Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Lessons from the Spook Who Sat at the Door
I grew up thinking about a revolution. By the time I turned 12, I had read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. My passion for books was fueled by my hate toward those who called me by that name. “Nigger”.
I first heard it when I was 10. It happened during a walk home from school. As I approached Dean St., three older white boys began assaulting me. They beat me and then threw me into big oak tree in front of the house occupied by my cousin.
“That’s what you get, Nigger.”
The journey down the road of hate began that day. I wanted to fight back. I spent hours gazing at the gun collection in the case in our family room. The thought of a few bullets aimed at those boys echoed in my mind.
Black became my favorite color. “Say it Loud, I’m black and I’m proud,” became my anthem. I kept my hate inside to protect me from my mother’s scorn and my daddy’s rebuke. I called myself a Black Panther, hoping my brothers in black leather would protect me from the evil ways of white boys.
Such was the life of black boys in 1969. Revolution was a thought stamped in the minds of those tired of fighting just to find a way home. We wanted to be Black Muslims and Black Panthers because it was the best way to survive. We wanted to fight back.
We wanted to burn things to get attention. I was tired of screaming while no one listened. My role models were street hoodlums. My medicine became marijuana. Soon I graduated to cocaine. The pain of blackness never seemed to escape. It was used against me like bad credit.
We wanted pay back. Books and movies served as an outlet after our dreams got lost after being told black boys can’t do those things. I wanted to fight those who told me I’m not good enough to achieve what white boys take for granted. It happened enough to form a file stacked miles high in my memory.
I wanted a revolution. The Spook Who Sat by the Door came in the middle of it all. The Spook Who Sat by the Door is a 1973 film based on Sam Greenlee’s novel by the same name. The movie is a cult classic and is considered one of the most important black productions of the era. The story focuses on a black man trained as a CIA agent. Greenlee used the word “spook” as a double entendre – the slang for “spy” and a term used to refer to black Americans.
The “Spook” is trained as a government operative, but uses the racist perceptions of black inferiority to fight oppression in his community. Greenlee wrote the screenplay and worked with Ivan Dixon to produce the film. Dixon, a 1954 graduate of North Carolina Central University, directed the film. Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door (2001) is a documentary on the making of the film.
The documentary focuses on how Greenlee and Dixon used the film industry’s biased expectations of the black-themed films in the 1970s to cut their dailies to look like Blaxploitation in order to obtain funding and support from a major distributor to complete the film. United Artists took the bait and was dismayed at the final production of the film; however, the company was bound by contract to release the film. Instead of images of pimps and prostitutes perpetuated by Hollywood during the 1970s, the film portrayed black people who were willing to fight for their beliefs to achieve freedom from oppression.
The North Carolina Humanities Council has awarded North Carolina State University’s African American Cultural Center and the Africana Studies Program a grant to present a film and humanities discussion of the documentary. This project is made possible by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities
The North Carolina Humanities Council grant is a part of a unique Triangle and Triad consortium -- the Southern Black Film and Media Consortium -- involving the NCSU African American Cultural Center; the NCSU Africana Studies Program; the UNC Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History; the Mary Lou Williams Black Cultural Center at Duke University; film/media/Africana Studies programs at Bennett College, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Shaw University, St. Augustine’s University, and North Carolina Central University; and the Hayti Heritage Center.
The program is scheduled for September 29th, at 5:00PM at the Hayti Heritage Center and will feature the author, Sam Greenlee, as well as Dr. Joseph Jordan, director of the Sonja Stone Center, Dr. Charlene Register (UNC), Dr. Yvonne Welbon (Bennett College), Dante James, assistant director of the African American Cultural Center, and Dr. Sheila Smith McKoy the director of the African American Cultural Center at North Carolina State University.
Yes, I wanted to be a revolutionary when I was a boy. I’ve traded my gun for a pen, but I’m still fighting for justice among those who are marginalized. I’ve decided to fight hate with love. Things have changed since 1969, but there is so much we can learn by going back to visit life during a time when black boys were called Nigger for walking down the street.
This spook stopped sitting at the door a long time ago.
I’m the Rev-elution. I won't stop until change has come.