Birth of a Nation - Review of the Comic Novel by Lia Crawford

I’ve been a fan of Aaron McGruder’s work since Boondooks was a comic strip in the newspaper. Recently, while on a date that lead to Comix Revolution in Evanston, I came across a comic novel McGruder created with infamous director Reginald Hudlin (House Party) and Illustrator Kyle Baker. I finished it in less than two days.

Birth of a Nation (2004), the brilliant comic novel created by these three phenomenally creative black men, tells a story of a city in extreme poverty and its rise to independence through secession from the U.S.A. It’s funny; I found myself literally laughing out loud in public as a flew through this book. It’s also a story that I would recommend anyone as young as the age of 12 pick up and read. Sure there’s some adult language in it, but I argue that if kids can watch the nightly news, this comic book will help balance out the reality of their existence in America.

This work has been co-signed by the likes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Ice Cube, the Washington Post and former NAACP chairman, Julian Bond prior to his departure in 2015. As Black History Month approaches, this would be a great addition to any community reading event as we imagine a society free from poverty, rooted in unity with an economy supported by the most successful among us.

If nothing more than a distraction from the daily madness in the world around you, I encourage you to read this comic novel. I may have bought the last one from Comix Revolution, but try visiting your local comic book store. You may even find some other gems you can fall in love with like the Black Panther series by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you’re short on date night ideas, here’s one for free. L

The “Injustice System” and Cyntoia Brown by Lia Crawford

By now, I hope you’ve heard about the travesty surrounding Cyntoia Denise Brown, a woman who has already served a 15-year prison sentence in Nashville, Tennesse Prison for Women after claiming to murder Johnny Mitchell Allen, a man who bought her for sex when she was 16 years old.

Until being granted clemency recently, she was facing life in prison for murder and robbery. The power of social media, celebrities, and religious leaders proved that enough noise can change a person’s life.

"Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story," a 2011 documentary by Daniel H. Birman Productions, Inc. tells her story in detail. According to the documentary, Brown had a troubled childhood, which included adoption and ended in her being raped and prostituted by a man named “Cut-Throat.”

The treacherous truth is that Brown’s story is not necessarily unique. According to the Divided States of Women,

“Of the population of women in prison, some 86 percent of them are victims of sexual abuse. And many incarcerated women are guilty of crimes that include defending themselves.”

The Sentencing Project offers more statistics surrounding incarcerated women and girls to broaden the understanding that thousands of women have been further damaged by a system that punishes those defending themselves.

For a teenage girl, a then minor, to be raped, trafficked, and then sentenced to life for defending herself in any situation, really speaks to the illness spreading within the U.S. Justice system. Meanwhile, I’m sure many of us know men who have only spent a day or two in jail for beating or raping a woman, if that. With the backlog of untested rape kits that exist across this country, a large number of offenders have been free to roam after an assault. The resounding point here is that women and girls in this country need better protection under the law and better treatment within the Prison Industrial Complex nationwide.

While the news of Cyntoia Brown being granted clemency is good news to an extent, the truth is she will not be physically released from the Tennessee State Prison for Women until August 7th. Afterward, she must still endure 10 years of parole. Even still, through her lawyers, she released a statement filed with hope for the future:

“I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without Him. Let today be a testament to His Saving Grace.

Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me. I want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, especially Ms. Connie Seabrooks for allowing me to participate in the Lipscomb LIFE Program. It changed my life. I am also grateful to those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who will work with me over the next several months to help me in the transition from prison to the free world.

Thank you to Dr. Richard Goode and Dr. Kate Watkins and all of you at Lipscomb University for opening up a whole new world for me. I have one course left to finish my Bachelor’s degree, which I will complete in May 2019.

Thank you to my family for being a backbone these past 14 years. I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day. I love all of you and will be forever grateful.

With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been. Thank you.”

My hope is that her story continues to #ChangetheNarrative for women and girls in the future. I hope to see the day where sex trafficking will be a non-factor everywhere in the world. I hope that men stop abusing young girls as early as 5 years old and stop raping women as late as 95. I hope my daughter can exist in a society where she feels 100% safe to walk around at night, to date, and to wear whatever she feels comfortable expressing herself.

I would like to see a world where young girls with rough childhoods are not punished for reacting in the only way they know how, in self-defense and survival-mode. This world can be that world with the decisions we make as a society. May we continue to speak up for the Cyntoia Brown’s of the world until there are no more.

Image from The Tennessean 01/2019. Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency on January 7th by Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Review by Lia Crawford

Timing is everything. I was able to see If Beale Street Could Talk in Evanston's CineArts theater last Wednesday. According to IMDb, the film has received 52 wins and 120 nominations, including a win at the Golden Globe Awards this evening. In my opinion, the film and cast deserve every award available.

The film centers around 19-year-old Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne; Chicago Med - 2016) and her 22-year-old fiancè, Alonzo "Fonny" Hunt (Stephen James; Shots Fired - 2017) as they fight to prove his innocence for a crime he did not commit. The heartbreaking part is the relevancy of this story is still strong today.

Based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name, Barry Jenkins transforms Balwin's words to screen with such eloquence and beauty. Jenkins won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2017 for Moonlight, so the quality of his work comes as no surprise. He has won a total of 79 awards with 112 nominations for his work in the field.

