan Flaherty.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hundreds in New Orleans Protest Against Israeli War Crimes

At least 600 New Orleanians joined in a protest in support of justice for Palestine. The event, called #AStreetcarNamedGaza, began at the New Orleans streetcar stop at the Carrolton and Canal Street. As nearly five streetcars were filled with activists, organizers made connections between the civil rights history of New Orleans, which involved desegregating the streetcars, and the current fight for human rights in Palestine.

As protestors got off the streetcars at Canal Street and Decatur, they were joined by hundreds more protestors and marched through the French Quarter, ending at Frenchmen Street. The Palestinian community in New Orleans has a long history of standing up for justice.

A Street Car Named Gaza from Alaa Esmail on Vimeo.

Photo by Mohan Ambikaipaker. Video by Alaa Esmail.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Louisiana State Representative Austin Badon Announces He Wants to Engage in Sex Trafficking

Louisiana state representative Austin Badon (a Democrat representing New Orleans East) is the sponsor of House Bill 1158, which he says was written at the direction of local law enforcement, to further penalize solicitation, whether it is panhandling, prostitution, or hitchhiking. According to an article on, Badon said that police "needed something to be able to stop (prostitutes), question them and find out what they're doing."

The proposed law has already received national attention for the mean-spirited way it targets the poorest people in our communities. The website ThinkProgress noted:
The bill’s author, State Rep. Austin Badon (D), told Post TV that he hoped that banning begging will somehow lead to fewer poor people on the streets. He doubted that many were in actual need, saying, “they’re paying their cell phone bills, they’re paying their computer bills. It’s a racket.” Badon is echoing a familiar trope — that panhandlers are living large from others’ charity. But it’s not based on any actual research. In fact, a major study of panhandlers in San Francisco last year found just the opposite: the vast majority make $25 a day ($9,125 per year) or less. That meager income is largely used to eat. Nearly every beggar — 94 percent — said they used the money they receive for food; less than half used it for drugs or alcohol.
But giving police new tools to harass the poor and desperate is just one aspect of the bill. According to, Badon also bragged that his bill would allow for sex workers to be "hassled by the cops," forcing them to move to another place or another state.

This statement by Badon that he seeks to force women to cross state lines should cause concern for many reasons. One definition of trafficking is forcing someone to cross state lines to engage in prostitution. From his statement, it seems this is Badon's intention - and that he intends to use the force of the state of Louisiana to back up his scheme.

This is not the first time police have been used to force sex workers to cross state lines. In a famous case in Washington, D.C. in 1989, police rounded up sex workers and forced them to march to the Virginia state line, until a couple of Washington Post reporters spotted them, at which point the police ran off.

A 2008 report called Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C. highlighted the way in which policies like "prostitution free zones" end up harming those already at the margins, and "pose serious threats to health and safety of community members identified or otherwise targeted as sex workers." Louisiana has already become notorious for targeting and harassing sex workers by making them register as sex offenders (a practice that finally ended last year), conducting mass arrests, and increasing criminal penalties.

It seems Rep. Badon has declared this to be "attack and dehumanize women week." He also has been pushing a bill, HB 1274 that, according to one recent article:
Would allow the state to prohibit a family from ending medical treatment for a comatose or incapacitated pregnant woman. Badon's bill would bar the removal of a pregnant woman from life support if the obstetrician examining her “determines that the pregnant woman's life can reasonably be maintained in such a way as to permit the continuing development and live birth of the unborn child.” If it becomes law, this bill would mandate that a brain-dead pregnant woman remain on life support for the rest of her pregnancy, regardless of her family’s wishes or how far along the pregnancy is. This could mean up to 40 weeks of a loved one remaining on life support.
We hope Badon and the Louisiana legislature will reconsider their plan to make life worse for those already living on the edge.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Protests This Week Show Dissent on New Orleans Criminal Justice System

Two upcoming protest marches have revealed divisions among New Orleanians in their views of police and the criminal justice system. Organizers of an LGBT March and Rally Against Hate and Violence, scheduled for this Wednesday at 8:00pm, and Slutwalk New Orleans, scheduled for this Saturday at 10:30am, have both advertised and embraced a police presence as part of their events, bringing criticism from other activists.

