That Was Wild

Among the titles from this year’s Sundance that have made it to my Netflix recommendations, Wild Wild Country is the first that I’ve sat down and watched so far.

Now off rip, I wasn’t swayed by the title. Wild Wild Country: I didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into with that. But after reading the description and learning that the Duplas brothers had a hand in producing the series, I reconsidered. The Duplas brothers, Mark and Jay, have been working in film a long time and I’ve been an admirer of theirs for some years now.

So I said, “fuck it, I got some time to kill” and pressed play.

This series has me feeling all kinds of ways.

The doc is about this “cult” of Rajneesh. Baghwan Shree Rajneesh a.k.a Osho. I certainly wasn’t familiar with the title Baghwan, but Osho I was familiar with. People like to quote him a lot on Instagram and Tumblr. Osho was a spiritual teacher who believed that utopian society was possible and developed a whole spiritual teaching based on this belief. He had an ashram in India, but where this series starts is when he and his followers decide to pick up and leave Puna, India and set up shop in Oregon, near the town of Antelope, Oregon.

Already I’m like, “Oregon, tf?”

But it gets crazier. Evidently, the Baghwan had bags and he bought several thousand acres of land – 80,000 to be exact – to build his new utopian city. And oh, did people come out.

These “sannyasins” were out in Oregon deep af. ENTER Ma Amand Sheela. personal secretary to Osho who managed the newly established Rajeeshpuram in Wasco, Co., Oregon.

You can say a lot about her but all I’ll say is that, she was strategic in making sure that her job, as the “spokesperson” for the Baghwan and his ashram, was done efficiently and effectively………. even if those methods were illegal/not entirely ethical.

List of charges against Sheela:

  • Attempted murder
  • Voter fraud
  • Wire tapping
  • Arson
  • Conspiracy
  • Immigration fraud

In a timeline of about four years, Ma Amand Sheela and her “cabinet” of sorts, transforms this sex-positive, peace promoting, truth seeking sannyasin movement into an army, having so much control over those closest to her that she could talk them into murder. MURDER.

It’s truly an enthralling tale and it all went down in little ole’ Wasco County, Oregon.

I don’t know about y’all, but I must have missed this page in my history books. Or maybe it was conveniently left out, who can really say?

Moral of the story: The series raises philosophical questions and grapples with some seemingly contradictory forces: hippies strapping up, Christians being intolerant, the nature of conviction vs. control. Sometimes, in life, there are moments where I’m like “Y’all serious right now?” Real life is often times more fantastical, frightening, and unexpected than what any imagination can conjure. The world is as frightening as it is fascinating. Even if you couldn’t care less about the philosophical implications of this whole Rajneeshpuram debacle, the series is sure to make you think, “What the fuck,” on more than one occasion.

 

 

Rumble in the Jungle

Today in Black History, I want to look at some documentary films.

All of these can be found on Hulu, Netflix, and/or YouTube and all of them focus on stories centering on people of color and their cultural influences. I love documentary films. In recent years, the ways in which a non fictional narrative can be portrayed on screen can make the subject seem larger than life and I think that can be said for all of these films. For all of these films, I can say that I am always left with the weight of their respective subjects and the ways that the narratives relate to my life and my own path.

I’ve numbered this sequence because in many ways, you can view these films chronologically and see the ways the spirit of a time trickled its way into the lives of real black and brown folks who were the unwitting scapegoats of bureaucratic miscondunct.

Rubble Kings

Made in 2015, this documentary is about the youth gang culture that exploded through the Bronx, most notably, and subsequently the rest of the boroughs of New York City.

This is the picture of New York City that my mom has when she thinks of the Big Apple. I told her I was planning on moving there after undergrad and she didn’t seem sold on the idea.

Of course, there’s always a small chance that shit can pop off, but that’s true anywhere. Even here in Mississippi, there are some places you just don’t go to. But there’s enough wy ppl there gentrifying the city that getting mugged at any given moment is significantly less likely.

Anyhoo… this film puts a lens on the crime ridden borough of the Bronx and the political plays that were made that resulted in the high crime rates and rise in youth gang activity.

In a nutshell, we can trace the causes of these social conditions back to the start of Ronal Reagan’s War on Drugs. Nixon took the presidency and breathed new life into Reagan’s crusade and the rest is history. The rise of “the rubble kings,” these adolescent gang boppers, begin organizing themselves between their neighborhoods and policing the streets with violence and vigilantism as a result of various new laws put in place that accelerated the rise of urban decay and neglect in which these kids were innocently born in to.

Fresh Dressed

Fresh Dressed, produced by Pharrell, picks up where Rubble Kings leaves off. After the turbulance of the the 70s and the onslaught of the War on Drugs, after the hundreds of resulting deaths, and after one reckoning moment, the tide of the times changes as hip hop forges on to the scene in the late 70s.

Fresh Dressed, as the title alludes, is about fashion. The film archives the change in fashion trends beginning in the late 70s as the prevailing gang culture subsides and from its ashes, hip hop culture arises.

Fresh Dressed is a culture study through the lens of fashion.

The Radiant Child

The Radiant Child is a personal favorite. Taking the bigger picture that Rubble Kings and Fresh Dressed painted and seeing how the issues discussed in those films ended up affecting a singular narrative.

Though Jean Michel Basquiat was one guy, his work has touched millions and he was a product of a very specific environment.

These three films overlap in the time periods that they cover, especially as it pertains to the late 70s and 80s in New York City. In fact, when watching, you might notice that some of the references and even the talking heads themselves are featured in two of the films, if not all three.

When I think about Black History, that is the history of Black people in America, I think it’s important to know just how we got to where we are at this moment in history. Existentially speaking, history has been building on itself, expressing itself through the stories in these films, and reaping itself accordingly.

Today in Black History, we must honor the process.

The turbulent 60s gave rise to the violent 70s which gave rise to the electric 80s, the iconic 90s, and so on and so forth. If we are to look to the future, we really have to come to terms with the now and realize that nothing happens in a vacuum.

If we wish to change the future, change has to begin now.