Black History Month 2012, historian, author, filmmaker and self-described “aging b-boy,” Nelson George finally saw his labor of love “Brooklyn Boheme” come to fruition. Originally a project funded by Kickstarter, this documentary chronicles the early ‘80s and '90s stirrings of literary creativity, artistic prowess, and musical experimentation bubbling up from a certain Brooklyn area, the largely African-American neighborhood of Fort Greene. Featured remembrances by Brooklyn natives such as Spike Lee, Yasiin Bey (the former Mos Def), Chris Rock, Rosie Perez, take us back to a time when Brooklyn wasn’t exactly the worldwide brand it is now. George examines the force behind modern Renaissance thinking; how a place can nurture, inspire and incubate innovation, intellegensia and iconoclasts. For sure, this is Brand Brooklyn, the Good.
Since its’ release “Brooklyn Boheme” has screened at the Pan Africa Film Festival, BAMcinematek, SXSW, Urban World Film Festival, Brooklyn Historical Society, and the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in Harlem, USA. It was also featured as part of Showtime’s Black History Month calendar of films for 2012.
Last night I attended a screening of Nelson George’s documentary Brooklyn Boheme. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary but as I listened to audience members comment, question, and speak about the change that gentrification and corporations have brought to Ft.Green I felt a widespread sentiment of love lost. As if Barclays Arena and structures similar in ideology had robbed the area of what made it special during the 80s and 90s. Disappointment seemed to engulf the atmosphere as people expressed concern that this neighborhood was not spawning the crop of young African American dreamers and doers that it once did.
“I found myself in NY”, those are the words that opened my graduate school admissions essay. I further them with, Brooklyn found me, nursed me and provided me a surrogate home amidst this city that gobbles up and destroys so many hopefuls. I remember the first time I visited Ft.Green/ Clinton Hill in 2009. I told myself I was going to move there, because for once in my life this military brat that developed into an adult with gypsy tendencies that terrorized my parents , felt at home. During the screening I found myself smiling as things and places familiar to me appeared on the screen. Brooklyn Moon has become my lunchtime favorite not because Erykah Badu, Mos Def,and Saul Williams hung out there, but because of their $5 lunch special (I love theSalmon burger and Apple Salad option). The closest I had been to Nelson before tonight was reading his book"Hip Hop America". The closest I had been to Spike before tonight was coincidentally walking up on his car on a downtown Brooklyn side street right outside of my job, where I was reduced to a girlish wave and a sound escaped me that I dare not recreate. Yet I felt them and where they were coming from in the film, I shared similar oilla moments.
I want to expand upon Mr. Nelson mentioning Bed-Stuy as a strong contender to carry on the Brooklyn Black Renaissance torch and I can say confidently that I believe this is so. I am surrounded by prolific, creative, game changing individuals on a regular basis. The type of individuals that after you spend a few hours with them, it leaves you feeling like your undergraduate and graduate educations combined, in addition to your prominent non-profit job just aren’t cutting it. My generation includes photographers like Kweisi Abinsetts, musicians like Jesse Boykins III, film directors like Terrance Nance, jewelry designers like Nyne Lyves, writers like Demetria Lucas, activist like Ngozi Odita – a really impressive crop of young people whose bodies of work are sure to stand time, let alone garner them notoriety that graces introductions of Mr. George and Mr. Lee. It’s still alive, that spirit still dwells down Fulton street, in and out of brownstones, and carries seeds that blossom in the hearts of those visiting or consider Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, or Ft. Green home.
It’s a pet peeve of mine when people claim something isn’t there, when the truth is they are just ignorant to its existence. for example, that whole hip hop is dead argument, when there’s artist like Kendrick Lamar, Stalley, Bryant Dope, ASAP Rocky and creating and continuously adding to our beloved art form. Different? Yes. Dead? No. This is not directed at Mr. George, but more so the older women in the audience who boastfully acted as if the 80’s were the end all be all of Brooklyn Black excellence. Let us not forget that time and death have a way of immortalizing people. It is rare that people praise artist for what they are and do during their prime, it is often past the prime that we recognize the genius they were. Sure maybe this Brooklyn Black Awakening isn’t as noticeable or in your face as a theirs was. And was theirs? But never the less, it is here and just as promising. I promise.
Brooklyn Boheme Documentary Teaser, by Diane Paragas and Nelson George
This documentary captures a time in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when influential African-American and Latino-Americans like Spike Lee, Chris Rock and Rosie Perez reign supreme and influence the next generation of tastemakers to come from Brooklyn.