The facebook description of the LGBT March announces that the New Orleans police "will be there to escort us and protect us." The full description reads:
Please join us for a rally and a march to show the presence of the LGBT community in the French Quarter. As I am sure many of you know, there have been several recent anti-gay hate crimes in New Orleans and especially in the French Quarter and the Marigny. There have been many robberies as well. It is time that we start to show our connection to our community. We need people to see that we are united in our commitment to each other. We need them to know that if someone in our community has been victimized that we are there to support each other, either by getting people to report crimes that have been committed or by helping them to report the crimes if they feel that cannot do it on their own. During this march, the NOPD will be there to escort us and protect us. This is a great opportunity to get to know your local police. I encourage signage and your presence to show that we can be united and that it is the responsibility of us all to overcome these crimes in our neighborhood. So please join us on a walk through the French Quarter starting at the entrance to Armstrong Park at the corner of N. Rampart and St Ann.
In response, activists - including members of New Orleans Black & Pink, Critical Resistance, and other local organizations - have organized a rally with a more critical view of the police. They have released a statement that notes the harm done by law enforcement.
Our home is the incarceration capital of the world. One in 86 adult Louisiana residents is in prison. Approximately 5,000 African-American men from New Orleans are in state prisons, compared to 400 white men. Our city jail, Orleans Parish Prison, is a site of rape and violence that a Human Rights Watch report called "a nightmare" for LGBTQ individuals. Incarceration has not made us safer as a community— and in fact does not deter crime. When our community members are locked away, it tears at the social fabric that holds our community together. Children grow up without parents at home, lovers long for their partners, and groups miss their members.  
These activists have organized an alternate march and rally, called the LGBTQ March and Rally For Safety In Solidarity, aimed at presenting a different path towards community safety.
Supporting each other in the face of violence does not have to take the form of reporting to police. Community safety comes from solidarity and liberation. It comes from ensuring that all people have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, employment, and education. We hope that through dialogue we can address concerns of all members of our community and arrive at empowering solutions together.
This division in the LGBTQ community is not new. Writing in the book Captive Genders, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee and Dean Spade discussed the participants in the Stonewall Rebellion, who rioted against police:
Could these groundbreaking and often unsung activists have imagined that only forty years later the "official" gay rights agenda would be largely pro-police, pro-prisons, and pro-war - exactly the forces they worked so hard to resist? Just a few decades later, the most visible and well-funded arms of the "LGBT movement" look much more like a corporate strategizing session than a grassroots social justice movement. There are countless examples of this dramatic shift in priorities. What emerged as a fight against racist, anti-poor, and anti-queer police violence now works hand in hand with local and federal law enforcement agencies, district attorneys are asked to speak at trans rallies, cops march in Gay Pride parades. The agendas of prosecutors - those who lock up our family, friends, and lovers - and many queer and trans organizations are becoming increasingly similar, with sentence- and police-enhancing legislation at the top of the priority list. Hate crimes legislation is tacked onto multi-billion dollar "defense" bills to support US military domination in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Despite the rhetoric of an"LGBT community," transgender and gender-non-conforming people are repeatedly abandoned and marginalized in the agendas and priorities of our "lead" organizations.
Saturday's "Slutwalk"is part of an international movement against rape culture. The movement began in Toronto, in response to statements from police officers that placed blame on women, and their their outfits or behavior, for being raped. Despite its goals and history, the movement has often been criticized for using language that excludes women of color. Shortly after the movement began, Canadian organizer Harsha Walia wrote this analysis:
Slutwalk runs the risk of facilitating the dominant discourse of ‘liberated’ women as only those women wearing mini-skirts and high heels in/on their way to professional jobs. In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist fa├žade of choice by creating an entire industry that commodifies women’s sexuality and links a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth to fashion and beauty. Slutwalk itself consistently refuses any connection to feminism and fixates solely around liberal questions of individual choice – the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics.
The history of Slutwalk as a mostly white movement that excludes women of color is also highlighted by the timing and location of this year's march and rally. The rally begins at Congo Square at 10:30am. At the same place and time, an annual event called the Celebration of the African American Child is scheduled for the park, while just a few blocks away and a half hour earlier is an immigrants' rights march, sponsored by the New Orleans Congress Of Day Laborers.

On March 27, the organizer of New Orleans Slutwalk announced that law enforcement would be part of the event.
I am so super, special, extra excited to announce that representatives from several departments of the ‪#‎NOPD‬, and quite possibly other law enforcement agencies, will be joining us prior to the walk to discuss crime prevention and victims assistance in New Orleans!!!! For those of you who know the history of the SlutWalk movement...this is HUGE! HUGE!!!!!
While no counter protest has been planned for Slutwalk, this announcement brought responses similar to those expressed by critics of the LGBT march and rally. One commentator wrote, "the presence of the NOPD is offensive, threatening and problematic... Feminist politics without a racial/class analysis is not in fact feminist." The NOPD has been criticized in the past year for statements that blame women for sexual assault, and NOPD officers have frequently been charged with committing sexual assaults.

In response to online criticism, the Slutwalk organizer wrote:
I don't need to be "schooled" on feminism or why some might be offended or disturbed by the presence of law enforcement. I am well aware of the distressing behavior and actions of many within the NOPD and other agencies in this city. What I DO know is that as SlutWalk started because law enforcement failed the community, establishing dialogue with the police in this city is a starting point. Do I expect their presence to magically do away with racism, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, or any other issues we have with law enforcement? No. But I do know that without dialogue, none of those issues will ever be addressed.
Solidifying the links between these marches, today the organizer of the Slutwalk march posted a facebook invitation to the LGBT March and Rally Against Hate and Violence.

The conflicts revealed in these demonstrations are not new, but in the context of gentrification and displacement, a culture of police violence and an out of control city jail, they come at a time in our city when these issues evoke particular pain and passion. Organizers of the LGBTQ March and Rally For Safety In Solidarity do not see themselves as protesting the other march, but rather "calling in," to build a safer community without the devastating effects of the prison industrial complex.

Statement From LGBTQ March and Rally For Safety In Solidarity

For more information on the reasons for this statement, see this link.

As members of the LGBTQ community in New Orleans, we support the safety and well-being of our community and of all New Orleanians. We believe that increased police presence and the continuing expansion of the prison-industrial complex is not the way to make our community safer.

The LGBT March and Rally Against Violence to be held Wednesday, April 2 calls for strategies that put our community members at more risk, not less. From Compton's Cafeteria riots and the  Stonewall Rebellion in the 1960s to the work of contemporary groups such as INCITE!: Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans People of Color* Against Violence, Critical Resistance, Women with a Vision, BreakOUT!, and Black & Pink, LGBTQ people have taken stands against police violence and harassment. Increasing police involvement in our community threatens the safety of many of us.  

We ask that the goals of your march be changed to call for real safety for all of us through solidarity, rather than false solutions of policing and jails. We are also calling for dialogue with the march organizers and the wider LGBTQ community.

Policing, surveillance, and imprisonment target specific groups of people: people of color, transgender, genderqueer and gender-nonconforming people, street youth, and sex workers. The state of Louisiana still has a "Crime Against Nature" law on the books, and this law is used against the LGBTQ community, including in Baton Rouge where police were found to be using this law to target gay men. In New Orleans, 82 people have been charged with "Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature" in the last two years, resulting in a felony conviction with required sex offender registration. This law, which unjustly criminalized in large numbers low-income Black women and transgender women of color, was challenged by Women With a Vision and the Center for Constitutional Rights, who won a victory in 2012 that removed approximately 700 individuals from the sex-offender registry.

