Urban Jungle

Spike Lee was hardly the first African-American independent filmmaker; in fact, his early breakthrough was only made possible by pioneers like Charles Burnett and Melvin Van Peebles. Their bitterly impassioned movies are revived all too infrequently, perhaps because it’s painful to see how little has changed in the last four decades. Take Haile Gerima’s heat-seeking Bush Mama (1976), a stark corrective to both bicentennial fever and the current of self-empowerment peddled by blaxploitation flicks. The Ethiopian director, who came to the U.S. in the late '60s and is best known for 1993’s Sankofa, centers his blistering story on a Watts woman who gradually comes to see how the world really works when her husband — a Vietnam vet — is jailed for someone else’s crime. We’re used to being shocked by repressive police in Latin American movies, and entertained by Los Angeles' corrupt cops in period pieces such as L.A. Confidential or The Black Dahlia. Screening as part of the ongoing survey, “75 Years in the Dark: A Partial History of Film at SFMOMA,” Bush Mama reminds us — in case it somehow slipped our minds — that “to preserve and protect” has a whole different meaning in the inner city.
Thu., March 11, 7 p.m., 2010

 
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