I never knew until my last semester of school that you could rent movies from the school library (womp). And since I’m a hoarder who never threw away her VHS tapes nor VCR, I’ve been watching so many rare films that never made it to DVD. My favorite so far has been Bush Mama, an early film by famous Ethiopian film director Haile Gerima (Sankofa, Teza).
Bush Mama takes place in Los Angeles during the 1970s. It follows the story of Dorothy (Barbara O. Jones), a single mother of one with a baby on the way.
Her husband, T.C. (Johnny Weathers) is a former Vietnam war veteran serving time for a crime he did not commit. As Dorothy undergoes the day-to-day struggle of living in a poor community – crime, delinquency, the welfare system, drugs, and overall feelings of hopelessness – her husband writes her letter from jail with the same “black militant nonsense” that her friends have warned her about.
Inspired by her husband’s letters and a poster of a female African warrior a friend sticks to her wall, Dorothy finally puts these radical ideas into action when her daughter is raped by a white police officer.
Dorothy soon finds herself in pregnant in jail. She finally writes back to her husband sharing the same socially-conscious and radical views he adopted through the prison system.
This was Gerima’s senior thesis film at UCLA in 1975 as part of the LA Rebellion film movement. It was shot by Charles Burnett, director of one the movement’s most famous films Killer of Sheep. Gerima is currently a professor at Howard University and runs his own film company on the top floor of the Sankofa bookstore on Georgia Ave.
TC: Are you with me children? The Lord is in the closet! 1900, one hundred and five Negroes was lynched in the Republic of America and the cries still didn’t penetrate God’s closet where he is kept! Now are you with me? From the year 1900 to 1920, eighty-five–I don’t know the figure! Seventeen, eleven, sixty-eight, forty-six, I’m talking about three hundred and sixty-eight Negroes was lynched and the cry still didn’t penetrate God’s closet! Now are you with me children? And from there to 1954, two thousand Negroes was lynched and the cry still didn’t penetrate God’s closet!
The rope–the rope was replaced by the electric chair, the electric chair by the gas chamber, and the gas chamber by the firing squads of the boulevards of America!
Baby, you know I’m studying hard. I’ve been putting a lot of broken things in my past together so I’ll have a concrete foundation for where I’m coming. And it is you who will help me for where I’m going. I know how to govern my future when I come out…I mean if I come out alive. Because they’ll kill a brother the moment one starts to see. They don’t give a damn if one stays blind, since that is death within itself and don’t pose a threat to their decadent society. But once you start to see baby, the light, the truth, then they cut it by shooting you down…though that will kindle many other lights. But baby, they always reacted irrationally. They never knew, or had the wisdom to overcome problems that’s faced mankind.
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