A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that in our schools, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be suspended, arrested and imprisoned. The report published by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Locked Up & Out: LGBTQ Youth and Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice System, shares the stories of what happened to many of these young people in Louisiana.

A 2012 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender individuals experience three times as much police violence as non-transgender individuals, and those numbers are even higher for transgender people of color. In New Orleans, organizations such as BreakOUT! and Women With A Vision have documented patterns of discrimination from the NOPD against the LGBTQ community, including rampant police profiling and threats of using condoms as evidence of prostitution, especially against transgender women of color.

Here in New Orleans, the US Department of Justice found that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ community and specifically addressed these issues in the Federal Consent Decree. This followed organizing by LGBTQ youth of BreakOUT! in their campaign, “We Deserve Better.” The campaign also resulted in the adoption of Policy 402 on the 44th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which prohibits the profiling of people on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. These victories only came after years of grassroots organizing by LGBTQ youth, and yet with continued police harassment, much more remains to be done. 

Our home is the incarceration capital of the world. One in 86 adult Louisiana residents is in prison. Approximately 5,000 African-American men from New Orleans are in state prisons, compared to 400 white men. Our city jail, Orleans Parish Prison, is a site of rape and violence that a Human Rights Watch report called "a nightmare" for LGBTQ individuals. Incarceration has not made us safer as a community— and in fact does not deter crime. When our community members are locked away, it tears at the social fabric that holds our community together. Children grow up without parents at home, lovers long for their partners, and groups miss their members.  

Policing and incarceration is also a tool of gentrification and displacement, adding to a hostile environment for working class African-American residents still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. We can look to the examples of the controversies in Chicago's Boys Town neighborhood and New York City's West Village. In Boys Town, perceived increase in violence led to white gay men calling for more police patrols, and in doing so the LGBTQ youth of color who hung out near the community center in the neighborhood were unfairly targeted by the increased police. That effort did not support the unity of the LGBTQ community. A similar situation evolved in the West Village in New York City, where residents, many of whom were white, affluent gay men, responding to incidents of violence, pushed for Quality of Life policies. FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth of color organization, has campaigned against these policies, stating: "To this day, LGBTQ youth who go to the pier have reported sharp increases in police harassment, false arrest and racial and gender profiling - usually for just being in the neighborhood...This emphasis on policing drew massive resources from other social services and education that have the potential to actually address poverty and safety. In fact, under Giuliani and continuing through the years of the Bloomberg administration, the only 'public service' that increased funding was 'criminal justice.'"

Here in New Orleans, we've already begun to see the impact of massive gentrification projects on low-income LGBTQ communities of color. The targeting of transgender women on Tulane Avenue by the NOPD continues to put some of our city's most vulnerable populations at even greater risk for violence and danger. For many LGBTQ communities of color, increased policing and increased use of surveillance equipment means increased risk of harm.

Supporting each other in the face of violence does not have to take the form of reporting to police. Community safety comes from solidarity and liberation. It comes from ensuring that all people have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, employment, and education. We hope that through dialogue we can address concerns of all members of our community and arrive at empowering solutions together.

Occupy NOLA

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition Blocks Jail Entrance - Calls For Urgent Action in Response to Jail Conditions

From a press release from the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition: 

Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) members and supporters gathered today at 10:00am at the intersection of Tulane & Broad, and marched to the Intake & Processing Center at 730 S. Dupre St. where they partially blocked the jail entrance and called for a moratorium on admissions to a facility where conditions continue to be inhuman, unconstitutional and life-threatening. 

OPPRC suggests that the City needs to find other alternatives rather than continuing to house people in an “unsafe and violent jail” and called for urgent steps to be taken in an open letter to Susan Guidry and other members of the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee released on March 13, 2014. In the letter, OPPRC asserts that “We cannot simply continue to expose individuals who are in custody or individuals who work at the jail to these extremely dangerous conditions.” Within ten days of the letter's release another individual died in custody following a fight between prisoners in the jail's temporary housing unit known as "the tents."

OPPRC claims that the consent decree has not resulted in significant improvement in the conditions in the jail, citing the first report of the federal monitoring team which found that inmates in OPP “continue to experience severe problems with shoddy medical care, violence and a general attitude of apathy toward their grievances.”

OPPRC also is renewing its call for Mayor Landrieu to declare the jail to be in a state of emergency, thus triggering the release of persons held for minor, non-violent crimes.  “Many of the people currently in OPP pose zero risk to public safety- as evidenced by the fact that they would simply be released under hurricane evacuation conditions. Instead, they are held in OPP, on taxpayer’s money, where they are in danger of being beaten, raped, stabbed, or possibly even killed in the jail,” said Yvette Thierry. “We cannot in good conscience hold people subject to this dehumanizing violence. The City is responsible for their safety. The Mayor has the responsibility to stop this bloodshed.”

There have been 25 in-custody deaths in OPP since 2009, and up to 73 inmates a month are sent to the emergency room.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Workers Protest Dangerous Conditions at Iberville Redevlopment

Today, dozens of people joined in support of workers at the construction site at the former Iberville public housing development. Two workers from the site spoke of unsafe conditions and low pay at the site. 

From The New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice:

Durr Construction has not cared enough about New Orleans to ensure that Choice Neighborhood Initiative workers have the proper equipment to decontaminate themselves from lead, asbestos, and mold before getting on public transit and returning to their families. Workers are not even paid a living wage.