The film has only had limited release US distribution, affecting its box office numbers significantly at $2,584,953 as of January 3rd, 2019 with approximately a $12,000,000 budget. However, this film is far from a failure cinematically. Between the intoxicating love between Tish and Fonny radiating from the screen and the support of Tish's parents, Sharon (Regina King; American Crime - 2017) and Joseph (Colman Domingo; The Birth of A Nation - 2016) Rivers, I was glued to the screen for every breath. The film made me laugh, cry, sigh the schoolgirl in love sigh, and feel enraged all in a 1hr and 59 minutes. Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry, and Michael Beach also make an appearance in the film as family and friends of the loving couple.

Specifically speaking, Regina King secured the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture for the film. She used her time on stage to say, "I'm going to use my platform to say that in the next two years, everything I produce is going to be 50 percent women." If Beale Street Could Talk definitely had a cast that was balanced with dynamic men and women who will undoubtedly have phenomenal careers after awards season.

If it's in your area, I suggest going to see the film, otherwise, wait for the Netflix release date. I promise it's worth it.

Forward Movement by Lia Crawford

Today marks the birthday of both my brother and a woman who has greatly inspired the hashtag slogan #ChangetheNarrative, Ava Marie Duvernay. Former publicist turned A-list writer, director and producer, Queen DuVernay has created Academy Award nominated films like Selma. My favorite works are I Will Follow, her debut film, Middle of Nowhere and of course, Queen Sugar under her Forward Movement company. (Yes, I borrowed that for the title.)

DuVernay has changed the narrative with her film distribution company ArrayNow, which celebrates people of color and women like no other organization has done in the past. Her relationship with Netflix kicked open a door and several windows of opportunity for women and people of color, seemingly encouraging Scandal and Grey's Anatomy creator and showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, to join the fray as well.

Let us not forget the groundbreaking documentary, 13th, which highlights the injustices within the Prison Industrial Complex in the US. Highly acclaimed, 13th is a must-see for anyone living or visiting the United States of America, in my opinion, especially if you have children of color. It also bravely points out the companies invested in incarceration with interviews with esteemed scholars in the field.

Keeping along the same thread, she is now producing Central Park 5, presenting the story of the five young men of color accused of raping a white woman in 1989. Those of us who were alive at the time can remember the buzz surrounding the case, particularly the part where Donald J. Trump shelled out about $85,000 to place full-page ads in New York City papers indirectly condemning these young boys while practically demanding the return of the death penalty. Although each had their sentence vacated due to DNA evidence 14 years later, your President has never apologized for his actions. Of course you know not to hold your breath on that one.

Moving on, Ava DuVernay embodies the courage, the determination and the vision of change I support in the film and TV industry. I would love to continue to see more work that speaks truth and compassionately celebrates people from diverse experiences. ArrayNow is specifically designed to help filmmakers get their completed work out who have done just that already. Lailia Productions is primarily designed to help beginners shape and build their work so they can get to the distribution stage.

We can all figure out a way to work together to #ChangetheNarrative. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has transformed their policies because of people like us. Keep up the good work. As Ava DuVernay says, "Onward!" Until next time, take care of you and tell your story or someone else will.

A Change in Progress... by Lia Crawford

Things are changing, there's no doubt about it. In one barrel, we have children being separated from their families, abused and detained, poisoned by their city's water, murdered by police for being black or latinx, murdered by their parents for being themselves. All while there are elected officials playing a sordid game of wack-a-mole with our laws and basic humanity in general.

In another barrel, we have what many of us would consider "positive change." Of course, the same people who moved to rip children from their families and try to justify why the police would kill a kid, probably don't agree. Regardless, we now see more films and writer's rooms centering people of color, more women of color at the top stratospere in corporate businesses, more people of color picking up cameras and daring to share their unique narratives. Since Black Panther, there is no turning back and attempting to claim that there is no audience for black films, that they don't make money and that no one is interested in seeing black women in action films.

As a nation and worldwide community, we changed the narrative. Let's keep going. Ava DuVernay is working on the Central Park Five story. Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler are working on the Mansa Musa story. LeBron James is working on at Showtime docuseries, "Shut up and Dribble." Rebecca Hall, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are working on a project called "Passing." They all seem like people with an abundance of wealth and power but they all started without it at some point. You, too, can tell your story. A story you connect with strongly. A story you KNOW needs to be told.

I feel like # (The Pound) is one of those stories. It speaks to the pain drowning citizens of the South and West Sides and how fear from outsiders makes for a more devastating social climate there. Nate's story needs to be heard because he's a human who deserves to be heard. He may be a human Coby and I created, but his voice represents a collection of voices that go ignored regularly. This story shares fear, happiness, anger, determination and feelings of suffocation and isolation. These are feelings many of us walk around with daily.

Our feelings are our barometers, helping us make decisions daily, even if we feel they were horrible decisions later. Our emotions help to write our life stories and they deserve a platform. You have the power to build that platform for yourself and others just as those above have managed to do. You got this. There's more room out than in, they say. Express yourself, by any means necessary.