Two brave Choice Neighborhood Initiative workers stood up to report serious heath and safety hazards to the community and to the City of New Orleans.  Upon delivering the details of their complaint to the community a delegation of community members marched to Aimee Quirk’s office to deliver a detailed complaint to Aimee Quirk, the Director of the Office of Economic Development for the City of New Orleans.  She accepted the letter in person but still has not responded to the explicit request to schedule a meeting with the worker complainants, Stand with Dignity, and Durr Heavy Construction to resolve health and safety violations and full and fair employment standards.  

Patrick and Junior are standing up to demand a better deal for New Orleans- they are putting their family’s livelihood on the line to make sure that New Orleans has better opportunities. They need your help to win a better deal for New Orleans, and a better deal for our community’s safety.

"I am a walking hazard - they don't even have a decontamination area to remove the asbestos, lead, and mold I encounter every day. My health and the health of my family is worth far more than $12.75 per hour." - Patrick Delaney, Choice Neighborhood asbestos abatement worker.

"It took me over a year to get this job but the only protection that they provide me is a paper dust mask - even though I encounter mold, lead and asbestos on a daily basis. And for all of these risks I am only paid $10 per hour - and so far only work 32 hours per week - $1,000 per month barely keeps the lights on." - Reginald Junior, Choice Neighborhood demolition worker.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Response From The Glambeaux

The letter below is a response to the commentary by Gianna Chachere, Glambeaux: Taking Cultural Appropriation Too Far, published yesterday on this blog.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the online community. Many of the Glambeaux forwarded me your article, and I feel very strongly that this issue is an opportunity for dialogue and I am glad to address it. I hear your statements and see your perspective. I know that it's impossible to divorce the historical implications from the physical act of just carrying a torch in a parade, and I am aware that there are people in the community who are hurt. I'd like to respond with two ideas, because it appears that there are two issues at stake: whether the tradition should still exist at all because of the nature of its origins, and whether or not any new group of people should be allowed to participate in the tradition. Some of these thoughts have already been expressed in an open letter on the Glambeaux Facebook page, but I’m expanding upon those ideas here.

To address the first issue, I do think that this is an opportunity to question what has evolved over time since the origin of the flambeaux and ask why the tradition still exists. I think that it's possible to reconcile the flambeaux's exploitative origins when we consider the fact that some of the veteran flambeaux carriers today are proud of what they do, have been doing it for years, and sometimes have had family members that have been in the parades for generations. Some of them have made a deliberate choice to view the torch bearing as an art and a skill of which they are proud, and I think they are entitled to own their own story. At times, an exploited group of people can take ownership of something by changing their perspective about it and thus changing the intent and meaning behind their actions. In the case of the flambeaux, this new ownership has been made possible because the context of the march and Mardi Gras has changed; the torches are no longer viewed as a menial labor and are now a form of entertainment, and Mardi Gras is now inclusive of everyone.

Since it is an undeniable fact that some of the traditional flambeaux regard their participation in the parades with pride, we want to pay respect to those men and their perspective. It is because of this respect that we have made some purposeful choices from the beginning to honor the traditional flambeaux. The Glambeaux are only marching in one all-female parade, and Muses is still retaining the traditional flambeaux in the parade as well. Muses has also chosen to place the traditional flambeaux ahead of us in the parade line-up because we understand that they came first and we want to honor that.

The women in my group have not taken on this job lightly. We have been training for this march for two months, because we do understand that it’s a responsibility as well as a privilege. We have been introduced as a group to four traditional flambeaux carriers who spent some time teaching us some of their signature moves and giving us safety tips. At the end of our meeting we applauded these men and they applauded us back. The spirit of the meeting was one of mutual admiration, respect, and collaboration. 

When I had the idea to form this group, I did a lot of research on the history of the flambeaux. I was prepared that this conversation about cultural appropriation and entitlement was going to happen and I am glad to participate in the dialogue. What I hoped people would see, though, is that the conversation I wanted to have first was about how a group of women taking on this task, regardless of their race, makes people uncomfortable. I wanted to open the conversation with a discussion about female empowerment as the lens through which to view the other elements of the issue.

We have encountered some very serious resistance from older New Orleanians about the idea that we, as women, are physically unable to carry the torches. We have also been told that we are going to be more of a danger than the men are. Maybe it will come as a surprise to some that we are encountering this kind of gender discrimination. I wonder if some New Orleanians' perspectives are going to be dramatically shifted when they look at this group of women flambeaux and for the first time are forced to confront the question of why our community still expects to see only African American men in the role when virtually every other aspect of Mardi Gras has been integrated. If the problem is that the role of the flambeaux reminds us of an uglier period in history, then shouldn't we want to revise the tradition to reflect the standards of society today? When an old white woman tells me I can't carry the torch, is she saying that because she's used to seeing a black man stooping over to pick a coin up off the ground? If that's the case, then I am more than happy to challenge that person's view of the world. I want a person like that to see me on the parade route and feel uncomfortable and realize that there is institutionalized racism still happening in our city. In this respect, I hope you will agree that what we're doing has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change and greater awareness, and that a statement about feminism can be used as a tool to shed light on other issues in a helpful way. 

Cultural appropriation is an emotional topic. I do understand where people are coming from, because I see what their fears are and fear is a powerful emotion. They fear that they will be forgotten or not given the credit that they are due. They fear that we are mocking their history or being disrespectful. They fear that we are new kids in town who don't understand New Orleans. On that note, I’d like to take the opportunity to broadcast a more accurate picture of who the women are in this group.

We are made up of social workers, dedicated social justice activists, professionals, artists, creators, healers, mothers, teachers, volunteers, and strong leaders in our chosen careers and our community. We all care deeply about this city and our place here. Some of the Glambeaux are native New Orleanians, and many of us, myself included, have lived here for many years and consider this to be our chosen home. We are friends with our neighbors, we dance at second lines, we open our homes during festivals, and we volunteer our time for causes that are dear to our hearts. We are not a group of hipsters taking something out of its cultural context, nor are we trying to be ironic. 

Mardi Gras traditions have evolved and changed a lot over time, the way that all things in life are wont to do. Our statement is about feminism, though I do realize that it cannot be divorced from the cultural, racial, and class issues that are wrapped up in the history of flambeaux as well. That's why there has been some pushback. Change is hard, but it can be less hurtful if there is a respectful dialogue. We know that we are coming from a place of love and female empowerment. Some members of the community may need some time to understand that. Some of them may never understand it. 

The flambeaux have existed for over 150 years and are part of the complex cultural legacy of New Orleans. I think the question that's really on the table is how can we, as a community, come to a consensus about going forward with a perspective that is just and inclusive for everyone? In an ideal world, where real healing can happen, we can acknowledge and respect the gravity of the past, mourn for the wrong that has been done, and then make some decisions about how to work on our issues together to determine how we want to feel in the future. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to remember that the spirit of Mardi Gras today is about celebration, joy, and togetherness in the community. There is room for everyone in the Mardi Gras tradition. Let's not forget that historically, Mardi Gras itself came to us from another culture, and our expressions of Carnival in New Orleans are different than the ways it's celebrated in other parts of the world. Mardi Gras, by design, is a living and breathing phenomenon that incorporates and absorbs new twists on old traditions every year.

Thank you again for your letter. I hope that even if you cannot agree with my position that at least you may be able to see that our group takes this issue very seriously and endeavors to treat it with the consideration it deserves.


Dani Johnson
Founder of the Glambeaux

Photo by Bart Everson, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Rest In Power, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, 1947 - 2014

Chokwe Lumumba, a leader of the Republic of New Afrika and recently elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, has died.

Mayor Lumumba was a lifetime civil rights activist, and active in post-Katrina struggles in New Orleans, through the People's Hurricane Relief Fund. As a human rights lawyer, he represented many high-profile clients, including both Assata Shakur and Tupac Shakur. Although only mayor for about a year, he had excited progressives around the world, as an unapologetic revolutionary elected to a capital city in the US south. Below is an Al Jazeera news profile of Mayor Lumumba from shortly after his election.

Chokwe Lumumba from Jazeera Clips on Vimeo.

Below are edited excerpts from Mayor Lumumba's campaign website:
Chokwe Lumumba, Esq. was born August 2, 1947 in Detroit, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lumumba later finished 1st in his Law School freshman class before graduating cum laude from Wayne State University Law School.  
Since 1968 Chokwe Lumumba crisscrossed the globe fighting for “Human Rights for Human Beings.” Lumumba is known for his work in support of the survivors of Katrina, by serving on the Board of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, by organizing other activists to form the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition, and by co-organizing the Gulf Coast Survivors Assembly.  
Mayor Lumumba’s work as a community activist has spanned over four decades. He worked with organizations such as Jackson Human Rights Coalition to help pressure the State to retry the person who murdered Medgar Evers. He worked for over 20 years organizing, directing, coaching, and mentoring youth through programs such as the Jackson Panthers Basketball Organization. Lumumba was also a co-founder and member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Mayor Lumumba was a nationally renowned attorney, who represented clients in over 16 jurisdictions, including Canada and the Choctaw Court. He worked in high profile cases such as the representation of the late Tupac Shakur. He helped win the release of the Scott Sisters in 2011 who had served 16 years of double life prison sentences for an $11.00 (eleven-dollar) robbery which they did not commit. He successfully represented Lance Parker who was falsely accused of assault during the 1992 LA uprising which followed the brutal beating of Rodney King. 
Chokwe Lumumba was a devoted husband and father. His wife Nubia A. Lumumba passed away in 2003. Chokwe leaves behind three children - Kambon Mutope, Rukia Kai and Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
We send our love to his family and to the people of Jackson.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Glambeaux: Taking Cultural Appropriation Too Far, by Gianna Chachere

Every day New Orleans is faced with crime, racist activity and the never-ending gentrification debate. But there is something about Glambeaux, the new all-female flambeaux troupe marching in Thursday’s Muses parade, that forces me to speak. I’ve had enough with the appropriation of my culture/home by those desperate to be seen, to be hip, and be ironic. 

The cultural appropriation of New Orleans has a very long pre- Katrina history but it has accelerated quickly in the last few years. After the storm, the acculturation by the “New” New Orleanians has zigzagged its way into every facet of New Orleans culture and identity. “Natives” and "Non-Natives” alike, desperate to revive the economy and speed recovery, have relied on the city’s unique cultural life to bring the city back from the brink of extinction. For example, Mayor Mitch Landrieu invited Mardi Gras Indians and the Rebirth Brass Band to perform at his inauguration. 

What’s clear and disturbing is that this cultural appropriation won't end anytime soon and that the damage caused seeps into every aspect of daily life. The city’s cultural landscape is saturated with new incarnations of rituals and events that have morphed into meaningless trends, giving them a significance that is completely different and less nuanced than its original intent. In particular, the traditions that originated and existed in the African-American community are suddenly receiving praise and attention - but not for its originators. 

This occurs at a time when the city continues to enforce restrictions on cultural activity in African American communities while neglecting to bring social and economic progress to all the city’s citizensNew Orleans has long been a patchwork of different cities, each new wave of immigration attached on top of the still visible last, incorporating the intricacies of local traditions and culture. Within these neighborhoods, there existed invisible boundaries and a general respect for the traditions/culture held within. New Orleans has always resisted a “curated” urban space representing a single-minded expression. That resistance has allowed the city to flourish and entice new comers with a unique cultural landscape. Far from suggesting that we resist new traditions and rituals, I ask those engaged in these new trends to consider the history behind these traditions/rituals and understand that using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy one’s own personal need for self-expression is a selfish exercise in privilege and entitlement. 

Have the Glambeaux krewe done any basic research on the history of the flambeaux? After a 30-second search on the Internet, I found the following: ”The original flambeau carriers were slaves of the wealthy that organized the parades. After the abolition of slavery, the carriers continued to be all African-Americans and it is only until very recently (and still very rarely) that other races participate in the tradition. For their work, carriers are paid a small fee by the parading krewe but the bulk of the money made from the evening comes in the form of coins or dollars thrown from the crowd. Twirling and general clowning are expected from the carriers, which brings more money raining down.”

Of course the Glambeaux have a right to do whatever they choose to do. Many argue that the Mardi Gras’ motto of “do what ya wanna” allows total artistic expression to exist and flourish but I feel that there should be recognition of what came before and an acknowledgement of those who created these traditions. And why would you want to glamorize something rooted so deeply in desperation and racism?

As a very young girl in the 1970’s, watching the flambeau made me feel uncomfortable. Neglecting to consider the history behind this tradition is insensitive and disrespectful. I don’t think we should uphold the flambeau tradition as something sacred. In fact, it should be abolished as a demeaning and sad part of American history. 

The recent proliferation of young white folks who wear skull and bones costumes or better known as “skeleton gangs” that roam the streets of New Orleans on Mardi Gras is another example. Wearing a skull and bones costume is an “experience” for a white person to enjoy for a short time and discard later without a consideration for the history behind the mask. There should be some element of mutual understanding, equality, and respect for it to be a true cultural exchange – otherwise it is just taking. The Glambeaux krewe doesn’t wear their gear in a vacuum and there are many social and historical implications to treating this tradition merely as costumes. African Americans created their own Mardi Gras traditions because they were in effect shut out of white Catholic and Protestant celebrations (with the exception of Flambeau carrying).

Costuming for Mardi Gras Indians and skeleton gangs historically derived from a deep desire to perform and contribute and has never been a profit making entity. In fact, the tradition has continued due to the economic sacrifice of those involved, which appears to be lost on those currently mimicking the tradition.

As a tenth-generation New Orleanian, I am also a “New” New Orleanian. I moved back to the city after 16 years, purchased a home and look forward to enjoying my community of family and friends. What angers me is that through conversation, I realize my family’s personal history, historical knowledge and childhood memories, are registered as irrelevant to those intent on ignoring and disrespecting the social and historical complexity of this city. At 2013 Super Sunday, I saw a young man walk backward while furiously taking photos of Mardi Gras Indians. His “documenting” blocked the Indians’ ability to walk forward and impeded others from enjoying the spectacle. When I mentioned to the young man that he was obstructing everyone there to enjoy the day, he said, “don’t be a hater” and “mind my own business.” Respect, understanding and general good manners ARE my business and should be the business of everyone in the community. I’m fed up that this behavior is acceptable and lauded but also I’m fed up that my feelings of pain over the current state of culture and community in New Orleans is ridiculed. There is a profound loss and for those who recognize it – we should not be made to feel negative or hyperbolic about preserving the city’s history and culture.

People get defensive when you call them on culture appropriation because it threatens their sense of entitlement. Recently I hosted musicians from Toulouse, France and administrators from a New York-based foundation that supports programming in New Orleans. Both groups asked me the same question, how can the appropriation of New Orleans culture be so rampant and why are people not furious about the level of disrespect and entitlement forced upon the community by this behavior. People say you had to be in Paris in the ’20s or New York in the ’80s or New Orleans pre-Katrina. The disappointing truth is that you no longer need to be anywhere in particular anymore - ignorance and tastelessness is everywhere and has been taken to a whole new level.

Photo credit: New Orleans Mardi Gras: Flambeaux carriers, Krewe of Orpheus night parade, photo by Derek Bridges, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Call To Support Hunger Striker Outside Miami Immigration Detention Center

Activists from American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Florida have alerted us to this story:

A young woman named Jenny Aguilar is on day five of a hunger strike outside the Krome Detention Center, an immigration facility near where the city of Miami meets the Everglades.  She has been on a water-only fast since January 25, and has pledged to not eat until her husband Jesus Barrera is freed. Jesus was arrested at their home on January 16 by the Miami police and turned over immigration, and has also been on hunger strike since shortly after his arrest.

Jenny has pledged that she will not move until Jesus is freed. She asks supporters to call the Krome Detention Center at 305 207 2001, and ask them to free Jesus Barrera.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hundreds of Musicians and Their Supporters Storm City Hall in Protest of Noise Ordinance

In one of the largest protests seen in New Orleans in the past decade, hundreds of musicians, club owners, and other supporters of live music protested outside, then inside, New Orleans City Hall today.

The protest was originally called because a noise ordinance was scheduled to be discussed in City Council meeting today. However, after the size of local dissent became clear, the discussion was postponed by Housing and Human Needs Committee co-chairs Stacy Head and Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who announced that "the current ordinance will be withdrawn," but their work to change the law will continue. Despite the cancellation of the hearing, the protest went on as scheduled. After more than an hour, including speeches and live music, the protest moved indoors. A line of dozens of musicians, led by Glen David Andrews, marched in to City Hall.

Inside City Council chambers, only one council member was present: LaToya Cantrell, who responded by encouraging protesters to line up and speak.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

20 to Life for a Phone Call?

This call to action comes from the Friends and Family of Manuel Brown

Manuel Brown is facing twenty years to life on a marijuana drug charge even though he never sold or bought any drugs. We need your help to prevent a miscarriage of justice! Call the Orleans Parish D.A's office and pack the Courtroom this Friday (details at the bottom).

Last April, Manuel Brown was caught in the web of an undercover operation by the New Orleans Police Department. Mr. Brown was targeted and approached by an undercover NOPD officer in the middle of the day for no apparent reason other than being a black male walking in his neighborhood.

Mr. Brown did not have any drugs on him and he did not sell any drugs to the officer. The NOPD only alleges that Mr. Brown made a single phone call when the undercover officer asked where she could purchase marijuana. Mr. Brown only agreed to call after engaging in a half hour conversation and being persuaded by the undercover officer. Mr. Brown was arrested shortly thereafter on charges of distribution of narcotics (even though he never touched any drugs or any money). Mr. Brown is currently in jail on a $100,000 bond at the St. Charles Parish Nelson Coleman Correctional Center.

Mr. Brown, who is a 38 year old father, now faces twenty years to life without the benefit of probation or parole because of Louisiana's unjust Habitual Offender Law. Mr. Brown is a recovering addict who is being punished for his past possession convictions even though he has already spent five years of his life behind bars as a result. Mr. Brown has never had a violent conviction and his last felony conviction is over ten years old.

At a time when marijuana is being decriminalized in other states, Mr. Brown is facing imprisonment for the rest of his life! The District Attorney refuses to take into account Mr. Brown's circumstances and is only offering fifteen years flat.

Mr. Brown's story is a clear example of an overreach of the justice system and a drug war that is out of control, all at the expense of people of color, poor communities and Louisiana tax payers.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! We are mobilizing people to pack the courtroom for Mr. Brown this Friday at his hearing. Furthermore, we are asking people to call the District's Attorney's office and tell them to reconsider their offer.

Pack The Courtroom
Friday, January 17th at 11:00 AM (Meet in front of the Courthouse at 10:45. Remember that cell phones are not allowed in the courthouse building, but a supporter has volunteered to be there and hold phones outside the courthouse).
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Section J
2700 Tulane Ave. New Orleans, LA 70119

Contact the District Attorney's Office
619 South White Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70119

Sample of what to say if you call:

Hello, I'm a New Orleans(Louisiana) resident. I am calling to ask that D.A. Leon A. Cannizzaro, reconsider the plea offer for Manuel Brown (Case #: 515-971). I am troubled by Mr. Brown's case. Mr. Brown did not sell or possess any drugs when he was arrested. The interests of residents and public safety are not served by incarcerating a person with no violent record for 15 years on a marijuana charge. The cost to tax-payers is also unacceptable. I urge the D.A. to reconsider Mr. Brown's situation in the interest of all Louisiana citizens. Thank

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Dawit at 917-740-3457 or Mr. Brown's attorney, Omavi at 504-827-8180.

We thank you in advance for your support!

- Friends and Family of Manuel Brown

Monday, December 30, 2013

Race, History, and Revolution in the Year's Best Films

(A version of this article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Newspaper)

We live in the era of Hollywood mega-budget sequels, where theaters are filled with stories based on comic books, children’s books, or a line of toys. Originality is rarely rewarded: this year, the top five grossing films, taking in about a billion dollar each in ticket sales, were all sequels. Even among award fare, there were major disappointments. Of these, the worst was The Wolf of Wall Street. Director Martin Scorsese delivered a film that was promoted as a critique of Wall Street excesses, but ended up celebrating and glamorizing some of the world's worst people, as star Leonardo DiCaprio seemed dedicated to making rape, misogyny, greed, and robbery seem charming and humorous. 

But a few filmmakers still dared to fight the trends. The most powerful films of the year were personal visions that explored themes of racism, imperialism, prisons, and revolution. Below are ten films (and a few more) released this year that you should see if you’re sick of watching the same stories again and again.

10. The We and the I – French director Michel Gondry creats fantastical worlds that feel handmade, from the near-future of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to the love song to the end of the VHS era Be Kind Rewind. But for The We and The I, Gondry goes for realism. Working with a diverse group of New York City high school students recruited from a community center in the Bronx, the filmmaker follows a day in the life of working class youth, filled with bullying, friendships, love, and most importantly a real portrait of lives rarely seen on screen.

9. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – In this beautiful experimental film that blends animation with fiction and documentary, director Terence Nance tells a love story between two young Black bohemian artists. Nance plays himself (or a version of himself) in the film, while the object of his affection plays herself. The two of them shape the story of a budding romance from their perspectives. Brought to theaters with the help of a-list celebrities including Jay-Z and dream hampton, the film shows that it’s still possible to tell a love story in a new way.

8. The Punk Singer – In telling the story of musician Kathleen Hanna, a founder of the Riot Grrrl movement and an important figure in 90s alternative music, director Sini Anderson captures a moment of feminist uprising and consciousness-raising. Told through archive footage, present-day interviews, and lots of music, the film captures the energy of a moment that changed popular culture.

7. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners – With stunning archival footage, filmmaker Shola Lynch brilliantly recreates the 1972 trial of Angela Davis and its context within the early Black power movement. Any audience, whether they lived through the era or were born decades later, will be gripped by this thrilling documentary. Lynch, who also directed the 2005 film Chisholm ‘72: Unbought & Unbossed, finds rare footage and photos of key moments from Angela Davis’ early lectures to Jonathan Jackson’s ill-fated attempt to free his brother George Jackson.

6. Dirty Wars – Every American should know the stories of civilians killed in our name. Filmmakers Rick Rowley, David Riker and Jeremy Scahill take audiences into the US’ hidden wars, from drone attacks to special forces operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. Combining investigative reporting with thrilling filmmaking, this may be the most politically important film of the year.

5. 12 Years a Slave – British/West Indian filmmaker Steve McQueen made history with the powerful story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man kidnapped from the north and sold into slavery in Louisiana in 1841. McQueen never shies away from showing the torture and cruelty of American slavery, and has created a modern classic that makes clear the legacy of white supremacy in this nation. Appearing in nearly every minute of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor is riveting.

4. Her – Director Spike Jonze is the most original filmmaker in the US. Through his films, he creates worlds that are at once totally different from our world, and also deeply connected. With Her, the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation brings us a world that seems five minutes in our future, and also deeply connected to fundamental human truths about love, jealousy, desire, polyamory, and trust.

3. Upstream Color – Multi-talented (and perhaps obsessive) filmmaker Shane Carruth wrote, directed, produced, cast the actors, filmed, acted, edited, composed the music, and distributed this film. While having a crew to collaborate with might help other filmmakers, Carruth seems to thrive on control. In his second film (after Primer, a 2004 low-budget science fiction mindbender), he creates a beautiful mystery about memory, love, madness, addiction and loss that demands to be seen multiple times to unravel its secrets.

2. Something in the Air  - 1968 was a time of global revolutionary uprising, and Olivier Assayas beautiful film captures the moment in the lives of a group of anarchic French youth living at the barricades, fighting authority while also deciding what direction their lives will take. Assayas, who also directed 2010’s Carlos, a recreation of the life of controversial armed fighter Carlos the Jackal, (a revolutionary-to-some and terrorist-to-others), has created a film that feels as fresh and alive as the protests still gripping the world, from Tunisia to Brazil.

1. Fruitvale Station –Henry Glover, James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Adolph Grimes III, Raymond Robair, Kim Groves, Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen…The names of the young Black men and women killed by police goes on and on. But Hollywood and our media rarely explore these lives cut short by violence. By telling the story of Oscar Grant, a young man killed by transit officers on New Year’s Day 2009, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler and rising star Michael B. Jordan give weight to a life that was brutally cut short.

Even in this new era of digital distribution, from Netflix to Amazon, it's still hard for truly independent voices to be heard. Two of the best films I saw this year haven’t yet gotten US distribution. When I Saw You is a brilliant film by director Annemarie Jacir about a young boy displaced along with his mother from Palestine in 1967. Capturing both the pain of refugees and the steadfastness of liberation fighters, the film is a stunning accomplishment and needs to be seen widely. It's the best film I saw in 2013. I'm hoping it will gain distribution in 2014, so I can add it to my official top ten list next year. 

Bayou Maharajah is filmmaker Lily Keber’s loving and thorough documentary about the man who has been called “the best Black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” The film is a gift for those that love New Orleans music, and a revelation for those less familiar. A brilliant film that I hope will be seen in theaters across the US in the coming year.

Some other great films that nearly made the list: David Riker (co-writer of Dirty Wars) also released The Girl, a film about the relationship that develops between a white girl in her 20s from south Texas and a young Mexican girl who’s mother died while attempting to cross the border. Stephen Vittoria’s film Long Distance Revolutionary, about imprisoned freedom fighter Mumia Abu-Jamal, explores the context of Abu-Jamal’s life through an all-star cast of interviews that includes Ruby Dee, Dick Gregory, Giancarlo Esposito, Cornel West, Alice Walker, Pam Africa, and many others. Blackfish is a moving expose of animal cruelty at Sea World amusement parks. Act of Killing is a devastating documentary about Indonesian torturers and killers who remain free from consequences for their actions. Side Effects is a smart and original conspiracy-thriller from director Steven Soderbergh. Gimme the Loot is a disarmingly sweet tale of two youths and a dream involving the best graffiti tag a New York kid could imagine. Park Chan-wook's film Oldboy was faithfully remade by Spike Lee this year, but the Korean director also made his English language debut with the disturbing Stoker, a dark thriller about murder and sex. Park's new film is better than Lee's remake. Fans of Danai Gurira (who plays Michonne in the show The Walking Dead) saw a more vulnerable side to the actor in her starring role in Andrew Dosunmu's Mother of George, a heartbreaking and visually powerful drama about Nigerian immigrants living in Brooklyn. Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity melds great storytelling with the latest in filmmaking technology.

There were too many excellent performances to mention here - many already mentioned above, such as Chiwetel Ejiofor's powerful lead performance. Among the big Hollywood award winners, American Hustle featured some of the best acting and design of the year, as it vividly recreated its late 70s/early 80s era in director David O. Russel's based-on-truth story of small time hustlers becoming entangled in a involving with the FBI, the mafia and several high-ranking politicians. Christian Bale (who costarred with Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper) once again proved he is one of the most versatile actors alive, bringing the scent of desperation and sleaze to his character. Bale also starred in Scott Cooper's Out of The Furnace, an under-recognized film about white working class despair in the Rust Belt. The film also features Casey Affleck, whose burning hopelessness gives the film its power. Affleck also brought this despair and sadness to another of the year's best performances, as a Clyde Barrow-type trying to reunite with a woman he loves in David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Director Denis Villeneuve, whose 2010 film Incendies was among my favorite films of the decade, brought to life a drama about violence and obsession n the film Prisoners. Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal gave some of their best work in this brutal film.

Not enough international films see distribution in the US, but among those that did were several classics. Cristian Mungiu's Beyond The Hills is an immersive drama of two young women caught between desire and the lives forced on them by class, social pressure, and religion. Cannes award winner Blue Is the Warmest Color also explores a relationship between two young women, but in a graphic, intimate and intense form that divided critics and audiences. Angels’ Share is a working class Scottish comedy from socialist filmmaker Ken Loach. The Grandmaster, combines the stunningly beautiful imagery Honk Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai is known for with an epic action film. After years of exploring love and desire in his films, The Grandmaster in some ways is a more mature return to 1994's Ashes of Time, one of the director's first films.

Finally, this year saw two truly bizarre but unforgettable films see relatively wide release. Spring Breakers is a delirious and deranged exploitation film starring James Franco and former Disney starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens and directed by experimental filmmaker Harmony Korine. Depending on your taste, it's either the year's strangest film or the worst. I choose strangest. Also deeply weird is cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli's John Dies At The End, a surreal supernatural horror comedy thriller that is never predictable and often hilarious.

The only way for these films to continue to get made and seen is for viewers to support them. For every Thor or Iron Man you see, make the time for films that challenge the status quo.